DVD Review HTF REVIEW: Warner's Tough Guy Collection (VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED).

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Herb Kane, Jul 22, 2006.

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  1. Herb Kane

    Herb Kane Screenwriter

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    [​IMG]

    Bullets or Ballots (1936)

    In a role not all that familiar to Edward G. Robinson (as Blake), he sides with the good guys for the first time in this gangster saga. Like he does so well, Humphrey Bogart plays the short-fused Fenner. Joan Blondell and Louise Beavers are thriving numbers operators whose racket is taken over by the mob. After Warner Bros.' Depression-era gangster movies began to draw protests, the studio rejuvenated the genre with stories emphasizing law enforcers instead of lawbreakers. Bullets or Ballots was directed by William Keighley.


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    Each Dawn I Die (1939)

    After breaking a story about city corruption, reporter Frank Ross (played by James Cagney) is framed for murder. Confident he'll eventually prove his innocence and clear his name but the system at Rocky Point Penitentiary works in different ways. The guards are brutally violent, the mill labor is endless and the powers Ross fought on the outside, conspire to keep him locked up. Two of Warner’s famed tough guys star in this brutal prison film, James Cagney and George Raft. George Raft portrays gangster “Hood” Stacey, who may be able to spring Ross. Each Dawn I Die was directed by William Keighley.


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    'G' Men (1935)

    After years of being on the wrong side of the fence, James Cagney suddenly finds himself at war against the nation's public enemies. After public outcries against movies that glorified gangsters, this film finally put Cagney on the right side of the law. In the early days of the agency, F.B.I. agents working for the Department of Justice have limited powers. In fact they don't even carry firearms. However, that doesn't deter Law School grad Eddie Buchanan (played by Regis Toomey) from signing up, and he encourages his pal "Brick[/img]

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    A Slight Case of Murder (1937)

    The Prohibition era is almost over which forces bootlegger Remy Marco (played by Edward G. Robinson) to change his business model. His fortune declines due to the fact that the beer he makes tastes terrible. Things go from bad to worse when his daughter falls in love with a wealthy man's son who eventually becomes a cop. Unlike the other films gathered in the collection, A Slight Case of Murder is a light comedy in which Remy parodies his Little Caesar character based on Damon Runyon and Howard Lindsay's Broadway play. The film was directed by Lloyd Bacon.


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    City for Conquest (1940)

    Perhaps the crown-jewel of the collection, City for Conquest is a heart-tugging melodrama/film noir which has been restored to its original running time, with its prologue intact for the very first time since the original 1940 theatrical release. Subsequent theatrical reissues, TV and home video versions have always been edited. The storyline involves ex-Golden Gloves boxer Danny Kenny (played by James Cagney), who has his future in mind. He plans to turn pro to fund his brother's dream of writing a symphonic piece. But Danny’s plans fall through. Co-stars include Ann Sheridan, Anthony Quinn and a rare appearance by Elia Kazan. The film was directed by Anatole Litvak, however, Jean Negulesco took over for a short period when Anatole Litvak was hospitalized.


    The Features:
    Bullets or Ballots 3.5/5 [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]
    Each Dawn I Die 4/5 [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]
    [/img]Video:
    All of these films were produced within a five year period, so at least making comparisons relative to age concerns is somewhat easier…and all of these should be enough to please even the most discerning viewer. Considering these titles border the 70 year neighborhood, these films look tremendous – all of them. Presented in their OAR’s of 1.33:1, only a few blemishes and a slightly varying amount of source blemishes differentiate the best from the worst. To be clear, there really is no “worst” here – “best” to “very good” is perhaps more accurate.

    Let’s start with what this reviewer feels is the best film of the lot, City for Conquest. Appropriately, this also looks the best of the bunch as well. This title shows very good grayscale with blacks darker than we’d hope for and whites that were clean and crisp. Image detail is crisp and clear – perhaps the highlight of the transfer and shows exceptional detail. There are signs of print damage and blemishes but are relatively infrequent given the vintage. Each Dawn I Die is another title with similar qualities. While the image isn’t as consistently sharp, it’s almost as impressive. Great news for another terrific entry in this collection.

    A film which boasts this reviewer’s favorite thespian, Humphrey Bogart in San Quentin looks excellent as well. Save for some shimmer and flicker that appear infrequently throughout, this title is almost on par with the best of the best here. A slightly more refined image with grain that is slightly less coarse makes this a strong entry as well.

    A Slight Case of Murder, boasts one of the best looking transfers in the collection. A pretty stable image and terrific detail add to it’s strengths. Grayscale is better than we might expect – or reasonably expect and the amount of print damage and visible blemishes are minimal.

