This article was written by Rebekah Brannan as part of the Breening Thursdays series.
Hello from Rebekah Brannan at PEPS! Most of my previous Breening projects have been films from after the Breen era, even venturing into the 1980s and 90s to breen the Disney Renaissance films. However, this week I am taking you back to a time before Mr. Breen headed the PCA and spawned an era of glorious films, a time of hour-long films, silk lingerie, and James Cagney slapping around his leading ladies. This week, I will be breening 1932’s Taxi! This film is notable for featuring James Cagney’s first onscreen dance, George Raft’s screen debut, and the commonly mis-quoted line, “Come on out and take it, you dirty yellow-bellied rat, or I’ll give it to you through the door!” It is also the film for which James Cagney learned to drive. While it does have multiple problems, this film is at its core a good movie. Unlike some Pre-Code films, removing the objectionable points would not completely destroy Taxi! It is not built entirely on risqueity, violence, or rude humor but has a solid plot and an excellent cast. In this article, I will show how Taxi! could have been even better than it was with the help of the PCA. Now, the lights dim, the theater hushes, and the screen roars to life. Get ready for a breening joyride, because here comes Taxi!
- The first problem occurs in a scene where Loretta Young’s character, Sue, is getting ready for work. As her friend Ruby (Leila Bennett) goes on and on about something, the camera keeps cutting to Sue taking off her dress and putting on her waitress uniform. Although she is wearing a full slip, she doesn’t seem to be wearing enough under it. Also, undressing scenes should be avoided if at all possible. She should go behind a screen to change.
- In a later scene, Matt (James Cagney) is looking at a newspaper with some of his friends. The paper says that the Consolidated Cab Company, which has been trying to push the independent cabs out, has decided to bury the hatchet. Matt remarks, “I’d like to bury the hatchet in their thick skulls.” This is unduly violent and must be removed. Instead, he could say something like, “Bury the hatchet, huh? We’ll see about that!”
- After Sue stops Matt’s attempted uprising by telling the cabdrivers not to fight, he angrily says, “I could kick her teeth down her throat and like it.” This is very violent and must be eliminated. Instead, he could say something like, “I’d like to tell her a thing or two.”
- When Sue and Matt meet later, Sue’s neckline is too low. The neckline should be raised, and it should be ensured that she is properly supported.
- During this scene, they begin arguing about her breaking up his revolt. In anger, he says, “For two cents, I’d knock the ears off you!” This is inappropriate and must be changed. If the phrase, “If you were a man,” were added to the beginning of the line, it would be acceptable.
- After this, she slaps his face before running up the stairs. He clenches his fists and starts to run after her, but his friends stop him, reminding him that she’s only a woman. He angrily says, “I’ll knock her nose around to her ear!” He should not look as if he’s about to follow her and hit her back, and he shouldn’t say this line. Instead, he should look shocked from the slap and say something like, “If she weren’t a dame, I’d make her sorry for that!”
- Later, when Matt takes Sue to the movies, a scene is shown from a fictional movie, Her Hour of Love, starring Donald Cook and Evalyn Knapp, which was filmed specially for this movie. Evalyn Knapp’s dress is very revealing and must be changed. The top must be revised so it does not reveal any cleavage from the front, expose her chest unduly from the side, or show too much of her back. It must also be ensured that she is properly supported.
- Later, when Matt and Sue are in a dancing competition, a person in the crowd gives them a raspberry. This is unacceptable and should be replaced with a loud “boo!”
- Matt and Sue lose the competition to another couple (George Raft and Audrey Ferris), and Matt soon starts a fight with his competitor. Sue tries to break it up, but Matt shoves her away and says, “Up an alley!” This is unacceptable and must be changed. Instead, he should merely say something like, “You keep out of this!”
- Later, Sue and Matt are riding home on the subway with their friends, Ruby and Skeets (George E. Stone), Ruby begins telling a story about an old boyfriend of hers who sold lingerie. She says that he gave her a pair of black teddy bears (short-like panties from the 1930s), but she only wore them once because they brought her bad luck. This is unacceptable and must be changed. Her boyfriend should have been in a different line of business, such as shoes. He could have given her a pair of black evening slippers instead.
- In a later scene, Matt comes to visit Sue in her apartment. She is wearing a flimsy wrapper that is hanging quite open at the neck, and she doesn’t seem to have anything on under it. If she is wearing a wrapper, it must be decently high, and she must be wearing a proper undergarment. However, it would be even better for her to be wearing a nice house dress.
