The Signature Collection
Studio: Warner Brothers
Rated: Not Rated
Film Length: Various
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Standard
Audio: DD Monaural
Subtitles: English, French & Spanish
MSRP: $59.92 (Signature Collection), $29.92 (The Maltese Falcon)
Package: 7 discs in 6 Slimline cases in a cardboard case
After much demand, the long awaited follow-up, The Humphrey Bogart Signature Collection, Volume II recently debuted. The highlight of the collection showcases a spruced up version of the 1941 masterpiece, The Maltese Falcon as a Three-Disc Special Edition as well as six new to DVD titles including, Across The Pacific, Action In The North Atlantic, All Through The Night and Passage To Marseille. As a fantastic bonus, two other film versions of Hammett’s crime novel are included with the SE; the original pre-code, The Maltese Falcon from 1931 and the lighthearted Satan Met A Lady from 1936. The Maltese Falcon SE is available separately at $29.92 while the other titles are exclusive to the collection at $59.92.
Born on Christmas Day, 1899, Humphrey DeForest Bogart was the son of a Manhattan surgeon and had a privileged upbringing. After many stage and minor film roles, he caught the eye of Warner Brothers after starring in The Petrified Forest. The rest, as they say, is history. Bogart was named the AFI’s #1 male movie star of all time. Perhaps the unlikeliest of characters, Bogie embodied smart and courageous tough-guys like no other Hollywood actor. The most recognizable icon from classic film, Bogart starred in 85 films and has since become one of the biggest draws selling more than five million copies of VHS and DVD (Paramount, Columbia and Fox, are you paying attention). He earned an Academy Award for his 1951 performance of The African Queen and nominations for Casablanca (1942) and The Caine Mutiny (1954).
The Maltese Falcon (Directed by John Huston – 1941)
Let’s start right off with the crème de la crème of the collection. To say that I like The Maltese Falcon, would be the greatest understatement in the history of the modern world – at least my modern world. All of us here have certain films that they have a special fondness for, and this is without question, mine. I have watched the film countless times over the years and never grow tired of its razor sharp dialogue, gripping suspense and it’s unparalleled chemistry of eclectic players. In fact one has to think long and hard if ever a film demonstrated dialogue as cutting and brisk as this one.
For those of you who have followed my weekly reviews and rants, many of you are aware of my obsession and passion for film noir. While many might not necessarily associate The Maltese Falcon with film noir (they should), it was this film which started my crazed fascination for the movement.
The film solidified Bogart’s stardom and was director John Huston’s debut at the helm. The Maltese Falcon puts on a “film chemistry clinic” with performances from Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Elisha Cook Jr. and Mary Astor. Based on the work of Dashiell Hammett, Sam Spade (played by Humphrey Bogart) sets out in search of his partner’s killer. But, as the mystery unfolds, Bogart finds himself surrounded by a flock of low-life miscreants who are all in search of something else… a priceless jewel-encrusted falcon statuette.
The Maltese Falcon was nominated for three Academy Awards (Best Picture, Supporting Actor – Greenstreet and Screenplay – Huston) and in 1989 was added to the National Film Registry. It presently sits in the #23 spot on the American Film Institute’s (AFI) List of 100 Greatest Movies.
Across The Pacific (Directed by John Huston – 1942)
The winning team from The Maltese Falcon is reuinited for Across The Pacific. This crisply written wartime thriller reunites three Falcon leads; Bogart, Mary Astor and Sydney Greenstreet. John Huston directs the film and the combination is once again, a success. Not wanting to tamper with for the formula, the film has many of the same irresistible qualities that led to the success of The Maltese Falcon. Quirky humor and double crossing characters set the stage for the film in which a U.S. counterspy, Rick Leland (played by Bogart), falls romantically for Alberta Marlow (played by Astor) and finds himself supplying secrets to Lorenz (played by Greenstreet) as a group of saboteurs plot against the Panama Canal
Action In The North Atlantic (Directed by Lloyd Bacon – 1943)
The Merchant Marines are acknowledged here as they sail into action during World War II. The film highlights the efforts of a besieged freighter as it delivers essential supplies to those on the front lines. Joe Rossi (played by Bogart) is a WWI old timer who is First Officer to Captain Jarvis (played by Raymond Massey). Along the way, they match tactics and wits with German U-Boats and the Luftwaffe. The film eventually went on to become a training film for the civilian unit.
