Showing posts with label Edward G. Robinson. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Edward G. Robinson. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

The Prize (1963)

Directed by Mark Robson, The Prize (1963) stars Paul Newman as Andrew Craig, a celebrated novelist with a penchant for booze and women. Having just won the Nobel Prize in literature, Craig is whisked away to Stockholm, Sweden to accept the honor and fraternize with his fellow laureates. Little does he know he'll be caught up an international web of intrigue. Among the laureates is physicist Dr. Max Stratman (Edward G. Robinson) who mysteriously disappears and is replaced by a look-a-like in his stead. Stratman's niece Emily (Diane Baker) is in charge of the scheme and seduces Craig to keep his nose out of her business. She's got competition from Inger Lisa Andersson (Elke Sommer), the representative from the Swedish Foreign Ministry assigned to look after Craig. To complicate things, Nobel winning scientist Dr. Denise Marceau (Micheline Presle) is counting on the handsome Craig to help make her husband jealous. In the lead up to the award ceremony, Craig has several run ins with international spies who want him dead. Will he save Dr. Stratman, and himself, in time for the big day?

The Prize is a Cold War thriller that doesn't take itself too seriously but really should have. It's a convoluted mess of a film. The dramatic and comedic elements clash and on the whole the story feels disjointed. Had they stuck with the more serious elements of the story or completely revamped it into a silly 1960s comedy, it could have worked either way. But doesn't quite work as is. I had never heard of the film until recently and now I know why. It's not a notable film by any means.

It's still fairly enjoyable for several reasons. First there's Paul Newman. The character of Andrew Craig doesn't quite suit him but Newman could really do anything and make it look good. There is a hilarious scene when he's running away from two hit men and he finds himself at a nudist's conference. It's funny and charming and one of the highlights of the film. By the 1960s, Sweden had developed a reputation for being a sexually progressive culture and that's touched upon in this film. While Elke Sommer plays Newman's main love interest, Diane Baker as Emily Stratman is far more interesting as a character. She's duplicitous but you can tell something else is going on to make her that way. Baker plays her with a subtlety that's rare for that era. Sommer's Ms. Anderson is beautiful but quite boring. Baker was far more interesting. .

As much as I love Edward G. Robinson, he doesn't have much to do in the film and the swap between the real Dr. Stratman and the imposter was weak at best. Other notable actors include Kevin McCarthy who plays Dr. John Garrett, Nobel laureate in medicine, Leo G. Carroll as Count Jacobsson and Micheline Presle as the worldly and playful Dr. Marceau.

Shot in Panavision and Metrocolor for MGM, The Prize is visually stunning and looks spectacular on Blu-ray. If you're smitten with the 1960s aesthetic, like I am, you'll be pleased with this offering. The film was shot on location in Sweden and between the costumes, sets and the good looking cast, it's truly a feast for the eyes.

The Prize (1963) is available on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive Collection. When you use my buy link you help support this site. Thanks!

The film has been remastered (1080p HD with DTS HD-Master Audio 2.0). The Blu-ray has subtitles and a trailer but no additional extras.

 Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. Thank you to Warner Archive for sending me a copy of The Prize (1963) on Blu-ray for review!

Monday, August 6, 2018

The Woman in the Window (1944)

Joan Bennett and Edward G. Robinson in The Woman in the Window (1944)

"Trouble starts from little things. Often from some forgotten natural tendency."

It's impossible to talk about Fritz Lang's The Woman in the Window (1944) without talking about its famous ending. I'm not going to even try. You've been warned.

Years ago I taped this film off of TCM and watched it with my mother. We were completely engrossed in the film and developed a growing concern for Edward G. Robinson's character. As the movie progressed we knew there was no way out for him and panic started to set in. He was getting deeper and deeper into a bad situation. What was going to happen to this poor sweet man? All he did was admire a portrait in the window. How did he get into this mess? Just as the film reached its climax we held our breath. When the ending came and we saw it was all just a dream, we breathed out a huge sigh of relief. My mother still talks about the film to this day. Sometimes she doesn't remember the title or the particulars of the story. But the ending, she'll always remember that. It's the one instance where a movie becomes its own hero and saves the audience from falling off the precipice into heart ache. And we're grateful for it.

