In one of the most famous breakfast-table arguments in screen history, rising gangster Tom Powers (James Cagney) listens to his girlfriend Kitty (Mae Clarke) gripe once too often and (in a shot that shocked audiences more than the film’s frequent gun violence) silences her by shoving half a grapefruit into her face. The scene is credited with making Cagney a star. Clarke’s expression of surprise was thought to be genuine, the result of a Cagney ad lib, but Clarke said later that she and Cagney had discussed what he was going to do and that her only surprise came later when director William Wellman kept the scene in the movie instead of leaving it on the gag reel. Wellman claimed he was inspired by his recurring urge to do the same to his own wife, an urge he rid himself of cathartically by having Cagney do it on screen. Cagney claimed Clarke’s own husband also enjoyed the scene, buying a ticket and timing his entrance to the theater to coincide with the scene, then leaving as soon as it was over.
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