All Through The Night (Directed by Vincent Sherman – 1942)
Gloves Donahue (played by Bogart) appears in this off-beat comedy-thriller-parody as a petty crook and gambler. Unconcerned with current events in Europe, Gloves is more interested with his racing sheet and favorite “cheesecake”, that is, until the baker gets bumped off and that changes everything. The spoof is contagiously compelling as Gloves eventually gets pitted against Nazi spies. The film also sports a winning cast of shady-but-good-guys, William Demarest, Jackie Gleason and Phil Silvers. Conrad Veidt and long time Bogart co-star Peter Lorre also appear in the film.
Passage To Marseille (Directed by Michael Curtiz – 1944)
In Passage To Marseille, Humphrey Bogart reunites with his previous director from Casablanca - Michael Curtiz, as well as co-stars, Claude Rains, Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet. Jean Matrac (played by Bogart) plays a WWII French patriot who escapes the infamous Devil’s Island, manages to survive a dangerous freighter voyage and eventually joins as a gunner serving with the Free French Air Corps.
Just a quick note regarding the packaging of this set. All of the discs contained within the collection are housed in Slimcases (a welcomed new trend). However, it would seem as though changes to the collection caused some inconsistencies to the set itself. The 6 Slimline cases seem to be slightly too thin for the box itself (assuming changes were made to The Maltese Falcon set). Even the Slimcases themselves are rather an odd assortment as some of them are clear and a few of them are black – not a big deal but seems rather peculiar. While I rarely harp on such trivial issues, one can’t help but feel just slightly disappointed in the lackluster appointment of The Maltese Falcon – one of the greatest films of all time. It definitely deserves a much more prestigious treatment than it received.
The Maltese Falcon: 5/5
Across The Pacific: 3.5/5
Action in the North Atlantic: 4/5
All Through The Night: 4/5
Passage To Marseille: 3.5/5
No doubt the $64000 question is whether or not the new release of The Maltese Falcon represents a significant enough improvement to warrant a double dip. In a word; yes. While I’m not one to recommend many double dips, the new restored SE offers a fantastic new and improved image. While the previous version wasn’t necessarily a bad transfer, the SE beats its predecessor in literally every category. Sharpness is improved upon as is contrast and shadow detail. The image is far cleaner and free of most marks and blemishes. Grayscale also appears to be more impressive with the new SE. In any event, The Maltese Falcon is clearly the winner in the set in terms of its presentation.
The remainder of the set is a mixed bag and its mostly a “good” mixed bag. Across The Pacific is softer than most of the other entries in the collection however, I wouldn’t go as far as to say it is disappointing. Contrast is satisfactory and the image is mostly clean. Action in the North Atlantic looks very good. Image detail is slightly sharper than AtP and shadow detail as well as contrast is satisfactory – if not just slightly on the bright side. All Through The Night is excellent. Grayscale as well as shadow and contrast is impressive. Definition is also impressive and falls just short of the level of definition seen in TMF. Finally, Passage To Marseille is right up there with TMF – a tremendous image with excellent definition, terrific contrast and shadow levels and an impressive grayscale, although shows a few more marks and blemishes.
All in all, this is an excellent effort.
Overall Video: 4/5
All of these films are presented in their original monaural (DD) encoded formats and do an excellent job at relaying the audio side of things. All of the discs are basically free of any noise or other distraction. A minute amount of his is only noticeable occasionally but the tracks remain natural sounding and uncompressed.
Most importantly, dialogue is always intelligible and bold. There is an impressive collection of scores to be found here all of which sound excellent and never in competition with the dialogue. Obviously due to the limitations of the period, there isn’t much to say about dynamics or punch, but these tracks do an admirable job.
Overall Audio: 3.5/5
The set is absolutely jam packed with features and looks like this:
The Maltese Falcon
- Warner Brothers have given TMF the Three-Disc Special Edition treatment. The first disc contains the feature film, with an informative Commentary by Bogart biographer Eric Lax as well as a Theatrical Trailer that contains an introduction by Sydney Greenstreet which is in reasonably good shift.
- In addition, the first disc includes a Warner Night at the Movies 1941. These are smart little features that WB have included in an attempt to re-create the movie-goers experience of the day. The first feature is a vintage newsreel which is followed by the Oscar-nominated Technicolor musical short The Gay Parisian. Next up is a trailer for Sergeant York as well as two classic LT/MM animated shorts, Hiawatha's Rabbit Hunt, in color (Bugs Bunny), and Meet John Doughboy, in black-and-white (Porky Pig).