Joan Bennett and Dan Duryea in The Woman in the Window (1944)

The Woman in the Window stars Edward G. Robinson as Richard Wanley, a professor of criminal psychology. With his wife and kids away on vacation, Professor Wanley spends time with his professional peers, including district attorney (Raymond Massey) and Dr. Barkstane (Edmund Breon). All three men are going through a mid-life crisis of sorts. They all have one thing in common: the admiration of a beautiful woman whose portrait is displayed in a shop window. One evening Wanley, as he stares at the portrait, sees a reflection. It's the portrait's subject, Alice Reed (Joan Bennett). What starts as an innocent flirtation ends with Wanley at Reed's apartment and a dead body. Reed's rich boyfriend tries to kill Wanley and an act of self-defense, with the help of Reed passing a pair of scissors to Wanley, will easily be misinterpreted as murder. The two plot to dispose of the body but they've gotten more than they bargained for. Reed must face her beaut Heidt (Dan Duryea) who catches wind of what happens and wants to be paid in return for his silence. And Wanley is implicating himself more and more as his district attorney friend handles the investigation. Wanley only sees one way out but luckily wakes up in time to discover it was all just a dream.

Based on the novel Once Off Guard by J.H. Wallis, The Woman in the Window was adapted to screen by Nunnally Johnson. Johnson had become a successful script writer at 20th Century Fox. Wanting to expand his business opportunities into both writing and producing, he founded International Pictures, Inc. Johnson's first project was adapting Wallis' novel onto film. He had both Fritz Lang and Edward G. Robinson in mind for the project. After Marlene Dietrich and other actresses turned down the female lead, Bennett was offered the part. Johnson's daughter Marjorie Fowler, then Marjorie Johnson, worked as an editor on the film.

Some major changes were in store for Wallis' story. According to Fritz Lang biographer Patrick McGilligan, "the novel had hinted that the female lead was a prostitute; Johnson made the character more ambiguous, but still obviously a rich man's mistress." Then there was that ending. In the novel, the protagonist, a professor of English not criminal psychology, deems all hope to be lost and commits suicide. This just wouldn't do for the movie version. Johnson wanted the original ending but got push back from studio execs. According to Johnson biographer Tom Stempel, suicide was a "story solution discouraged by the Production Code. [William] Goetz insisted that the story be revealed at the end to be a dream. Johnson felt that kind of ending was a cheat but Goetz was insistent..."

And wouldn't you know it, the ending worked. The Woman in the Window was a hit at the box office. While critics complained about the ending, they praised the film overall. According to McGilligan, quoting Fritz Lang, "the happier ending 'made a difference of a million dollars more in receipts."

Upon the success of The Woman in the Window, Fritz Lang, Joan Bennett and Bennett's husband, producer Walter Wanger, teamed up to start Diana Productions named after Bennett's daughter from her first marriage. Their first production was Scarlet Street (1945) which reunites Woman's three main stars Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett and Dan Duryea in what proved to be an eerily similar story. Many classic film fans like to joke that Scarlet and Woman are essentially the same movie.

Bennett and Lang collaborated on a total of 5 films which also include Confirm or Deny (1941), Man Hunt (1941) and the Diana Productions film Secret Beyond the Door (1947). This is notable because Fritz Lang was notoriously bad with his actors and many would give up working with him after one or two films. Stars like Brigitte Helm, Spencer Tracy and Henry Fonda wrote off working with Lang. Sylvia Sidney, who collaborated on three films with Lang, and Bennett seemed to be the only ones who were willing to endure working with the director.

The Woman in the Window is a marvelous film. A taught film noir that tugs at your heartstrings. I love that Bennett's Alice Reed isn't a femme fatale caricature. There's more complexity than usual. Bennett really shines in this part which reminded me a bit of Jane Greer's character in Out of the Past (1947) but with more heart. Robinson does a fine job drawing out the audience's sympathy for his character. He's sweet and pathetic and we want to protect him like a baby bird that's fallen out of the nest. And Dan Duryea. Nice man in real life and pure evil on screen. A sign of true talent that he could so effectively play the opposite of himself. Robinson, Bennett and Duryea make for a dynamic trio on screen and are just as enjoyable in the next installment.

And for the record, I loved the ending. Sure it's a stereotype of an old Hollywood cop-out but I bought it hook, line, and sinker.

The Woman in the Window (1944) is available on Blu-Ray and DVD from Kino Lorber Studio Classics. The disc includes subtitles, audio commentary by film historian and film noir expert Imogen Sara Smith, and a variety of noir trailers. The film has been newly mastered in high definition and looks great on Blu-Ray. The package contains a reversible jacket with another poster design on the reverse side.

Thank you to Kino Lorber for sending me a copy of the Blu-Ray for review.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Two Weeks in Another Town (1962)

Two Weeks in Another Town (1962)

"What does she mean to you? Two weeks of company in another town?"