- In this same scene, as Ruby and Skeets are leaving on a date, she tells him she wants to go to the Winter Garden to look at a picture of Lil Dagover. She says, “I like the sound of her name. It’s got sex-appeal.” Skeets replies, “Oh, nothing can help you, baby.” This exchange is unacceptable and must be removed. She should just say, “I like the sound of her name,” and he should nod and follow her out.
- After Ruby and Skeets leave, Matt walks over to Sue, who is busy ironing. He picks up what appears to be some garment of intimate apparel, and she snatches it back, glaring at him. This is unacceptable and must be removed.
- Matt tries to make up with Sue, who is angry with him for getting into fights all the time. She asks him why he thinks he’s so good, saying, “You’re not so hot.” He makes a fist, as though threatening to hit her as he says, “If I thought you meant it.” Then, he gently kisses her, lifts up her chin, and pushes her face slightly before saying, “Stay that way.” This slight violence as a form of affection is unacceptable and must be removed. Instead, he should merely say, “As if you meant that,” and then kiss her.
- At the end of this scene, Sue and Matt kiss again. Her mouth seems slightly open as they do this, and open-mouthed kissing is forbidden under the Code. It must be ensured that both their mouths are closed and that the kiss does not seem lustful.
- In the next scene, when they go to get a marriage license, Matt almost starts another fight. Sue threatens to call off the wedding, since he has promised her not to fight multiple times and never kept his promise. However, he manages to make up with her, and they share a kiss in a secluded corner. While the kiss itself is acceptable, it is shot from the side in an extreme close-up. Kisses in Code films are usually shot from farther away, and usually from behind one of the people’s heads. This kiss should be shot that way.
- That night, Sue, Matt, Ruby, Skeets, and Matt’s brother, Danny (Ray Cooke), celebrate the marriage at a nightclub. The floor show features dancing girls wearing costumes that don’t look like much more than brassieres and panties. They must be wearing decent costumes.
- The singer for the floor show is wearing a rather low-necked dress. The neckline must be raised.
- In this scene, both Sue and Ruby are wearing rather low-necked dresses and are not properly supported. They must have higher necklines and be wearing proper undergarments.
- Ruby begins telling a story about a woman who had twenty-two children in twelve years. She says that the President himself gave her a medal. Skeets asks her, “What’d he give her husband, a wheelchair?” She responds, “It didn’t say.” This exchange is unacceptable and must be removed.
- Buck Gerard (David Landau), the man from Consolidated who inadvertently caused the death of Sue’s father, is also at the nightclub. His girlfriend, Marie Costa (Dorothy Burgess), is wearing a rather low-necked dress. The neckline must be raised, and it must be ensured that she is properly supported.
- When Sue and Marie meet in the ladies’ room, Marie asks Sue to make Matt ignore Gerard, who has been making rude remarks to them for no reason all evening. In an attempt to avoid a confrontation, Sue asks Matt to take her home. However, as they’re leaving, Gerard says, “Huh, the big wedding night. Going home early, are you?” Matt is angered by this, although Sue tries to ignore the drunken Gerard. However, when he adds, “I’ll bet you had to marry the bum,” it’s too much for Matt, and he punches him. However, Gerard has a switchblade, and he goes after Matt with it. Danny steps in to protect his brother, and gets stabbed in the process, resulting in his death. Since this is an important plot point, Gerard’s insulting lines cannot just be eliminated. However, these remarks are unacceptable and must be changed. Perhaps he could say something like, “Oh, don’t leave so soon. That’s a pretty cute little number you got there.”
- In a later scene in Sue and Matt’s apartment, Sue is wearing a dress with a very low neckline. At one point, it appears that her brassiere is revealed slightly. While it is good to know that she is wearing one, it must not show. The neckline must be made higher.
- Later, when Gerard is shown hiding out with Marie, it is implied that they are living together out of wedlock. Just to avoid any such suggestion, it should be stated that they are married.
- In a later scene, Matt and Sue are washing dishes together. When she sends him out because he keeps coming close to dropping her dishes, he says he knew he could get out of it somehow. When he goes to kiss her, she holds a plate in front of her face. He repeats his earlier gesture of threatening her with his fist and saying, “If I thought you meant that!” Then, after kissing her, he grabs her face and moves it back and forth, while she exclaims, “Oh, Matt, don’t!” This is unacceptable. It must be changed as before, with him saying, “As if you meant that,” and kissing her.
