The Public Enemy

The Public Enemy


The 1931 classic Warner Brothers film, “Public Enemy” directed by William A. Wellman, is a raw and brutal pre-code gangster film. Tom Powers, a petty thief who’s feeling a victim and the heat from his family and the police, he teams up with his childhood best friend Matt Doyle. The men soon become gangsters thriving crime in the Prohibition era, when encountering a mobster named “Nails” Nathan. Tom’s straight-laced brother, Mike, and Matt’s good girl sister, Molly, soon frown upon their new lifestyles. The gangster’s new suits and fancy cars that they flaunt are not hidden from their booming job profit. From their teen-aged years into young adulthood, Tom and Matt have an increasingly lucrative life. While bootlegging and stealing, the men grow to be very good at what they do. Yet, Tom in particular becomes more and more shameless in what he is willing to do, and becomes more aggressive and violent against those who either disagree with him or dare to cross him. Tom also is digging himself a nasty grave when he starts being disrespectful and chasing after other women when he has a wife. All the luxury and pride derives from the new style of life you earn in the mobster world. At the very end of the movie, after Matt has been shot right in front of Tom’s eyes, he then walks into the building to the men who murdered his best friend. Stumbling out the door into the pouring rain, Tom collapses to his death, with a last sentence of “I aint so tough”. This quote, in my opinion, was symbolizing the final weakness and venerability Tom has built up since he became a mobster. The last thing seen is disclaimer, “The END of Tom Powers is the end of every hoodlum. ‘The Public Enemy’ is, not a man, nor is it a character — it is a problem that sooner or later WE, the public, must solve.” What this ending meant to me is that, even though gangsters get all the fancy amenities, women, street credit and money, in the long run its not worth it because you’re living a dangerous life. Tom’s character was just an example of what happens when you mess with the wrong crowd.


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