It's no secret that the film industry loves remakes and sequels. Take an established story and characters with a following, slap on a number and a new story line or give it a fresh take with a new crew and wait for the financial rewards to come rolling in. It's riskier to take a chance on a new story than to revisit a tried and true formula. And as long as there are movies, there will always be filmmakers revisiting previous successes.

Two Weeks in Another Town (1962) is The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) non-sequel you didn't know you wanted. Both are backstage MGM melodramas about the film industry, both star Kirk Douglas, both are directed by Vincente Minnelli and both share the same crew including producer John Houseman, composer David Raskin and screenwriter Charles Schnee. Just take the essence of the original, give it a new story, film it at Cinecitta in Rome and set it ablaze with Metrocolor and you have Two Weeks.

Cinecitta circa 1962

Kirk Douglas in Two Weeks in Another Town (1962)

Based on the novel by Irwin Shaw, Two Weeks in Another Town follows the story of Jack Andrus (Kirk Douglas), a former actor whose spent the past few years in an asylum recovering from his mental breakdown. His old director, Maurice Kruger (Edward G. Robinson), summons him to Rome where he's working on a new film at Cinecitta. At first it's just a small gig, $5,000 in Jack's pocket and a chance to work on a movie set again. But Kruger, eager to capture the filmmaking magic they once had, wants Jack to stick around and offers him the job of dubbing supervisor. When Kruger has a heart attack, most likely brought on by his overbearing wife Clara (Claire Trevor), his tormented star Davie Drew (George Hamilton) and his temperamental female star Barzelli (Rosanna Schiaffino), Jack takes over as director. The project and his romance with budding young actress Veronica (Dahlia Lavi) breathes new life into Jack but his ex-wife, actress Carlotta (Cyd Charisse), threatens to destroy him.

Two Weeks in Another Town (1962)

Two Weeks in Another Town (1962)

Jack Andrus is the perfect role for Kirk Douglas. His character is intense, emotional and temperamental but also serves as the hero the audience wants to champion. George Hamilton's method actor, pseudo-James Dean type is supposed to be characteristic of Jack before his breakdown but Hamilton wasn't a good fit for the part, something that he admitted to himself. It's also unclear why his character is so tormented in the first place. His character and many others are caricatures of film industry types or are just plain misogynistic: the innocent beauty, the angry old hag, the jaded assistant, the temperamental actress, the destructive femme fatale, the tyrant director, the heartless film reporter, and so on and so forth. The film does tap into an interesting philosophical query: can you be true to your authentic self when your life is devoted to pretending to be other people? There are a few moments where I thought the film was really going to explore this but then it went right back to the melodrama.

And melodrama it was. Over-the-top is the best way to describe Two Weeks in Another Town. From the characters, the music, the plot, and the absolutely bonkers car crash but not quite a crash sequence with Douglas and Charisse. I couldn't help comparing Two Weeks with another Kirk Douglas film The Arrangement (1969). In that film he's an ad executive who is frustrated with his job and his passionless marriage, he has a nervous breakdown which leads to a terrible car accident that he miraculously survives. He finds some joy in a romance with a younger woman (Faye Dunaway). In the Two Weeks, Douglas' Jack, before he goes to Rome, is a film star, frustrated with his job, in a toxic marriage, has a nervous breakdown which leads to a terrible car accident that he miraculously survives. Both movies are not great but I found them to be enjoyable and I had fun comparing the two.

Two Weeks in Another Town was a bomb at the box office and garnered terrible reviews. Director Minnelli was quoted as saying "It's painful to talk about the ruin of that film even now." The magic of The Bad and the Beautiful, which won 5 Academy Awards and was nominated for a 6th, couldn't be captured ten years later in a new setting. Scenes from the original are shown in Two Weeks. In the story Kruger is its director and Jack its star and they are watching the film to understand what filmmaking magic the two had lost and how can they recapture it. Two Weeks was the final project for screenwriter Charles Schnee who died the year of its release. The film also reunited Claire Trevor and Edward G. Robinson who were both in another beloved classic movie, Key Largo (1948).

Two Weeks in Another Town (1962)

Two Weeks in Another Town (1962)

Should you bother with Two Weeks in Another Town (1962)? My answer is a resounding yes. If you don't come to it with high expectations and you embrace the melodrama you can be treated a simple and beautifully styled movie. I enjoyed the on location shooting in full color, performances by some of my most favorite actors, and exquisite costumes and decor. I wanted to jump into the movie, steal some goodies and go back to 2018 with my haul. In the film Kirk Douglas drives a beautiful Maserati which I appreciated for its retro body style but car enthusiasts will love because it's a rare model, a 3500 GT Vignale Spyder, that has been made the rounds with vintage car collectors and is still in existence today.