- In this scene, Sue is once again wearing her flimsy wrapper with the neck open and no apparent support. As before, she should either wear an undergarment and not leave the neck so open, or she should wear a house dress.
- Later in this scene, when Skeets comes into the apartment, he meets Ruby in the doorway. She tells him she wants him to drive her over to the business college, but he says, “Screw, will ya? I’ve gotta see Matt.” The italicized word is a forbidden expression and must be replaced with an acceptable phrase such as scram, get lost, run along, or wait outside.
- In this scene, Skeets tells Matt that he has heard Buck Gerard is in town. He gives him a piece of paper with Gerard’s address, and then the two men exchange rather evil grins. Their smiling at each other here makes Matt seem too much like a gangster hunting someone down just for the sake of killing him. They must remain entirely serious about this matter.
- Later, Sue admits to Matt that she gave the money he had saved for Danny’s gravestone to Marie to get Buck Gerard out of the country. As she tells him this, he gets very angry, and he almost hits her twice. He may look angry, but he shouldn’t threaten to strike her.
- Sue tries to keep Matt from going after Gerard by pulling his own gun on him, but he knows it isn’t loaded, so he snatches it out of her hand and then slaps her, knocking her down on the couch. Since he is the sympathetic leading man, he must not smack his wife around. The slap must be eliminated.
- As Matt loads his gun, Sue clings to his arm and tries to talk him out of it. However, he won’t listen to her, and he violently shoves her away, causing her to fall against a table. He may push her away, but it must not look so violent, and she shouldn’t stumble back so much.
- Later, during the confrontation at Gerard’s apartment, Sue stands in front of the door to Gerard’s bedroom and tries to convince Matt that he’s already left. However, he doesn’t believe her, and he grabs her shoulder and violently shoves her away from the door. He should just push past her and open the doors without intentionally shoving her so violently.
- When Matt deduces that Gerard is hiding in the closet, he pulls out his gun and challenges him to “come out and take it.” Marie jumps in front of the closet door in an attempt to protect her man. Sue runs to Matt and throws her arms around his neck, begging him to stop. However, he once again shoves her away, saying he’ll “give it to her, too.” He must not push her so violently or threaten to shoot her. He should just pry her arms off of him and tell her to let go of him.
- Later, when the police arrive at the apartment, Marie tells them that Matt threatened her and begs Sue to corroborate her story. Sue confirms that he did threaten her, and Matt angrily says, “Why, you dirty, double-crossing little tramp! You sold me out!” He looks like he’s about to hit her, but one of the policemen stops him. This is unacceptable. Instead, he should call her a “dirty double-crosser,” and he shouldn’t go after her.
- When the police finally get the closet door open, you hear a woman scream and say, “He’s falling! He’s falling!” Matt rushes to the closet window and looks down into the alley. The camera then shows Gerard’s body lying on the ground below and zooms in to show a closer shot of it. Next, a newspaper headline states that he fell to his death. This undue focus on the body is unacceptable and unnecessary and must be eliminated.
- In the final scene, Sue is shown moving out of her apartment, since she is leaving Matt. He arrives and tries to make amends with her. When Sue refuses to respond to him, he once again gestures like he’s going to hit her and says, “Why, if I thought you meant that.” This should once again be replaced with a gentle, “As if you meant that.”
This concludes my breening of Taxi! With these fairly minor changes, this could have been a perfectly acceptable, entertaining film. Unlike many pre-Code films, this movie is not full of suggestive dialogue and immoral relationships. While there are a few problems relating to Section 2 of the Code, the main problem is the rather violent nature of Matt’s relationship with Sue. Unlike in The Public Enemy, when James Cagney was a perfectly despicable “anti-hero,” this role is supposed to be an entirely sympathetic leading man. However, throughout the film, he is violent towards Sue. I knew from the beginning that he would end up hitting her in earnest, since he used threats and actions of violence to express supposed “affection.” However, this is a great example of James Cagney’s early acting. He gives a brilliant performance in the scene where his brother, Danny, dies, as he breaks down sobbing on Sue’s shoulder. I hope you enjoyed this breening journey. I’ll see you next time!
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