After a three-year stint in prison, Danny Kean (James Cagney) decides he’s going to straighten up and fly right. He puts Jerry the Mug (Ralf Harolde) in charge of his old gang and starts pursuing his dream of becoming a newspaper reporter. While he was in prison, he had gotten a letter from Al McClean (Ralph Bellamy), city editor for the Graphic News, offering him a job when he got out. Graphic News isn’t known for being the most reputable paper in town, but Danny is still eager to work there. However, once Danny shows up in their offices, Al has second thoughts about having such a notorious name on board. While Danny is talking to Al, a story breaks about a firefighter being called to put out a fire, only to find the bodies of his wife and her boyfriend inside, and then barricaded himself in the burnt-out home with a gun. Photographers from every paper in town are waiting to get a picture, but nobody is getting anything. Eager to prove himself, Danny marches over there, pretends to be an insurance adjuster to get inside the house, and gets the picture everybody wants.
Of course, Danny lands a job as a photographer at the Graphic News and quickly becomes one of their top photographers. He even lands a few dates with reporter Allison (Alice White), even though she is Al’s girlfriend. But their relationship doesn’t go anywhere and he ends up falling for Pat Nolan (Patricia Ellis), a journalism student he meets when her class takes a tour of the Graphic News offices. What Danny doesn’t know is that Pat is the daughter of Casey Nolan, the police lieutenant responsible for putting Danny behind bars. When Casey finds out, obviously he wants Pat to have nothing to do with Danny, but Al helps win him over by getting a nice article written about him in a reputable newspaper.
Even though Danny is making good money at the paper, he becomes more and more eager to prove himself as a real newsman and bring in even more money so he can afford to marry Pat. When a woman is set to be executed, every paper in town except for the Graphic News is invited to cover the event. Danny manages to steal an invitation from another paper’s reporter and when they hesitate to let him in, he manages to get in on Casey’s word. He has a camera hidden on his leg and manages to sneak a picture of the execution. But when the other reporters find out, it results in a huge chase as the reporters and cops try to stop him from getting back to the Graphic News offices. But Danny is no stranger to being chased, so he makes it back to the offices and his picture makes the front page. Unfortunately, it costs him his relationship with Pat when her father gets demoted because of his stunt. To hide Danny while all the commotion dies down, Al sends Danny to stay at Allison’s apartment while she’s supposed to be out-of-town. Instead, she comes home early, tries to seduce Danny and Al catches them together and fires Danny. Feeling guilty, Al quits his job at the Graphic News and tries to apologize to Danny. He accepts and the two of them decide to use Danny’s connections to find Jerry the Mug, who is now being hunted down by the police. Danny gets a shot of Jerry during a big shoot-out, Al writes a story to go with it, and they not only get jobs at a better paper, but Danny gets Casey his job back and wins Pat over again.
Picture Snatcher was pretty enjoyable. Nothing too outstanding, Cagney and Bellamy both have had much more memorable movies, but I liked it well enough. It’s got enough of Cagney as a tough guy to make it worthwhile, plus a good bit of humor and some pre-code moments to make it fun to watch. Plus the pacing is great, it really fit a lot into 77 minutes. I may not go out of my way to watch it again, but if TCM showed it again, I’d probably still tune in for it.