Collection. When you use my buy links you help support this site. Thanks! 

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. Thank you to Warner Archive for sending me the Blu-Ray of Two Weeks in Another Town (1962) to review!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Hell on Frisco Bay (1955)

Steve Rollins (Alan Ladd) is a man who's been wronged. After serving a 5 year sentence at San Quentin for a crime he didn't commit, the former cop is now free. Waiting for him at the gate is his old partner Dan (William Demarest) who sticks with him through thick and thin, and his wife Marcia (Joanne Dru), a lounge singer who gave into temptation while her husband was away. But Steve can't be bothered with dealing with his failed marriage. He's on a mission to track down the one man responsible for putting him in the slammer: Vic Damato (Edward G. Robinson). He got a hot tip from Frank Ragoni about who set him up and now Ragoni is missing. All fingers point to Damato who leads a mob syndicate that terrorizes the Italian fishing community of San Francisco. He's drunk with power and will kill anyone who gets in his way, even one of his own. He rules his team with an iron fist. First there's his number one man, Joe (Paul Stewart), who will do anything Damato tells him to but pulls away when he starts a romance with former screen star Kay (Fay Wray). Then there's Hammy (Stanley Adams), a blood thirsty mobster who is a little too eager to please, Damato's naive nephew Mario (Perry Lopez) and his man on the inside, dirty cop Detective Connors (Peter Hansen). Steve must make his way through web of shady characters to uncover the truth and to bring down Damato once and for all.

Hell on Frisco Bay (1955) is a fascinating noir, filmed in Cinemascope and Warner Color by with plenty of on-location shooting in the city by the bay. San Francisco serves as the beautiful backdrop for a dark tale of disturbed characters. Viewers will see shots of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Bridge, Fisherman's Wharf and the San Francisco, Ghirardelli Square, the Embarcadero and the iconic hills of San Francisco. Anyone familiar with the city will find plenty of recognizable scenery.

Based on the novel The Darkest Hour by William P. McGivern, Hell on Frisco Bay was adapted by screenwriters Sydney Boehm and Martin Rackin for Warner Bros. McGivern also wrote The Big Heat which is one of my favorite Noirs and one of the best films Fritz Lang made during his time in Hollywood. It was directed by Frank Tuttle who worked with Alan Ladd on This Gun for Hire (1942). Ladd, who also served as an uncredited producer through his company Jaguar Productions, hired Tuttle and other colleagues from his Paramount days including William Demarest, Paul Stewart and Anthony Caruso.

This Noir boasts a cast of characters portrayed by some of the best in the business. Edward G. Robinson playing a heartless mobster is no stretch as he had been playing such characters for many years. Alan Ladd looks worse for wear but his performance as Steve begs for the audience's sympathy but also holds them at a distance. I was quite taken with Paul Stewart's nuanced performance as Damato's reluctant sidekick Joe. He's not an actor I'm all that familiar with but this film definitely brought him to my attention. Fay Wray has an important but small role as a former actress who tries to protect her gangster boyfriend. I wish Joanne Dru and William Demarest had more to do in the film. They really just serve as the protagonist's counter parts. Starlet Jayne Mansfield has a bit role as the girl Perry Lopez dances with at Damato's night club. A young Rod Taylor, billed as Rodney Taylor, has a small role as one of Damato's thugs. His fight seen with Alan Ladd isn't quite believable but it's still fun to see Taylor in what was his fourth movie. In fact Ladd and Robinson have a big action-packed scene in San Francisco Bay that is also not quite believable. But with the help of stunt men and some studio footage, it works.

Hell on Frisco Bay is a gorgeous movie. Where it lacks in story telling it makes up for in stunning visuals and dramatic music by Max Steiner. This movie makes me long for a time when you could dress up, go to a classy lounge, have a drink and hear a good song or two. I always forget how richly visual 1950s movies are until I watch a good one and am reminded of this fact. Because of the gorgeous color cinematography, the film felt less like a Noir and more like a 1950s drama. I don't think this hurts the film at all. It makes it more of a hybrid.

Hell on Frisco Bay is available on Blu-Ray and DVD-MOD from the Warner Archive Collection. According to their recent podcast Hard Lessons this is the first time this film has been available either on DVD or Blu-Ray format. The film has been remastered from the original camera negative at 4k. You can buy the DVD and Blu-Ray at the WB Shop. Using my buy links helps support this site. Thanks!

