Warner Gangsters Collection Vol. 3 DVD Review

     March 26, 2008

Reviewed by Andre Dellamorte

It’s nice to see Warner’s putting out some slightly obscure titles under the banner of the Gangsters collection, or noir, or et cetera, et cetera. Many of these films you haven’t heard much of, but that’s the fun of these sets.

Let’s get to it.

The Mayor of Hell

This stars James Cagney. He’s not introduced until 25 minutes in. Mostly it’s about some boys who end up in reform school. They beat up some neighborhood merchant and get sent in. Where the nurse who inspects them must have been boning one of the Warner brothers (for serious, there’s no other explanation). She eventually becomes the love interest, and I guess married a playwright. For that she gets in my good books. There’s also a black gang member who manifests the sorts of stereotypes one expects of a film of this era. That is to say, he gets bug eyed and easily scared. The Jewish kid makes Jewish jokes, and is appointed treasurer. Cagney gets top billing, but he’s not in the picture as much as you’d think – it’s something of a bait and switch – but the ending is insane. There’s three trailers (for this and two other theme-linked films), a commentary by Greg Mank, and the Warner’s Night at the movies option, which runs the film with an additional trailer, a news reel, a one-reeler musical entertainment, and a cartoon.

Smart Money

Edward G. Robinson plays a small-time gambler who goes big time after getting the better of a bunch of hoods who con him at first. He gets to the top with the help of James Cagney. Robinson is a nice man, which makes it okay that he runs a racket, while Cagney gets to play heavy in comparison. The film ends on a homosexual note, when Robinson realizes all too late who truly loves him. Very interesting. The film itself is fine, but nothing more than a good yarn. Which is good enough. This is the sort of film that’s pretty good. Not awesome, but holds your attention for the run time. The definition of three-star entertainment. Commentary by Alain Silver and James Ursini, and in the Warner Night at the Movies mode you get a bonus trailer, newsreel, two musical one-reelers, and a cartoon.

Picture Snatcher

Cagney gets out of jail and takes a bath to smell like lavender as at least two men surround him. No comment. Gets a job as a cameraman for a paper after quitting the gangster scene. Dates a policeman’s daughter, and uses his power to get the father promoted. That’s when the film gets interesting. Then the father gets demoted. Cagney’s got to prove himself. These films work on the level they are going for. You’re interested in the characters, and want to see them succeed, even if there’s nothing going on under the surface.These are good melodramas, and they don’t waste a lot of time. It’s easy to see why they appealed to the French as they did. They definitely learned something from them. There’s a commentary by Jeffery Vance and Tony Maietta, a theatrical trailer for this and Escape from Crime, and Warner Night at the Movies, which features a bonus trailer, a newsreel, a one-reeler musical, and a cartoon,

Lady Killer

Lady Killer is probably the most famous of the films included with this package. It’s the most self-conscious of the genre, where Cagney plays a criminal who finds work out west in the film business, eventually becoming a leading man – oh the irony! The meta near sickening, but it definitely makes this genre entry more interesting than a number in the fold. Cagney’s achille’s heel is his past, and his old friends decide that they want a piece of his pie, even though they abandoned him when he had legal troubles. It’s a film worth watching for the Cagney-ness. Again, there’s something to picture with such strong leads that even though the material is so-so, it never grates because you enjoy watching them work. Extras include a commentary by Drew Capser, the theatrical trailer, a bonus trailer, a newsreel, two one-reelers, and a cartoon that is viewed as so racist there’s a pause before it starts.

Brother Orchid

Robinson again plays a gangster who doesn’t understand the racket. He loses his fortune to Humphrey Bogart and has to rebuild. His old girl Ann Sheridan still loves him, though she’s been getting with Baxter Ralph Belamy. As one can guess from the title, Robinson ends up in a monastery after getting betrayed and shot. What’s fascinating about these films is how simplistic they are. The premise laid out by the title, but Robinson doesn’t end up in with the monks until more than halfway through. Brevity works for these films like iambic pentameter worked for Shakespeare. This also comes in the Warner Night at the movies presentation, so there’s a bonus trailer, a newsreel, two one-reelers, a cartoon, a commentary by Alan L. Gansberg and Eric Lac, and the film’s theatrical trailer.

Blood Legion

Ooh, this one stars Humphrey Bogart. Such promises nothing, but it’s always a good way to go. Bogart gets sucked into racism when he doesn’t get a promotion. He essentially becomes a Klu Klux Klan member. Craziness. With so little wasted energy, these films have a blunt force, a power that’s missing from modern issue films. Perhaps there’s less a sense of importance, or smugness. Over in 84 minutes, even though the subject matter is obvious, there’s a real brute force to the film, that even though it’s kind of wussing out on dealing with black people, it still manages to pack a punch. That said, the punches are fairly well telegraphed from the get go. But having Bogart sucked into being bastard definitely makes it more interesting. We love him, for he is Bogart. And we resent his bad decisions without resenting him or the picture. This also comes in the Warner Night at the movies presentation, so there’s a bonus trailer, a newsreel, two one reelers (the first a slightly racist one featuring Cab Calloway doing a very familiar number), a cartoon, a commentary by Patricia King Hanson and Anthony Slide, and the film’s theatrical trailer

As a package, these films are better viewed as the time capsule they are, but in terms of would-be filmmakers, there’s much to be learned form the simplicity and force these films create. Highliy recommended.

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