James Cagney ought to be more famous for comedies than gangster movies, because he’s never more delightful than when spinning like a dynamo, throwing off rat-a-tat dialogue and now and then bursting into a graceful dance. Exhibit A: Boy Meets Girl, now available on demand from Warner Archive. Hollywood has made so many good comedies at its own expense that you might be forgiven for never having heard of this one, yet it’s among the best. The script by Bella & Samuel Spewack, based on their play, has it all: brilliant lines, excellent characters, and a smooth, surprising plot to wrap them in.
Cagney and Pat O’Brien, together again (as the trailer trumpets, or perhaps trombones—that’s a joke in the movie), play a frantic, irreverent screenwriting duo supposedly inspired by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. In this homage to the audacity and wackiness of creativity, they are mischievous devices to spin the narrative. Supposedly their motive is to preserve their jobs by spewing out variations of the “boy meets girl” plot for their studio, but the accidental by-product of their manipulations is, of course, true love.