The real treat is located on Disc Two of this set and contains two previous film versions of the Dashiell Hammett novel that preceded the Bogart classic. The first is the 1931 version of The Maltese Falcon with Ricardo Cortez and Bebe Daniels, directed by Roy Del Ruth. The film was made a year following the book's success. The other movie is Satan Met a Lady from 1936 with Warren William and Bette Davis, directed by William Dieterle. In this case, the title was changed as were the names of the characters, much of the plot - even the name of the statuette. While both films pale in comparison to the ’41 classic, the inclusion is a welcomed one and the presentation of both is first rate.
The final disc in the set contains much of the documentary material. First up is a new 2006 documentary entitled, The Maltese Falcon: One Magnificent Bird which provides bio information on Hammett, the book, and the movie. Several filmmakers, actors, and authors like Peter Bogdanovich, Richard Deakins, James Cromwell, Michael Madsen, Frank Miller make an appearance and offer their thoughts on the film. From TCM, Robert Osborne is up next and hosts Becoming Attractions: The Trailers of Humphrey Bogart, a smart and unique documentary which looks at the career of Humphrey Bogart. The always popular blooper reel, Breakdowns of 1941 which allows us to hear our favorite classic film stars using expletives after they toss their lines. Up next is a one-minute series of Mary Astor makeup tests. The final features are audio-only bonuses from 1943 and 1946, three radio-show adaptations of The Maltese Falcon two of them featuring the original stars, plus another version starring another long time Warner tough-guy, Edward G. Robinson.
Across The Pacific
- Warner Night At The Movies contains a vintage newsreel that centers around the building of a canal lock as well as a Technicolor short entitled, Men of the Sky featuring Hap Arnold in a WWII propaganda piece. Up next is an animated Chuck Jones short, entitled, The Draft Horse – a humorous quasi anti-war piece. There is also a trailer for Captains of the Clouds (WB, where is this DVD…?)... Next up is a short featuring Joan Leslie which talks about the patriotic Hollywood home-front. The breakdown reel is just as entertaining and features many hilarious star studded faux-paus.
- The Theatrical Trailer has also been included and is in relatively good shape.
Action in the North Atlantic
- Warner Night At The Movies starts with a Jean Negulesco musical short about a classy exhibition dancing team followed by a featurette entitled, Credit Where Credit is Due which focuses on the work of lesser known contract directors. A radio show version starring George Raft and Raymond Massey rounds out the feature and exhibits adequate audio quality.
- The Theatrical Trailer has also been included and is in pretty good shape.
All Through The Night
- First up is a special treat in the form of a Commentary from the late director Vincent Sherman who recorded this before his recent passing. Here, he shares time with Bogart biographer, Eric Lax. The feature is entertaining (at least in nostalgic sort of way) as Sherman reminisces while Lax deals with the biographical side of things.
- Warner Night At The Movies starts with a Joe McDoakes comedy short, a Friz Freleng animated short, Lights Fantastic has been included as well as a Theatrical Trailer for Errol Flynn’s Gentleman Jim. The featurette Call the Usual Suspects is a piece centered around character actors and the system or philosophies of the old “recognizable” – but not necessarily known, character stalwarts.
- The Theatrical Trailer has also been included and is in very good condition.
Passage To Marseille
- First up is a Documentary from Leva Filmworks which helps contextualize the complicated political situation which was taking place in France during the war. The film garnered a fair amount of criticism during its theatrical release – perhaps the feature is an attempt at putting everything in its proper perspective.
- Warner Night At The Movies starts with an elaborate dramatic short I Won't Play which was directed by Crane Wilbur and features an early appearance from Dane Clark. Next up is a musical short called Jammin' the Blues as well as a Chuck Jones animated short entitled, The Weakly Reporter. The Theatrical Trailer is for Uncertain Glory, another Errol Flynn film that I suspect we’ll see released sooner rather than later is also present. The 1943 Breakdown reel is also present and just as entertaining.
- And finally….. the Theatrical Trailer has also been included and is in excellent condition.
Special Features: 5+/5
**Special Features rated for the quality of supplements, not the quantity**
Was it worth the wait…? You bet. Volume II of The Humphrey Bogart Signature Collection gets my vote as one of the best collections of the year thus far. Aside from a terrific collection of classic films, the presentation here is really something special. However, what really surprised me here were the special features. These discs (all of them) are jam packed with highly informative and entertaining special features befitting the grandest of any edition on DVD. These are presented in the form of the fan-favorite, Warner Night at the Movies and contain numerous worthwhile supplements.
Folks, this is the stuff dreams are made of…
Overall Rating: 4.5/5 (not an average)
Release Date: October 3rd, 2006