DVD of the Week – ‘Warner Gangsters Collection Volume 3’ – March 25, 2008

In the 1930s, Warner Bros. ruled the underworld genre of gangster movies, all but defining the genre with Little Caesar and The Public Enemy and making James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson the definitive gangland anti-heroes. As the Hayes Code put the kibbosh on the more extreme expressions of outlaw blasts of anti-social behavior and rat-a-tat violence, Cagney and Robinson calmed their illegal activities and even took their turns playing cops and DAs while Warners brought supporting actor Humphrey Bogart into the criminal fold. Warners is now on its third collection, and while the six-disc box set Warner Gangsters Collection Volume 3 is left with some of their lesser titles, it does feature one of the studio’s snappiest pre-code genre hybrids, Lady Killer (1933), a dynamic collision of gangster drama and show-biz comedy with James Cagney.

The film clocks in at a brisk 75 minutes and is already a third over before he even gets to Hollywood and hustles his way to success a second time, this time from movie extra to movies star. Cagney is at his insolent best as the perpetual motion wiseguy, always with a ready crack yet resilient enough to laugh at a creative insult lobbed his way. This pre-code production also features its share of saucy and salacious bits (watch Cagney drag Mae Clarke out of his bedroom by her hair) and a violent gunfight finale.

The six-disc set also features Cagney in Picture Snatcher (1933) and Mayor Of Hell (1933), Cagney co-starring with Edward G. Robinson in Smart Money (1931), Robinson in Brother Orchid (1940), and Humphrey Bogart in Black Legion (1937), which is more social drama than gangster film but can fit the bill in pinch. Each of these films are also available separately.

Read the complete review here.


From pre-code to post-code, Warners releases its definitive version of its genre-busting R-rated 1967 classic Bonnie and Clyde: 2-Disc Special Edition.

This new edition is highlighted by the new three-part, 64-minute documentary “Revolution! The Making of Bonnie and Clyde,” as definitive a portrait of the production and release of the film as you’ll find. Directed by Laurent Bouzreau, it features interviews with almost every major participant, from producer/star Warren Beatty and director Arthur Penn to costume designer Theadora Van Runkle, art director Dean Tavalouris, and editor Dede Allen. Beatty is in fine, reflective form as he discusses his first film as a producer and his creative input and the portrait of the set that he and others (including co-stars Faye Dunaway, Gene Hackman and Estelle Parsons) describe was not always cordial, but it bustled with creative energy.

The release also features two deleted scenes (without audio, subtitles provided), wardrobe tests with Warren Beatty, and a History Channel documentary on the real Bonnie and Clyde.

Read the complete review here.


Taking us up to the present is PTU, one of my favorite crime dramas from Johnnie To, the reigning king of Hong Kong crime cinema. The thriller is set over the course of one night in a volatile section of town where a gang war is brewing.

It’s a tight, concise action thriller, played against a backdrop of empty streets and lonely pools of light. The set pieces build as the bad guys scurry through the shadows until the armies gather for the spectacular finale, which To executes with mean precision.

Simon Yam headlines the film as the coolly controlled leader of the Police Tactical Unit, Suet Lam is the scruffy corrupt cop responsible for the chaos, and Maggie Shiu and Raymond Wong co-star.

Read the complete review here.


If this represents some kind of survey of crime cinema in the sound era, then David Lynch’s Lost Highway is the mutant offspring crawling in the shadows. Now it’s finally on DVD (Lynch fans had previously resorted to import DVDs), though it is a bare-bones edition with no supplements.

In one sense, this is David Lynch’s return to Blue Velvet territory, but he’s created a whole new paradigm in this film that reappears in Mulholland Dr. and Inland Empire: the terrible act against a loved one so transgressive it shatters reality and twists the world into a mobius-strip of a psycho thriller. With it’s searing images, dark soundtrack by Trent Reznor, and the damnedest tease of a narrative, Lost Highway is a wild ride of doubles and dopplegangers, time shifts, surreal images and plot twists that will rattle around your mind long after the film is over.

Read the complete review here.


Here’s a digest of the other DVD releases featured on my MSN column.

Movies: Frank Darabount’s adaptation of the Stephen King novella The Mist; Marc Forster’s screen version of Khaled Hosseini’s acclaimed novel The Kite Runner; the wry romantic comedy Wristcutters: A Love Story; and War Made Easy, the screen adaptation of Norman Soloman’s non-fiction book:

Think of it as a cinematic essay, a simple and pointed piece with a compelling argument made by Soloman himself, the sole interview subject. Soloman makes troubling observations about the government’s recurring history of misinformation and distraction and the complicity of the media to amplify the drumbeat rather than confront dissenting voices.

Read the complete review here.

TV: The short-lived Day Break: The Complete Series with Taye Diggs; the complete Sci-Fi Channel series Painkiller Jane with Kristanna Loken; the Cartoon Network surreal superhero spoof Frisky Dingo: Season 1; and Midsomer Murders: The Early Cases Collection:

The cluster of quaint country villages in rural Midsomer is most certainly the murder capital of England, or so you would surmise from this popular British series of murder mysteries based on the novels of Caroline Graham. The show was haphazardly released on DVD in the U.S., with episodes out of chronological order. This set collects the first 18 episodes in correct order…

Special Releases: Alain Delon 5-Film Collection, featuring Julien Duvivier’s Diabolically Yours (1967) with Senta Berger and Bertrand Blier’s Our Story (1984) with Nathalie Baye; and the East German films The Rabbit Is Me (1965) and The Second Track (1962), a noir thriller in striking black and white:

As the inspector and the thief play cat and mouse, the inspector’s daughter (Annekathrin Bürger) discovers that her father’s identity is not what she thinks and follows the evidence to a terrible story of the Nazi era. Director Joachim Kunert isn’t always as confident with his direction, but the flashback scenes are dramatically potent and the dissonant score creates a nervy atmosphere that fits the atmosphere of the story.

Read the complete review here.


The weekly column goes live every Tuesday on MSN Entertainment.

[Note: click on DVD cover to find it on Amazon]

Author: seanax

I write the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website (www.streamondemandathome.com). I'm a contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies Online, Keyframe, Independent Lens, and Cinephiled, and the editor of Parallax View (www.parallax-view.org).. I've written for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Weekly, GreenCine.com, Senses of Cinema, Asian Cult Cinema, and Psychotronic Video, among other publications, and I am a contributing editor to Parallax View. I currently live and work in Seattle, Washington, with my two cats, Hammet and Chandler.

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