As an actor in the thirties and forties James Cagney had only two peers in Hollywood: Spencer Tracy and Edward G. Robinson, both of whom closely rivaled him in their quiet intensity and concision of playing. Encountered today, the eye-bulging overacting of Paul Muni, their only other rival back then, shows too much the melodramatic theater he came from. The only film actors today who come near Cagney in his particular abilities are two virtual spin-offs of him, Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, and their elder, Marlon Brando, another master of tightness and well-controlled fierceness. Four of these seven actors came from the meaner streets of New York, a peculiar advantage, it would seem. Cagney was always grateful that he was given, in his words, “a touch of the gutter” to season his art. For art it was, however wrought or developed. He was fond of saying that if ever art was practiced in his part of Hollywood, he never saw it. But if art is both the conscious and unconscious development of one’s deep creative instincts in the service of lasting truth, Cagney was not only an artist but a very good one. He had no superior as a film actor and very few peers: Brando, Robert Donat, Alec Guinness, Charles Laughton, Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson, Edward G. Robinson, and Spencer Tracy. Possibly Fredric March. But none of these had his all-reaching dynamism, and none so well represented to Americans the qualities they consider uniquely their own: dispatch, engaging openness, and feisty independence. Cagney became for many Americans the person they think they are.