    Bullets or Ballets is slightly weaker than other entries – still, a nice transfer however. BoB is slightly softer than other entries with blemishes and marks that appear more frequently. ’G’ Men looks slightly softer than it’s counterparts and shows shimmer and flicker more than other titles among the collection, still these are what I would classify as excellent presentations given the age of these films.

    Video:
    Bullets or Ballots 3/5 [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]
    Each Dawn I Die 4/5 [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]
    'G' Men 3/5 [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]
    San Quentin 3.5/5 [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]
    A Slight Case of Murder 4/5 [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]
    City for Conquest 4.5/5 [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]



    Audio:
    No surprises here really. All of these have been encoded with DD Monaural tracks and are pretty much on par with what we would expect with films in the neighborhood of 70 years of age. Truth be told, all that really separates these in terms of the presentation is the amount of hiss that’s noticeable. That said, all of these sound natural and haven’t been tampered with in an attempt to suppress the hiss by compromising the fidelity of the track – although I’m sure these have been cleaned up somewhat.

    Dialogue on these titles are, for the most, clear and intelligible. I’d stop short of calling the dialogue “bold”, but they’re certainly more than acceptable for films of this vintage. Some of the films are accompanied with scoring which never competes with the spoken dialogue. Each Dawn I Die and San Quentin are perhaps slightly edgier than the other titles found within the collection as some of the action sequences become strained and I also detected slightly more hiss with these two titles as well.

    There are occasional pops and crackles but these never become distracting. Not much to say here in terms of heft or punch, but then again any expectations of such qualities would be pretty unrealistic, given the limitations of the period.

    Audio – Overall Total:
    3.5/5 [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]



    Special Features:
    The amount of special features contained within this collection is staggering. At a time when classic releases seem to be fewer and farther between (at least with many of the other studios), here not only are the titles themselves impressive but they are loaded with quality supplemental information. Each title comes with several individual features including the fan favorite, Warner’s, A Night At The Movies, a feature which attempts to re-create the theater-going experience for movie-goers of the period in which each film was produced. In an attempt to get this posted in as timely a fashion as possible, I was only able to spend limited time with many of these special features, however, the set looks like this:


    Bullets or Ballots

    The film starts off with a Commentary from film historian Dana Polan who does his best at keeping this a mostly screen specific discussion. He does a good job at discussing the production and development of the film as well as the history of the film and many of it’s players.

    Gangsters: The Immigrant’s Hero is a piece which features the likes of film historians Eric Lax, Drew Casper, Rick Jewell, Vivian Sobchack, Lincoln D. Hurst, and Patricia King Hanson as well as directors Lili Fini Zanuck and Martin Scorsese among others who go on to discuss the importance of the “Gangster” genre and the depiction of immigrants in these American crime films. Duration: 20:54 minutes.

    Next up is How I Play Golf by Bobby Jones No. 10: Trouble Shots. A short whereby the golfer offers some tips to actors such as Edward G. Robinson and Douglas Fairbanks. Duration: 10:40 minutes.

    A 4/16/1939 Lux Radio Theater Broadcast has also been included and features Robinson and Bogart as they reprise their earlier roles.

    The film’s Theatrical trailer has also been included which is in reasonably good shape.

    The next feature is entitled, Breakdowns of 1936 which highlights some fantastic blunders of some of Warner’s biggest stars – not to be missed.

    Last and certainly not least is the Warner Night at the Movies. Here, a trailer for The Charge of the Light Brigade is shown as well as a Newsreel, an animated short entitled, I’m a Big Shot Now and a musical short called George Hall and His Orchestra. These Warner Night At The Movies ensembles are fantastic additions to these classic discs.


    Each Dawn I Die

    First up is a Commentary provided to us by Haden Guest, curator of the Warner Brothers archives at USC, who discusses the film's production as well some interesting history surrounding prison films. He also offers up many tidbits relating to the players although he sounds somewhat stiff.

    Next up is a short entitled, Stool Pigeons and Pine Overcoats: The Language of Gangster Films Here, you’ll hear from film Haden Guest, Drew Casper, Michael Madsen and Martin Scorsese among others who discuss the street-lingo you'll hear in these crime films spouted by the likes of Cagney, Bogart, Raft and Robinson. Duration: 20:55 minutes.

    Also included is another Lux Radio Theater Broadcast from 1943 and Raft reprises his earlier role. Franchot Tone subs in for Cagney.

    Each Dawn I Crow is an Elmer Fudd WB Freleng animated short which has been included and appears in reasonably good condition.