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. Thank you to Warner Archive for sending me a copy of Hell on Frisco Bay (1955) to review!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Stars & Their Hobbies - Edward G. Robinson

Edward G. Robinson, Art Collector

“I remember well what it was like to be a true collector, that soft explosion in the heart, that thundering inner 'yes' when you see something you must have or die"- Edward G. Robinson

Edward G. Robinson didn't like to think of himself as a collector. His penchant for fine art was more of an addiction than a hobby. Robinson also collected cigars and records but his passion for art stands out. 

"I am not a collector. I'm just an innocent bystander who has been taken over by a collection." - Edward G. Robinson

Robinson had a collection of over 70 paintings and at one point even started a gallery with actor Vincent Price. Unfortunately, Robinson had to sell most of his original collection to Greek shipping tycoon Stavros Niarchos in 1956 in order to cover the costs of his divorce to Gladys Robinson. He kept collecting after that though and was able to amass a new collection that was even bigger than the first.

Cliff of Immortal Ephemera has two great posts on Edward G. Robinson's hobby: Interpreting and Understanding Edward G. Robinson on Collecting and Edward G. Robinson's World of Art - More Robinson on Collecting. I highly recommend reading them and they were the primary source of information for this post!


My series Stars & Their Hobbies explores how notable actors and actresses from Hollywood history spent their free time. Click here to view a complete list of entries.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Warner Archive Wednesday ~ Forbidden Hollywood Collection Volume 7

The seventh set in the popular Forbidden Hollywood Collection is a true gem. All four films, on 4 MOD-DVD discs, are rife with all the sins that make Pre-Codes so enjoyable to watch.

I started to do something recently that I have been wanting to do for a very long time: watch Pre-Codes every morning. It sounds like a silly ritual and I blame it all on TCM's influence. I had TCM for years before I moved out on my own and couldn't afford cable anymore (I got it back last year). I had become used to waking up early in the morning, turning on TCM and watching about 20-30 minutes of whatever early 1930s film was showing. It became a habit and for years afterwards I had always craved Pre-Codes in the morning. The only bad part about this was that I would want to watch the entire film but didn't have the time. I would either rent it or buy it later but that didn't always work because many of the films weren't available on DVD. Now that I own numerous Pre-Codes, including several of the Forbidden Hollywood Collection sets, I decided that I would pop in a DVD in the morning and watch 30 minutes of a Pre-Code. I know it seems like such a weird thing but this new morning ritual makes me so happy and gives me a nice start to my day. If I have time, I watch the entire film in the morning if I can. I started this new ritual with the seventh set in the Forbidden Hollywood Collection and I had so much fun that I hope to stick with it.

Now on to the films...

The Hatchet Man (1932) - This curio from First National stars Edward G. Robinson and Loretta Young. They are both made to look Asian and Loretta Young is almost unrecognizable in "yellow face". The story takes place in San Francisco's Chinatown and explores the conflict between old Chinese traditions and the modern sensibilities of 1930s America. Edward G. Robinson plays Wong Low Get, a Hatchet Man who acts as an executioner for the different Tongs in Chinatown. Whenever a crime is committed, he executes the criminal with his hatchet. He has to kill his best friend but before he does he makes a promise to take care of his daughter Sun Toya San (Loretta Young). There is romance, adultery, betrayal and violence in this rather disturbing movie. It's the slowest of the four films in the set and probably the most odd but worth watching.

Skyscrapers Souls (1932) - This is the first of the two Warren William films in this set, this Pre-Code looks at the lives of the people who work in a New York City skyscraper. All the action happens inside the building. The conceit works really well and made for a very enjoyable and clever little film. Warren William is despicable as the womanizing executive who is hell bent on owning the entire building. That skyscraper is his life, he lives, breathes, eats, works and sleeps in it. He's having an affair with his secretary Sarah (Verree Teasdale), funds his wife's (Hedda Hopper) adventures to keep her out of his sight but isn't satisfied until he gets his hands on his secretary's secretary Lynn (Maureen O'Sullivan) who happens to be having a romance with bank teller Tom (Norman Foster). That is quite a romantic entanglement! Anita Page is also in the film but has a very minor role. She receives good billing and I don't think she was utilized well. It's an enjoyable film with a rather serious ending.

Employees' Entrance (1933) - Warren William is back to his old antics in this film (well not really, in real life he was a very nice guy!). William plays Kurt Anderson, a tough executive who runs a department store with an iron fist. He has no compassion for anyone except for those who are willing to sacrifice everything, even happiness, in the name of business. Alice White plays Polly, a fashion model who Kurt hires on the side to be a romantic distraction to a busy-body executive. Kurt himself has his eye on another fashion model, Madeline, played by Loretta Young. He lures her into bed only to abandon her shortly after. When Madeline marries the boss' right-hand-man Martin West (Wallace Ford), they have to keep it a secret. Things get really messy when sex, booze and money get involved! If anyone tells you that they think old movies are tame, show them this film! In fact, sit them down and show them several Pre-Codes. 

