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The Crowd Roars

Screening on Film
Directed by Howard Hawks.
With James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Ann Dvorak.
US, 1932, 35mm, black & white, 85 min.
Print source: Library of Congress

The rugged, treacherous subculture of high-speed drag racing, later revisited by Hawks in Red Line 7000, proved a suitable subject for the director in this early James Cagney vehicle. Death-defying danger was rarely expressed in Hawks’ oeuvre as potently as in the numerous race sequences here, which utilize staccato editing, rickety rear projection, dust and wind effects, and emphatic close-ups to stress the roaring energy of the sport. These gripping action scenes bolster a melodramatic narrative of clashing egos and self-destruction in which Cagney plays an alcoholic lout who relentlessly tears down his far-too-tolerant girlfriend (Ann Dvorak) and maintains an alternately mentoring and envious relationship with his brother (Eric Linden), a novice racer longing for his sibling’s skill. Such hot-blooded interpersonal conflicts don’t always play to Hawks’ strength in drawing out group dynamics and easy camaraderie, so The Crowd Roars is ultimately at its best on the pavement, where it looks ahead promisingly to the director’s later explorations of high-risk vocations.

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