    Breakdowns of 1939 is yet another collection of flubbed lines featuring Bogart, Davis, Cagney as well as Porky Pig – great stuff. Duration: 14:33 minutes.

    In this installment of Warner Night at the Movies, they start by offering a theatrical trailer for Wings of the Navy, a Newsreel, A Day at Santa Anita, an early Technicolor short, and an animated Tex Avery short, Detouring America which plays reasonably well.


    'G' Men

    First up is a Commentary provided by USC Film Professor Richard Jewell who does an excellent job at discussing Warner's vast history with gangster pictures including FBI ‘G’ Men and how they were portrayed. Other production notes and tidbits are also discussed.

    Next up is Morality and the Code: A How-To Manual for Hollywood which discusses the Hays Code in 1934. Among those who appear here are Richard Jewell, Eric Lax, Martin Scorsese, Michael Madsen, Robert Evans and Theresa Russell.

    Another golf tutorial to appear here is How I Play Golf, By Bobby Jones No. 11: Practice Shots as Cagney makes an appearance. Duration: 10:37 minutes.

    Things You Never See on the Screen (09m:57s) is another gag reel. The short features some more Warner stars butchering their lines in this funny little short. Duration: 9:57 minutes.

    Lastly, Warner Night at the Movies contains a theatrical trailer for Devil Dogs of the Air, a Newsreel, a short entitled The Old Gray Mayor which features Bob Hope and finally a Looney Tunes short, Buddy the Gee Man.


    San Quentin

    First, the Commentary this time around is provided by the AFI film Historian Patricia King Hanson, who does a fine job discussing many behind-the-scenes situations as well as other production notes.

    Another installment of flubs is included here in Breakdowns of 1937 which includes more Warners' star blunders.

    The next featurette is entitled Welcome To The Bighouse which includes many of the usual suspects who have appeared in similar features on the set who go on discuss the fascination with the movie-going public and their love for prison films. John Garfield makes a brief appearance here in a clip from Dust Be My Destiny (1939) – surely that one can’t be far behind…? Collection 3 perhaps…?? Duration: 18:29 minutes.

    The Theatrical Trailer is also included and is in reasonably good shape. Duration: 1:55 minutes.

    Warner Night at the Movies includes a preview and trailer for Kid Galahad, a Technicolor short, Man Without a Country, and Porky’s Double Trouble is a Frank Tashlin animated prison themed short which plays in pretty good shape.


    A Slight Case of Murder

    First up is a Commentary provided by film historian Robert Sklar. While this is in no way screen-specific, Sklar prefers to offer his own thoughts and enlightens us with a number of production notes and other tidbits relating to the film and the stars.

    Next up is a short entitled, Prohibition Opens the Floodgates. Those who appear include Drew Casper, Rick Jewell, Eric Lax, Vivian Sobchack, Lincoln D. Hurst, and Patricia King Hanson, Robert Evans, Irwin Winkler, Lili Fini Zanuck, Nicholas Pileggi and Michael Madsen among many others. This focuses on the Prohibition era and how that era is depicted in these old crime/gangster films. The feature does a good job at pulling theses films into context in terms of the significance the law had on those who chose to ignore it. Duration: 17:57 minutes.

    Lastly, Warner Night at the Movie starts with a trailer preview for The Dawn Patrol, a Newsreel, a Chuck Jones animated short called The Night Watchman and a short entitled The Declaration of Independence.


    City for Conquest

    This film’s Commentary track is provided by Richard Schickel. While I have mixed feelings about Schickel, admittedly this is a fine effort. He does a good job at offering up some background information of those who worked on the film, save for some quiet which is noticeable.

    Next up is a feature entitled Molls and Dolls: The Women of Gangster Films in which Cagney and his female relationships during his lengthy film career is clearly the focus of here. Those who appear include Martin Scorsese, Lili Fini Zanuck and Rick Jewell among others. Warner have cleverly inserted a number of these themed topics (like this one), the ingredients of which are most important for the crime/gangster genre. Duration: 20:04 minutes.

    Another blooper reel is included here in Breakdowns of 1940 in which a number of Warner stars appear.

    The film’s Theatrical Trailer also appears and is in pretty good shape.

    The 1942 Lux Radio Theater Broadcast is also present but unfortunately, Cagney and Sheridan have been replaced by Robert Preston and Alice Faye.

    Warner Night at the Movies this time around contains a trailer for The Fighting 69th, a Newsreel, a short feature entitled, Service with the Colors, and finally, a Merrie Melodies short entitled Stage Fright.

