Written by: Carroll Jenkins on May 2nd, 2008
Theatrical Release Date: USA, 1931, 1933, 1937, 1940
Directors: Lloyd Bacon, Archie Mayo, Roy Del Ruth, Alfred E. Green
Cast: James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson, Humphrey Bogart
DVD released: March 25th, 2008
Approximate running time: 490 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Full Frame
Sound: Dolby Digital mono English
DVD Release: Warner Brothers
Region Coding: Region 1 NTSC
Retail Price: $59.92
Synopsis: A gangster starts to feel the heat so he takes a powder and muscles in on a new racket. The sixth film in this collection has a different plot.
This review focuses on the four pre-code films. The first wave of sound gangster films: Little Caesar, Public Enemy, and Scarface; were immensely popular but also extremely controversial due to glorification of vicious criminals. The heat was on, so Warner Brothers, the birds behind two of those, decided to lay low but continue to dish it out for those what’s willing to pay the price.
In Lady Killer Jimmy Cagney displays incredible energy and screen presence as a mobster who turns his back on his gang following a murder and lams out to Hollywood. Down-and-out at first, he maneuvers himself into stardom but can’t escape his sordid past. The film combines manic screwball comedy with a dark criminal undercurrent. His movie star girlfriend asks for a dozen monkeys – he gets her two dozen; his ex-moll (Mae Clarke) shows up in his bed unannounced (and drunk), she gets dragged across the room by her hair! This movie seems a pastiche of many others until you realize they were all made later.
Picture Snatcher is a hardboiled crime drama that takes you for a ride with booze, dames, and pulp action. Fresh out of Sing Sing, Cagney blows his gang and becomes a daredevil photographer for a scandal rag. He falls for the daughter of the police captain / prison guard who plugged him six times while in stir. Some of the most sensational bits are off screen (such as the execution of woman), but Picture Snatcher fires non-stop like a typewriter gat (tommy gun to you, mug).
Smart Money is an Edward G. Robinson vehicle with Jimmy Cagney in a flamboyant but small role. The opening act is plenty swell with Noel Francis (I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang) stealing her scenes (quite a feat against Robinson) – too bad she never caught a break. Also with Boris Karloff in a brief bit as a drug pusher who can’t lay off the craps table.
The last pre-code flick is Mayor Of Hell with Cagney as a ‘political’ appointee to a reform school. Conditions are so bad for the boys that hoodlum Cagney is forced to set things right. He believes the end justifies the means. Warners liked this one so much they remade it twice, both times with the Dead End Kids. One starred Humphrey Bogart and the other Ronald Reagan!
The Warner gangster collections set the standards of excellence for library titles of this vintage. Beautiful feature presentations in stand-alone keep cases, these releases are also packed to the brim with extras including period shorts, newsreels, and trailers. The attractive covers appear to be composites from the original poster art.
Yes, these are second string pre-code gangster(ish) films, but that doesn’t mean they’re second rate. Salacious and pugnacious with a mischievous grin, they oughta be illegal.