The Science of Cool: Kathy’s NEW Taki’s column

Placed side by side, James Cagney fits Cabane’s criteria for cool far better than Humphrey Bogart.

Even when merely striding cockily down a sidewalk (then dodging machine gun fire), Cagney’s background as a professional dancer was evident in almost every film he made, not just in Yankee Doodle Dandy. His sharp, frugal gestures and bits of business also live up to Cabane’s bonsai tree ideal.

(When you learn that Malcolm McDowell based his performance as “Alex” on Cagney’s screen persona, you never watch A Clockwork Orange the same way.)

We are often surprised to discover how short certain charismatic performers really are, or were. (I still refuse to accept that Freddy Mercury was anything less than 6’ 1”.) The bantamweight Cagney, on the other hand, always seemed short—but it didn’t matter. That alone places him in an even higher stratum of cool, one occupied by a very few, including Cagney’s rival, Humphrey Bogart.

Other than being shortish, Bogart’s persona overlaps little with Cagney’s. Contra Cabane, Bogart’s characters, however tough they are (or think they are) have more tics than a lice-infested kindergarten nerd.

Bogart rarely stops scratching his head, readjusting some article of clothing, shifting in his chair, or doing those weird things with his mouth.

Yet, were you to ask a random selection of fairly cultured individuals which of these two men was the “coolest,” Bogart would certainly win.