Warner Gangsters Collection Vol. 4

Warner Gangsters Collection Vol. 4
Don’t take the title of this collection too seriously; it’s mostly films at a bit of a remove from the early to mid-’30s gangster heyday, with only one straight-up genre standard and the others recruiting its personnel. Best of these by far is Kid Galahad, a crackerjack film about a criminal boxing promoter (Edward G. Robinson) grooming a good-hearted boy (Wayne Morris) for fight immortality. But Robinson’s girlfriend (Bette Davis) complicates things, as does Morris falling for the promoter’s sister (Jane Bryan). It’s a snappy Michael Curtiz smack down full of tension and good dialogue. The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse is less interesting, with Robinson as a respected physician who robs innocents on the side and falls in with criminals when he’s unfairly labelled an amateur. The premise is cute but the film is too happy with its cleverness to be really entertaining. Closer to the genre impetus is Invisible Stripes, with George Raft as an ex-con who can’t get work after being released from prison, which pushes his little brother perilously close to criminal life. Watching this movie satisfy reformers and law-and-order types is pretty funny, though it delineates Raft’s dilemma in raw terms before turning against itself. Larceny, Inc. has Robinson again as a crook looking to burrow into a bank vault, buying the luggage store next door. Unfortunately, the store takes off and the laughs begin. Here another cute premise (probably ripped off by Woody Allen in Small Time Crooks) gets a somewhat better presentation and while it never rips you apart with laughs it gets by well enough to keep you watching. The only true-blue genre entry of the bunch is The Little Giant, in which rich bootlegger Robinson (this is practically an unofficial Robinson collection) heads to Santa Barbara and falls in with a family of society cons looking to fleece him. The scrappy, "I got here from nothing” sensibility permeates every pre-code frame of this comedy, making it the most hardcore of the offerings, if not the best. Disc six features an excellent introductory documentary on the gangster genre. And although it sidesteps certain political realities, it’s an excellent place to begin. Rounding out the discs is Warner’s specialty, "Warner Night at the Movies,” with short subjects and newsreels simulating the theatre experience of the day, as well as expert commentaries from a variety of scholars. (Warner)