Before Johnny Depp and "Public Enemies", there was "The Public Enemy". James Cagney's 1931 portrayal of the Irish American gangster Tommy Powers set the standard for the Hollywood gangster and helped to launch a golden age of Irish American cinema. In the years that followed several of the era's greatest stars, such as Spencer Tracy, Bing Crosby, Pat O'Brien, and Ginger Rogers, assumed Irish American roles - as boxers, entertainers, priests, and working girls - delighting audiences and at the same time providing a fresh perspective on the Irish American experience in America's cities. With "Bowery to Broadway", Christopher Shannon guides readers through a number of classic films from the 1930s and '40s and investigates why films featuring Irish American characters were so popular among American audiences during a period when the Irish were still stereotyped and scorned for their religion.
Shannon considers films such as "Angels with Dirty Faces", "Gentleman Jim", "Kitty Foyle", "Going My Way", and "Yankee Doodle Dandy", showing that the Irish American characters in the films were presented as inhabitants of an urban village - simultaneously traditional and modern, and valuing communal solidarity over individual advancement. As a result, these characters - even those involved in criminal activity - resonated deeply with countless Americans in search of the communal values that were rapidly being lost to the social dislocation of the Depression and the increasing nationalization of life under the New Deal.