We hate to do this to an old and trusted pal like Jimmy Cagney, but there's no getting around the fact that the initial cinematic attempt of the Cagney clan did little more than provide another likely victim for the fiendish English A section men.
For there were just too many displays of awkward amateurishness in "Johnny Come Lately" to make it anything but a sub-par picture. Most glaring weakness was the dialogue, with the plot and some of the acting fighting hard to make it a photofinish. Cagney did his best, and, by working like a dog, made most of his scenes tolerable--many even enjoyable.
That good old "show must go on" spirit, in fact, was probably one of the major factors contributing to the eventual disaster. Everyone, from director to prop man, was doing his darndest to make this a show for the records, with the result that the product had just too much quantity--and too little quality.
The plot included one tramp (Cagney) who turns out to have plenty on the ball, one lovable old lady who wins said tramp's friendship and aid in one balzing journalistic crusade against the forces of Evil in the town as personified by a crooked (-onely-don't-worrry-dear-reader-he-reforms-in-the-end-) politician, and his even crackeder cronies, one triangle (eternal), one father-and-son squabble, numerous fights (gun, fist, and umbrella), and, to add that necessary punch line, a gala torchlight parade to the local hoosegow.
The set-up is a natural for Cagney, and he romps and fights to his, and our, heart's content. Bit when matters are turned over to the tender mercies of Grace George, the afere-mentioned lovable old lady, her sweetness soon turns into a sticky goo which moved the spirit to feel like moving toward the nearest exit.
The rest of the cast was too hopelessly burdened with the almost unbelievably trite lines to display much in the way of acting ability. (One old gentleman on our right affirmed solemnly that the dialogue in several scenes was used, in pantomime, in "Birth of a Nation.")
Be that as it may, we have hopes of better things from Mr. Cagney. His public deserves it.