Dog lovers may not care for one particular scene in the film. Consider yourself warned.

Ex-Lady (1933) - I know that Bette Davis used to make fun of her early movies and this one is considered to be one of her flops. I have always disagreed with Bette Davis though and her early pictures are my favorites. In my honest opinion, this one is the best of the set. I enjoyed it so much and  the story really resonated with me. It doesn't try to shock like other Pre-Codes do. Instead it takes an honest look at romantic relationships and marriage. Bette Davis plays Helen, a very accomplished artist whose illustrations are highly sought after. She's an independent woman and in charge of her own life and career. Gene Raymond plays Don, an advertiser and Helen's beau. Helen doesn't want to get married so instead Don sneaks in to her apartment and sleeps over regularly. Helen's parents find out and they feel pressure to marry but Helen fights it every step of the way. I could go on but this film is so good that I hope to devote an entire post to it. This film most likely flopped because it took an honest look at relationships instead of romanticizing the marriage ideal. That kind of truth doesn't make for popular entertainment. Everyone wants the fantasy, not the reality. This film is a new favorite indeed!

Forbidden Hollywood Collection: Volume 7 is available on DVD MOD from Warner Archive.

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. I received Forbidden Hollywood Collection Volume 7 from Warner Archive for review.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Ultimate Gangsters Collection: Classics Blu-Ray Review

Ultimate Gangsters Collection: Classics Blu-Ray 
On Sale May, 21 2013
Buy on:
Barnes & Noble
Best Buy
Warner Bros.

The Ultimate Gangsters Collection: Classics Blu-Ray boxed set went on sale this week. There is also a Contemporary version of the same set with 4 different movies. The Classics set includes four of the best original gangster movies including Little Caesar (1931), The Public Enemy (1931), The Petrified Forest (1936) and White Heat (1949).

Thanks to Warner Bros. I got a chance to review this set. I've had a Blu-Ray player for quite a while but haven't really been upgrading to Blu-Rays quite yet since so many classics are still only available on DVD. I was happy to get this on Blu-Ray because I love the quality even with black and white films.

This set comes with four Blu-Ray discs, each with one of the movies  Each Blu-Ray has some extras including commentary, an intro by Leonard Maltin, a newsreel, a short, a trailer and a featurette. I don't believe these extras are anything new and were most likely available in the previous editions of these films on DVD.

I had a Twitter conversation with some folks about DVD and Blu-Ray extras. Some folks didn't care about extras and others thought really good extras could make or break a set. I liked what Laura from Laura's Miscellaneous Musings had to say. She says the best DVDs or Blu-Rays with extras are like a "film school in a box". The extras add to your knowledge of the film and that time period. I agree with her. Those types of extras really add big value to a set. I wouldn't say that this Blu-Ray set is a "film school in a box" however it's a nice introductory set for people who like the gangster movie genre but didn't know much about these films to begin with. Perhaps a "gangster film intro class in a box".

The Blu-Ray set also comes with a Bonus DVD (note it's a DVD not a Blu-Ray) which has the feature-length documentary Public Enemies: The Golden Age of the Gangster Film. The documentary has interviews with notable film experts. I noticed that almost all of the talking heads were men except for Molly Haskell. I found the documentary a bit repetitive and I lost interest in it. I do think it has value perhaps for someone who is learning about these films for the first time. I'm definitely going to give the documentary another shot!

The set also comes with a 32 page 2-color booklet (black and white with gold) which includes some information about the time period, the gangster movie genre and the specific films. I'm always happy to see booklets in DVD or Blu-Ray sets because I think they add nice value to the set.

I would recommend this Blu-Ray set as a gift to someone who you think would appreciate early gangster movies. This would make a great Father's Day gift especially since that's right around the corner. However, I think women would enjoy this set too because I know I love gangster films and can't get enough of them! Also, if you are a classic film enthusiast looking to encourage someone to watch more old movies, I think this would be a great way to convert them. The real value of this set is as a gift or as a collector's item.

