One actor. Two film roles. You tell us which portrayal was the best. The most memorable. Or iconic. Or simply your favorite.
But before you pass judgment, a few words defending the “character” of each…
The case for Cody Jarrett
Made it, Ma! Top of the world!: Famous last lines of Cody Jarrett in the 1949 film noir White Heat. It also sums up Cagney’s acclaimed stature in Hollywood following its release, as his previous experiences portraying criminals and hoodlums all led to this performance par excellence. Initially Cagney thought the script and his character were pedestrian, so he took it upon himself to make it more interesting, recalling in an interview: “it was essentially a cheapie one-two-three-four kind of thing, so I suggested we make him nuts. It was agreed so we put in all those fits and headaches.” Thus was born a gangster classic.
The case for George M. Cohan
Though predominantly known for his tough guy roles, James Cagney won his lone Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942). It was a role Cagney was born to play. As Cohan he was a tour de force. Cagney noted that it was probably his best performance. The film-going public concurred, making it Warner Bros.’ biggest box office success in their history ‘til then. And movie critics across the board laud Cagney’s acting-singing-dancing trifecta. What more need be said?
Now that you’ve heard the arguments for both it’s time to render your verdict!