James Cagney stars as a racecar driver who sacrifices his relationship with Ann Dvorak to help his kid brother (Eric Linden) follow in his skid marks. But when Dvorak gets even by encouraging a girlfriend (Joan Blondell) to take the brother’s eye off the game, the plan backfires. Linden and Blondell really fall in love, and after a tragedy on the race track, Cagney’s career heads into tough times just as his protegee’s star begins to rise.
Director Howard Hawks (Rio Bravo, Bringing Up Baby) was no doubt drawn to the film’s racing backdrop, but the racing scenes are less than captivating by today’s standards — especially in the absence of characters to root for. Cagney’s charisma certainly isn’t in question, but his character comes off too mean-spirited. Dvorak’s part is horribly conceived and written. Not a word she utters is about anything other than her love for Cagney (gag). Linden is plenty likeable and Blondell can always rise above mediocre material. There are a few nice moments in the movie — the best is when Cagney, down on his luck, is given a free meal by a food vendor who remembers his reputation. But it’s not enough to save The Crowd Roars from a less than stellar finish.