I loved revisiting Little Caesar (1931), The Public Enemy (1931) and The Petrified Forest (1936). I was especially moved by The Petrified Forest and I connected with the film on this viewing in a way I hadn't done so before. The message of personal freedom and independence of spirit really struck me. White Heat (1949) is one of those films I always thought I had seen but really had not. It comes pretty late in the era of gangster movies and is famous for the last scene with James Cagney saying "made it Ma, top of the world!". I enjoyed White Heat immensely. I love Cagney and one of my favorite actors Edmond O'Brien plays opposite him. There are a lot of O'Brien haters out there. I know a particular blogger who found the worst picture of him she muster up to demonstrate how gross he was. Pshaw! Just watch O'Brien in White Heat and you'll learn to appreciate him. White Heat is such a fantastic film and I'm glad I got a chance to see it. And with this set you get three of the best actors at the top of their game playing the gangster roles: Edward G. Robinson, Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney.

Thank you to Warner Bros. for sending me a copy of this set to review!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Little Caesar (1931)

Little Caesar (1931)  is one of the original gangster films and influenced the movies in that genre that were to come. It was directed by Mervyn LeRoy and based on a novel by W. R. Burnett.  Edward G. Robinson stars as Little Caesar aka Rico, a small time gangster looking to make it big. He and his good friend Joe (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) head east to Chicago. But Joe is a reluctant gangster who has dreams of becoming a dancer.  Joe falls in love with another dancer, Olga (Glenda Farrell), but finds it difficult to severe ties with his gangster friend Rico who is now establishing himself as the king of the underworld. The cops are hot on the tails of Rico and his gangster buddies and poor Joe gets caught in the middle.

This is my favorite shot from the film. Lots of well-dressed gangsters all in a row.

Looks just like my apartment (in my dreams!).

This film is filled with Art Deco splendor and well-dressed gangsters who rule the city's seedy underworld. The gangsters wear the best suits with all the accessories: tie-pins, scarves, pinkie rings, tie-chains, lapel buttons and pocket watches. Along with the cloche hats and the evening gowns the ladies wear, any vintage fashion enthusiast will swoon when they see these wardrobes.

Little Caesar is a product of the early talkie era. It came from Warner Bros. studio during a time of experimentation. When you watch the film, you are most likely to notice a lot of breaks in sound where there is nothing but silence or the sounds of movement. There is no score. And the film also has a vestige of the silent film era: title cards.

Edward G. Robinson didn't have a contract when he made Little Caesar and the film was such a big hit that it helped him secure a lucrative 2-year deal. Little Caesar also heralded a new genre of film, the gangster movie, that would prove to be popular for many years to come. Ocean's 11 (1960) makes a hat tip to Little Caesar as both involve a heist that takes place during the commotion of a New Year's Eve celebration.

Spoiler Alert!

Let's face it, Little Caesar makes gangster life look glamorous. And I can see how that would make some conservative types a bit nervous. This is definitely a pre-code movie because even though the bad guy doesn't win, you can't help but admire him a little bit.

Spoiler Over

I very much enjoyed Little Caesar. I haven't found very many films with Edward G. Robinson that I did not enjoy. He always does a great job in his roles. I was happy to see Douglas Fairbanks Jr. in this because I'd like to watch more of him. Gangsters, elegant menswear, Art Deco, New Year's, 1930s are all elements that I thoroughly enjoy!

Thanks to Laura of Laura's Miscellaneous Musings who encouraged others to watch this film and review it during the month of February! It was a fun excuse for me to finally watch Little Caesar.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Bullets or Ballots (1936)

While I was watching the extras in the Humphrey Bogart: The Essential Collection (see my review and vlog here), a trailer for Bullets or Ballots (1936) caught my eye. I was so dazzled by the cast that I just went "gimme gimme". It went to the top of my Netflix queue and I eagerly anticipated it's arrival. 

It's a shame it didn't make it into the Bogie boxed set. It's more Bogie than most of the other gangster films he made with Warner Bros. Bogie plays one of his angriest roles as mobster Bugs Fenner. I've never seen Bogie make so many angry faces in one film! Bugs Fenner is part of a team of mobsters headed by Kruger (Barton MacLane) who takes his orders from 3 wealthy men who oversee the entire operation. Only Kruger knows who those 3 men are but Bugs Fenner isn't satisfied with being second to Kruger or third to the wealthy triumvirate. He wants all the power, he wants it now and he doesn't care who or what is in his way. In steps Johnny Blake (Edward G. Robinson), a police detective who's got an in with the mob and while he has always been good on his word is about to double-cross Kruger and all the mobsters in order to help the police bring the whole racket down. This is an excellent Bogie-Robinson film and it just gets better with the scenes showcasing spunky Joan Blondell as Lee Morgan, a numbers game gal whose making serious dough off of Harlem and the Bronx with her nickel and dime games.

