See? I can be tough too, baby.
Lew Ayres plays Louie Ricarno, crime kingpin who organizes the various gangs into one syndicate, then “quits the racket” to rest on his laurels and enjoy his new wife (Dorothy Mathews). All is not as agreeable as it seems, and as soon as Louie is gone, warfare breaks out. Best pal and right-hand man Mileaway (Jimmy Cagney, in his second movie role) does his best to keep the peace but eventually the mob lures Ricarno back through a twist with his beloved little brother Jackie (a young Leon Janney).
Interesting early talkie that suffers from poor casting: it’s obvious to even the most casual film buff that Ayres and Cagney’s roles should’ve been reversed. Ayres does a commendable job, but is a bit too pretty, a bit too gentle. He doesn’t have the coiled menace that Cagney has, the sense of danger that’s just behind everything he says or does. You can’t believe “the boys” would be afraid of him. Mileaway, now, there’s someone I wouldn’t cross. (William Wellman thought the same thing – Jimmy’s performance here got him his breakout role in The Public Enemy.)
The Doorway to Hell is slow and ponderous in spots, and needlessly wordy (Hollywood was still in love with the sound of its own voice), but it has its moments – especially those involving Jackie. Cagney is, as always, electric anytime he’s on screen, and Ayres deserves credit for a genuinely moving ending.
I give this one: