Though Public Enemy has a few of the problematic tendencies of older films it more than makes up for it's compelling portrait of a thug's descent into the criminal underground. What really makes it so remarkable are two elements. William Wellman's excellent direction that never holds back on depiction the sheer cruelty of the world, and just how unpleasant the life becomes. Wellman's portrayal of the deaths in the film is especially effective in just how uncompromising it all is, with the violence seeming so meaningless and random at times. The other factor being James Cagney who's one of the best actors of the thirties. Cagney's work as usual has this energetic quality that enlivens the film yet he also does not hold back in showing just how low his character really is.