Fenner (Bogie), Kruger (MacLane) and Blake (Robinson). The other triumvirate.

I'm angry, see? But I still look impeccable in my dapper suit and slicked back hair. 

Bogie and Robinson made 5 films together and this was their first one. The others include: Kid Galahad (1937), The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (1938), Brother Orchid (1940) and Key Largo (1948). I've written about all of them and I'm sad there are no more new Bogie-Robinson films for me to discover. Bullets or Ballots (the title makes little sense in terms of the plot), is an entertaining and fast-paced 1930s gangster movie that is enjoyable and worth a viewing. Robinson excels as a mock-mobster as well as a police detective and Bogie wears a scowl so well in this film you'd figure that was the way his face was fastened on!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Key Largo (1948)

Key Largo (1948) is a fine film indeed because of it's acute attention to detail. It's character and plot development are straight on. We learn so much from so little. Let's take a look at some details that really stand out:
  • Dual storms - There is a hurricane outside and an equally dangerous storm brewing inside the hotel. This duality increases the tension and makes for great suspense.
  • Ridiculous Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson) - He's in the midst of unforgiving tropical heat, spends his days in a tub of cold water with a fan oscillating next to him. Yet he'll still don a full-on robe complete with pocket square, scarf and lit up cigar even though it's the most ridiculous ensemble to wear in such heat. He also refuses to bring in his boat during the hurricane and eventually loses it. To top it all off he brings his drunk girlfriend Gaye (Claire Trevor) who foils his plans every which way she can. For such a smart conniving gangster, Rocco becomes a complete idiot in Key Largo and that says something about his future.
  • Conflicted Frank McCloud (Bogie) - He survived WWII through his cowardice. He doesn't know whether he's coming or going or whether he should be brave and take action or whether he should just let things happen as they will. You can see the conflict in his eyes. The desire to be a better person but the debilitating fear that grips him.
  • Native Americans - Perhaps this is a John Huston touch. The camera focuses at one point on a group of Native Americans and Nora Temple (Lauren Bacall) spends a considerable amount of screen time introducing us to a 100+ year old woman. The camera adores her wrinkled constitution focusing on it so closely that her face takes up the whole screen. It humanizes the story in many ways.
  • Lionel Barrymore in a wheelchair - How can this not tug on your heartstrings? If you are familiar with Barrymore's earlier work, you'll understand that it's difficult to watch him in this state towards the end of his career. It's not just the character in the wheelchair it's the actor too.
  • Lush versus Widow - Juxtaposition of two opposing female characters adds a lot to the story. It makes us understand each of the two characters and their interactions with both Rocco and McCloud help us understand those male characters too.
  • Uncomfortable - Those goons at the beginning of the picture made me terribly uncomfortable. They made the other characters uncomfortable too. The way they spoke, their restlessness and their short fuses made me scared of what was to come. It was tension before the real tension even started.
You can see this film in many ways. As a Bogie film. As a Bogie-Bacall film. As a Bogie-Robinson film. Or even as a Bogie-Trevor film. But what anchors the film is Bogie himself. He's what all the plot points depend on even when he seems to be lurking in the background. In the end, this is really a Bogie film.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (1938)

It's the movie that Humphrey Bogart dubbed "The Amazing Doctor Clitoris" so would it be appropriate to say that this film tickled me pink? Perhaps not.  All joking aside, this is probably one of my top favorite films. Edward G. Robinson plays Dr. Clitterhouse, a well-dressed and highly-intelligent doctor who services the society crowd of New York City. He's developed a scientific fascination with crime that starts with him robbing wealthy ladies of their jewelry why they are distracted by champagne (or other drinks) and conversation during lavish parties. Then he takes it another step further, joining a group of criminals, including Rocks Valentine (Humphrey Bogart). He takes their temperature, draws their blood, checks their blood pressure and monitors their physical reaction to their criminal activity. But he gets in too deep and Rocks (Bogie) is about to make things really difficult for him. Robinson is exquisitely dressed with fine suits, scarves, cuff links, pocket squares, starched collars, white bow-ties, the works. Even Bogie, as a less well-off racketeer, is dressed very well. In fact, I stopped and asked Carlos (who works in the men's clothing industry)  what exactly Bogie was wearing on his collar and tie. Turns out he wore a Tie Pin and a Collar Pin, both are practical items but in this case they have an added dose of bling. Here you have a two-bit criminal who likes to show off his success in stealing jewels and furs by displaying a bit of sparkle on his person. I hadn't noticed all the accoutrement until this viewing which just goes to show you that all viewings are not created equal.

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