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The Irish in us: The Cagney-O'Brien movies (Part I)

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Early in 1934, Warner Bros.-First National Pictures was in pre-production for a new action comedy-drama that would be released as HERE COMES THE NAVY. Key to the process before the project went before the cameras was casting the lead players. There was little doubt the showy role of Chesty O'Connor belonged to James Cagney, whose screen image as a tough, scrappy individualist gliding through life on his wits as much as his fists had been carefully built since his breakout role as gangster Tommy Powers in THE PUBLIC ENEMY three years before.

The female lead part of Dorothy Martin was filled by Gloria Stuart, late of Universal. And for the first time, Cagney was assigned to a film with Pat O'Brien, the fast-talking and energetic stage veteran who, like Cagney, had only been in Hollywood a few years.

Because O'Brien was expert at portraying hard yet intuitive characters, his casting as naval officer Biff Martin was fortuitous. HERE COMES THE NAVY required Cagney's tradem…

The Irish in us: The Cagney-O'Brien movies (Part II)

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The Irish in us: The Cagney-O'Brien movies (Part II)

Despite the conflicts, Warners knew Cagney still had drawing power and wanted his name back on their theater marquees; disillusioned (for now) with his bid for independence, Cagney and the studio came to terms. His first assignment was with O'Brien and was a prestige offering, BOY MEETS GIRL (1938), an adaptation of Sam and Bella Spewack's screwball comedy about Hollywood that played Broadway for nearly 700 performances in 1935-1936, tailored to the talents of its two stars.

Again teamed with Lloyd Bacon as director, BOY MEETS GIRL focuses on Robert Law (Cagney) and J.C. Benson (O'Brien), a pair of screenwriters who have surrendered to the financial lure of regular work at the studio, yet spend more time bamboozling their boss, producer C. Elliott Friday (Ralph Bellamy) than coming up with workable scenarios. Additionally, they torment slow-on-the-uptake cowboy star Larry Toms (Dick Foran, who had completed a series …