Picks and Pans Review: Terrible Joe Moran
Ya gotta watch this show, see! If you don't, you'll miss Jimmy Cagney, still wonderful after all these years. We're not saying that because he's old at 84 and kinda cuddly now. It's because he is still one of the best actors alive. He is a champ. That's what he plays in this two-hour movie, a boxing champ long since retired, living alone on his winnings in rich Manhattan digs. The show opens with Art Carney, an old pal who acts as his maid, delivering Cagney a birthday cake. Cagney looks up with those stern yet sparkling eyes and snarls: "Don't sing." Nobody would dare. There's a birthday tribute to him on TV. "Ya stick around long enough," Cagney says, "and they'll pour bronze over ya." Then he is suddenly visited by his granddaughter (Ellen Barkin), who has avoided him for 15 years. "What's your name again?" he asks. He has many such nicely wry lines. Barkin wants money from Cagney for her boyfriend, who's into the mob for $40,000-plus. But she can't help herself; she loves Grampa instead. He lets himself love her and vows, after she moves in and starts writing his biography, that "when I'm through with her, she's gonna know she comes from a champ." It is a rich script with some nice gentle twists and some good writing. Terrible Joe would be a fine show with or without Cagney. But it is great with him. His part has him stuck in a wheelchair and his speech is just slightly slurred now. But that allows you to see the little things that make him such a superb actor: the firm and threatening looks he gives the mobster who's after Barkin's boyfriend; the tenderness those eyes can broadcast when he's with Barkin or when he's watching old films of himself fighting (that's really Cagney, circa 1940, in the ring); the comic timing he has in the way he scrunches his face when Barkin tells him that she's manicuring her feet because her beau "likes to lick my toes," or the way he tells a fight manager (New York Mayor Ed Koch in a cameo) that his fighter stinks. "What's going on up there, Swan Lake?" Cagney says. "Find the kid a tutu." Cagney spars with the camera—and wins. He invites good acting out of his three co-stars and gets it—especially from Barkin. And he'll invite laughs and tears and rapt attention from you. It's a special moment on TV. Do not miss it.