Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Warner Bros' Ultimate Gangsters Collection - Classic style - Blu-ray ""

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Warner Bros' Ultimate Gangsters Collection - Classic style - Blu-ray

This set is certainly a welcome addition to my Blu-ray collection. I was staring to give up a little hope that studios themselves would continue to put out great classic titles like this(as opposed to licensing to Twilight Time for example). I really hope to see more sets like this from Warners in the not too distant future. This excellent collection includes the Warner Brothers Gangster classics LITTLE CAESAR, THE PUBLIC ENEMY, THE PETRIFIED FOREST and WHITE HEAT. All the transfers look very nice(I must say I do enjoy a lovely B&W Blu-ray transfer).
Allow me to discuss each film individually...


LITTLE CAESAR(1931; Mervyn LeRoy)
I remember seeing LITTLE CAESAR for the first time and noticing some things right things away that seemed to have been an influence on Martin Scorsese. Obviously, Scorsese has been quite vocal about his love for Warner Brothers Gangster films so it seemed a pretty good bet that bits of them could have found their way into his work. Specifically, the scene where Edward G. Robinson's gang is introduced and the camera goes around the room to each one of them seemed to be a potential inspiration for a similar excellent sequence in GOODFELLAS. It struck me then how these older films could really be a neat jumping off point for more contemporary cinema. Scorsese could take a simple shot like that, filer it through himself and make it his own(and even better).
Based on a novel by W.R. Burnett(who also was the basis or writer for such classics as THE ASPHALT JUNGLE, THIS GUN FOR HIRE & HIGH SIERRA among many others), this movie gives an early look inside the criminal lifestyle and its consequences. And of course it was a huge breakout role for the great Edward G. Robinson. I think I first saw him in DOUBLE INDEMNITY, so returning to this earlier work felt initially like a step down, but you can really see the beginnings of a true star in the making. One of the great classic Hollywood stars and one of our greatest actors. I love Eddie G.


THE PUBLIC ENEMY(1931; William A. Wellman)
Wellman has really become a director whose films I am continually sifting through lately. He's just a really solid dude. Lots of variety in his filmography too. I have lately been preferring his 30s comedies, but he really makes solid movies overall. He still seems relatively unsung though and this puzzles me a bit.
THE PUBLIC ENEMY is most certainly an influence on Scorsese as he mentions it at the beginning of the 'Gangster Film' Segment of his wonderful documentary A PERSONAL JOURNEY THROUGH AMERICAN MOVIES:



THE PETRIFIED FOREST(1936; Archie Mayo)
I hadn't seen this film in a really really long time. I recall giving it a look during my heavy Bogart phase in college in the mid-90s and being none too impressed with it. I think I felt it was a bit too stagey at the time(a common hangup for me). Also, I was only vaguely aware of Bette Davis at the time and had no awareness of Leslie Howard. At the time, I'm sure Leslie Howard just seemed a stuffy British fellow to me or something. I've now come to appreciated him much more since seeing IT'S LOVE I'M AFTER and others. Howard's performance is much more poetic than I remembered. He's quite good here. 
I think the other problem I had with the film was that it features "Evil Bogart". I much prefer the "Cool as a cucumber Bogart" who occasionally has crazy outbursts. In general "Evil Bogart" always feels a bit too over the top for me. This go-round, I noticed Bogart is certainly evil, but there is some coolness there too. Overall I liked the film quite a bit more this time. It's talkiness didn't feel nearly as stodgy and I appreciated much more the underlying themes it presented.


WHITE HEAT(1949; Raoul Walsh)
In late 2011, As part of Edgar Wright's ongoing film series "The Wright Stuff" at Los Angeles' New Beverly Cinema, he took on screening  bunch of films he'd never seen before but meant to. As such, he screened a lot of great films including WHITE HEAT(doubled with THRONE OF BLOOD):
http://www.edgarwrighthere.com/2011/12/06/the-wright-stuff-iii-rise-and-fall-and-rise-and-tuesday-dec-13th-2011/
There's a great interview with him about it here:
http://sergioleoneifr.blogspot.com/2011/12/edgar-wright-on-cinematic-shortcomings.html
So that being said, when I heard Mr. Wright hadn't seen WHITE HEAT I finally came to terms with the fact that I myself had never seen it. I had somehow duped myself into thinking I had. I must have seen bits like "Top o the world Ma!" enough times that I made it feel like I'd watched the film when I hadn't. So I immediately set about getting a copy on dvd and finally watching the thing. I remembered first seeing it mentioned in Danny Peary's Cult Movies 2, one of my favorite film books.
Cult Movies 2
Had I known this set was coming, perhaps I would have waited but I'm glad I didn't. It truly is the classic it's reputed to be and Cagney is outstanding in it. It looks lovely here and I am very happy it was included in this set as it's probably my favorite of the 4 films.

The Ultimate Gangsters Collection also includes a bonus DVD with the 2008 TCM documentary, Public Enemies: The Golden Age of the Gangster Film, which was narrated by Alec Baldwin. In addition, each of the four films here features an audio commentary from a film scholar or film historian of some sort, so there's plenty of film knowledge to be absorbed. lastly, the set also comes with a 35-page hardbound collector's book filled with tons of great stills and still more info on the films. All in all a really spectacular package.


Ultimate Gangsters Collection: Classics Blu-Ray 
Now available.
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