When it comes to preserving classic films on DVD, the leaders in the field (by a mile) are Criterion and Warner Home Video. The latest gift from WHV to cinephiles is the “Warner Gangsters Collection Vol. 3.” This outstanding box set contains six vintage WB gangster flicks, each of which is accompanied by the trademark “Warner Night at the Movies” feature. This bonus means that you can watch the movie as you would have back in the day, complete with era-appropriate newsreels, cartoons, short subjects, and previews.
Perhaps the best way to describe “Warner Gangsters Vol. 3” is to describe the experience of watching it. The first film I pulled out to view was Lady Killer. The “Warner Night at the Movies” kicks off the show. First up is a vintage trailer. Then comes a short called “The Camera Speaks,” in which an ancient movie camera waxes philosophical about the many images it filmed over the years. After that came “Kissing Time,” a musical short subject with a touch of romance.
Finally, there was a Christmas-themed cartoon called “The Shanty Where Santy Lives.” This was interesting as an example of how racial prejudices used to pervade mainstream entertainment. A pre-cartoon disclaimer warns that offensive imagery is contained within, and also reminds us that such prejudices “were wrong then and are wrong now.” It adds that the cartoon is being shown because to hide it would be “ to deny that such prejudices ever existed.” What you find is a generally innocuous and otherwise-charming animated short marred by a brief-but-offensive African-American stereotype. Not having grown up in that era, I was shocked by how casual the inclusion of this material was back in 1933. But like the disclaimer says, such prejudices existed, and seeing them in a modern light allows us to measure how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go. Kudos to Warner Home Video for both their sensitive disclaimer as well as their bravery in allowing film fans to study the imagery of the time.
After all the extras came the feature itself. Like all the films in this box set, Lady Killer has been beautifully restored. I couldn’t get over how good the picture looked and sounded. The movie features another first-rate performance from James Cagney, who brings humor and drama to the role with equal skill. The plot gets more amusing as it goes on and the Cagney character tries to leave behind the thug life to make it in the movie biz.
“Gangsters Collection Vol. 3” has five other quality films, all complete with their own abundance of cool extras. This is truly an excellent box set.
Here’s the breakdown on each disc’s bonus material:
The Mayor of Hell:
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