Better than Little Caesar, but not as good as Scarface, but still a damn fine gangster film. I enjoyed the life long rise and fall of Tommy Powers, there were many, many times that this film felt like a major inspiration for Goodfellas (just several little things made me think this quite often). I liked several little touches, like the implication that Putty nose was homosexual, it's interesting to see how they insinuated those sorts of things back in the day. I based this on three things: Putty nose singing to the kid sitting on his piano in 1909 (like a woman traditionally does), the way he sticks his rear into Tommy's face in 1917, and the way Nails eggs Tommy on with the word SOFT, the way he says and uses this word especially, and perhaps the physicality of his character--a slender conniving, almost effeminate man. This may not seem like much, but I know for a fact that there is supposed to be a strong incestuas relationship implied between Tony Camote and his sister in Scarface, and I think Public Enemy shares that 30s style of slying implying things but never saying them outright. Another thing thats fascinating when seeing these similar time period films, is that you start to notice house styles. I saw two thirties films by WB earlier this year "Oil for the Lamps of China" and "Stella Dallas" between those two, Little Caesar, and Public Enemy, more and more styles seem to jump out at me, ways of staging or lighting things, the sorts of performances achieved and the look of the actors themselves.
Anyway back to Public Enemy. A fine fine gangster film, I love that incredible moment, when in the pouring rain Tommy goes into hit several guys, then staggers out into the rain--shot--and its raining even harder. This nadir of Tommy's life is perfectly done, and seems to be the sort of thing that would later inspire Kurasawa in his use of rain. And the final scene when Tommy is brought back to the house is utterly chilling, especially the look in his brothers eyes. Not quite the ending of I am a fugitive... Scarface or Stagecoach, but still an incredible way to end the film.