Historical Events  Movies
James Cagney

James Cagney said "You dirty rat!" in his gangster movies

James Cagney never said "You dirty rat!" in his gangster movies

James Cagney

Another falsely attributed movie quote, or a Mandela Effect?

The exclamation "You dirty rat!" is pretty universally ingrained in modern Western culture as the cry of the mobster in the old black and white gangster movies of the 1930's.

Most people will associate the phrase with James Cagney, so are surprised to hear he never said it.

The closest we get is in two movies: Blonde Crazy (1931) "Oh, that dirty, double-crossin' rat" and Taxi! (1932) "Come out and take it, ya dirty, yellow-bellied rat!".


James Cagney's first role was actually as a woman in 1919 where he was in a dancing chorus line. The story is he had such severe stage fright that he had to carry a bucket with him. He spent many of his early years as a comedian before his big break in 1925, from when he became one of Hollywood's biggest stars of the day. He won an Oscar in 1942 for his role in Yankee Doodle Dandy.

The gangster movie era produced many notable classics, with the most famous arguably being Angels with Dirty Faces. This wasn't just the best known for it's screenplay - it also featured Humphrey Bogart, Pat O’Brien and Ann Sheridan. However, there's a little known fact regarding Cagney at the time this movie was made. He was a keen political activist, and had worked with Hollywood's Anti-Nazi League in 1936, who were using his fame to promote their cause. Unfortunately what he didn't realise was that this turned out to be a front for the Soviet Union’s Communist International, or Comintern. Cagney also escaped death on that movie, because he insisted that live bullets were not used, breaking the tradition.When the scenes were later filmed in which the guns were added, a stray bullet bounced to a path exactly where his head would have been.

Famous lines being attributed where they never existed are common Mandela Effects, and the reasons people give for just having a faulty memory fall down when so many people remember it the same way.