Warner Gangsters Collection Volume 3

Warner Gangsters Collection Volume 3
Six more "dirty ’30s” crime sprees, you dirty rats — none are exactly barnburners but almost all are fascinating detours from the genre into other themes or gimmicks. The Mayor of Hell proves an interesting social document, as James Cagney improbably finds himself cleaning up the staff of a boys’ reform school — the transformation of the kids is a little too miraculous but the combination of then current social theory and gangster genre plotting makes for an interestingly uneasy shotgun marriage. Picture Snatcher provides ex-criminal Cagney with another career: snapping lurid pictures for a tabloid run by souse Ralph Bellamy. Naturally he takes the wrong picture and lands the paper (and his girlfriend’s cop father) in serious hot water. No big surprises here but some pre-code salaciousness spikes the brew enough to keep you watching. The awkwardly titled Lady Killer gets slightly meta when it blends the Cagney myth with the Cagney career, as he plays a crook who cools his heels in Hollywood and winds up a star. It’s a super-light comedy but it’s got life and snap enough to get by. For some, the main event will be Smart Money, the only film to team Cagney and fellow crime lord Edward G. Robinson; the latter plays a gambler who rises to wealth and prominence only to let the wrong desperate woman ruin his life. It’s another pre-code shocker with surprising intimations of abortion and suicide, which is sufficient to get you through its primitive early sound period technique. Black Legion features perennial gangster second banana Humphrey Bogart in his first starring role; he’s the dumb lug who gets himself tied up in a Klan-like vigilante group and sees his life slide into the toilet. It apparently caused controversy at the time, and when you see it you’ll know why. The only dud in the bunch is Brother Orchid, where Robinson has to hide out from irate competitors with an order of monks. Hi-jinks include running their flower-growing operation like a numbers racket. The latest of these movies, it’s hyper-aware of the incongruity of the arrangement in ways that the other films brush off as inconsequential, and seems pretty laboured as a result. A smattering of commentaries, short subjects, cartoons, trailers and newsreels grace every disc in the "Warner Night at the Movies” tradition. (Warner)