(written earlier in the day)
Conquest of the City features Cagney at his best. And Cagney at his best is better than them all.
Conquest seeks to give us a symphony of the city. By any measure, it succeeds. It's melodramatic. It's contrived. Its reach exceeds its grasp. It's a proletariat fairy tale. Maybe even a bit of a joke. It's a heart-breaking tearjerker. It loves its characters yet spares them no suffering. Conquest is all the more charming in that it "reads" like a Penny Dreadful rather than The Great American Novel. There's no varnish here. There is no pretense. There is only the life of the city and the love that beats at its center.
Elia Kazan, one of my favorite American directors, has a great cameo in Conquest. His small sub-plot is almost completely irrelevant to the main plot, but it packs one startling punch for all of its loose-endedness.
The romance. The goil's story arc. The brother's story arc. The Philosopher Bum framing. It's real because it's not "realism." LitFic be damned.
Throughout, it's Cagney that holds it all together, who keeps the thing from shipwrecking. There's none of the "slumming" that Chesterton describes so well in Heretics and that the Coens parody perfectly in Barton Fink. Cagney screams authentic common man.