City for Conquest (1940): Anatole Litvak’s Melodrama, Starring James Cagney and Ann Sheridan

Anatol Litvak directed City for Conquest, a schmaltzy melodrama about the love and dedication of two brothers, starring James Cagney, Ann Sheridan, and Arthur Kennedy.

Grade: C+ (** out of *****)

The picture is based on the 1936 novel of the same name by Aben Kandel.

The supporting cast features Anthony Quinn, Donald Crisp, Frank McHugh, Frank Craven and Elia Kazan (before he became a director).

Cagney plays a truck driver named Danny Kenny who was once a New York Golden Gloves boxing champion. To put his brother Eddie (Arthur Kennedy) through music school, Danny starts to box professionally under the name of Young Samson. He quickly rises through the ranks to become a title contender.

Ann Sheridan plays Danny’s girlfriend Peggy, a talented dancer. One night while at a dance club with Danny, Peggy is swayed by Murray Burns (Anthony Quinn), a local dancing champion. Murray asks Peggy to become his dance partner, and though insulting to Danny, Peggy agrees only to learn that Murray is domineering.

Peggy rejects Danny’s proposal in a letter as her dancing career is advancing rapidly. Embittered Danny continues to thrive in the ring and gets a chance to fight for the world welterweight title. Danny is deliberately blinded by his opponent’s unscrupulous seconds who have placed rosin dust onto the champion’s gloves.

Peggy listens to the fight on the radio, which Danny loses, and she is so distraught that she cannot dance that night. Her career as dancer ends and she is reduced to dancing in local shows for small wages.

Danny, his eyesight permanently damaged, can barely see shadows. With the help of his boxing manager, however, Danny begins working as a newsstand operator where he develops regular customers.

Meanwhile, Eddie has become a successful composer of Broadway scores, but his true love is classical music. Danny persuades Eddie to pursue his true calling and continue to work on creating a symphony about New York City.

In the movie’s most sentimental (schmaltzy) moment, Eddie dedicates his first major symphony at Carnegie Hall to his brother, who is proudly listening on the radio from his newsstand.

The movie ends with Peggy reuniting with Danny at his newsstand after attending Eddie’s successful concert.

George Raft was meant to appear opposite Cagney but was unable due to scheduling reasons. Instead, the role went to Anthony Quinn played his role.[5]

The tramp who “hosts” the film is played by Frank Craven as a parody of his role as Stage Manager in “Our Town,” which he had filmed just prior to this picture.

The movie was moderately successful at the box office.

James Cagney as Danny Kenny
Ann Sheridan as Peggy ‘Peg’ Nash
Arthur Kennedy as Eddie Kenny
Frank Craven as Old Timer
Anthony Quinn as Murray Burns
Elia Kazan as Googi Zucco
Donald Crisp as Scotty MacPherson
Frank McHugh as Mutt
George Tobias as Pinky
Jerome Cowan as Dutch
Lee Patrick as Gladys
Blanche Yurka as Mrs. Nash
George Lloyd as Goldie
Joyce Compton as Lilly
Thurston Hall as Max Leonard
Ben Welden as Cobb
John Arledge as Salesman
Ed Keane as Gaul
Selmer Jackson as Doctor 1
Joseph Crehan as Doctor 2
Ward Bond as First Policeman (uncredited)


TCM showed the movie on June 30, 2020.