Through the decades, each studio was known to excel in specific areas. For M-G-M it seemed to be historical dramas and musicals. Fox seemed to have a similar bent. Universal had its monsters.
And WB was the home of the gangster film. As far back as the beginnings of sound, the studio cut its teeth on the genre, and no one did it better.
The Ultimate Gangsters Collection, to which I'd love to be able to append a "First Series," contains the penultimate early progression of the genre, beginning with Little Caesar (1930), Public Enemy (1931) on to The Petrified Forest (1936) and ending for this set with the incomparable White Heat (1949).
With the exception of Little Caesar, which looks fine for its age, but not quite as good as even Public Enemy, which is one year newer, these films are akin to a window to the past. As Blu-rays, because of the care for the original elements, along with the care that went into their image harvests and mastering, they are nothing less than revelatory. Possibly Public Enemy and Petrified Forest are the best. White Heat has occasional contrast build-up, but nothing untoward, and is generally beautiful.
As examples of black & white cinematography the four films shine. A quick look at the talent behind the four.
Directors: William Wellman, Mervyn LeRoy, Archie Mayo and Raoul Walsh
Cast: Edward G. Robinson, James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, Virginia Mayo, Edmund O'Brien, Leslie Howard, Bette Davis, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Glenda Farrell,
Jean Harlow, Joan Blondell
I'm hoping that The Roaring Twenties, Angels With Dirty Faces, Key Largo and High Sierra won't be far behind.
Image and Audio scores are averaged.
Image - 4.5
Audio - 4.5
For those who have not experienced these films, they are among the best ever created. Currently being offered at $42 for the four films plus an additional disc of extras. They are worth their weight in gold.