    At a time when a commentary, a short feature and the film’s theatrical trailer seem to constitute “Special Edition” status, I can’t imagine anyone not being absolutely thrilled with what has been included here in terms of special features. Short of sending a replica Tommy Gun, there’s nothing else we could reasonably expect Warner to include with these 70+ year old films. To top it off, Warner’s have given us a “Play-All” option for the Night At The Movies features, so the atmosphere is never lost as we reach for the remote. Outstanding…!!!

    Special Features: 5+/5
    [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]

    **Special Features rated for the quality of supplements, not the quantity**



    Final Thoughts:
    At a time when MGM were singing and dancing in musicals and when Universal were scaring the pants off of theater-goers with their horror films, Warner Bros. were capitalizing on the Depression/Prohibition era and produced what are now referred to as the best and most important American crime films ever produced. The studio had the biggest group of tough guy stalwarts in the industry and are still instantly recognizable today. Guys like Jimmy Cagney, Edward G. Robinson, Humphrey Bogart, and George Raft were unquestionably responsible for the success Warner Brothers would go on to see today.

    The Tough Guys Collection is a fantastic follow-up to last year’s Gangster Collection and considering the depth of titles the studio is sitting on, there should be little doubt that more of these Gangster/Crime films could – and should continue to surface. As the Gangster/Crime genre grew so did the emergence of the Film Noir movement; another assortment of titles that Warner is in no short supply of. Noir fans will find the Tough Guys Collection interesting as a genre that eventually evolved into Film Noir.

    If you’re a fan of classic film, the Tough Guys Collection deserves a spot in your film library – and keep it at a reasonable height ‘cause you’re going to spend considerable time reaching for it to get through everything. It’s still early but this box gets an early vote from this reviewer as one of the year’s best. Looking forward to your third installment Warner…!

    Overall Rating: 5/5 (not an average)
    [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]

    Very Highly Recommended…!!!



    Release Date: July 18th, 2006
     
  2. Roger Rollins

    Roger Rollins Supporting Actor

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    WOW!

    I have been enjoying this set immeasurably all week, and once again Mr. Kane's exceptional writing style and keen perceptions accurately describe the multitude of glories in this set.

    I share his praise of the Warner people in the care they lavish on these releases. It must take a great amount of effort by many people there to pull off such a classy product...and they do it at least once or twice every month!

    One thing not mentioned by Herb, that is most certainly worth nothing is that CITY FOR CONQUEST (indeed a terrific picture) has deleted footage including a wonderful prologue restored for the first time since original theatrical release. (The footage was cut for subsequent reissue and never restored).

    My last thought, is those of you who have VHS or LD copies of some of these movies...compare the difference. It's astounding what the restorations look like in comparison to what we have been looking at for the past many years.

    Cheers to Herb and the Brothers Warner, too!
     
  3. John Hodson

    John Hodson Producer

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    The deleted footage in City for Conquest is not quite in as good condition as the rest of the film (and there are a few seconds of what appears to be quite bad water damage towards the end), but the rest is in exceptional condition.

    It was great to see those deleted scenes; I'd not seen CfC for many a moon and, for a while, they convinced me that I hadn't seen it at all! They do give the whole a wonderful fairy tale quality and make it that hymn to New York that Litvak intended.

    Thanks Herb; thorough job as usual.
     
  4. Steve...O

    Steve...O Producer

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    Thanks Herb for a wonderful and insightful review.

    I've watched two discs entirely and viewed various bonus features. Wow - this will be one of the best sets of 2006.

    The two films I watched G-Men and Bullets/Ballots both look fantastic and are very enjoyable to watch. Although Bogie, EG Robinson, and Cagney are the stars, Warners had the best character actors of the era and I loved seeing Barton MacLane, Joe Crehan, Harold Huber et al in these films. And then there are the ladies. [​IMG]

    The Bob Hope short on G-Men was quite entertaining..his co-star is Lionel Stander who some may know from Hart to Hart.

    I can't imagine anyone not loving this set. Just make sure the kids leave the room when the Breakdowns shorts are playing. You wouldn't want to destroy their image of Porky Pig [​IMG]

    Steve
     
  5. JohnPM

    JohnPM Second Unit

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    I always figured "City For Conquest" was cut for the 1947 re-issue so as to get the length down and allow for more streamlined double bills. I know other WB revivals were cut for this reason ("The Sea Hawk", "Captain Blood"). Anyone know for sure?

    http://www.greenbriarpictureshows.blogspot.com/
     
  6. Steve...O

    Steve...O Producer

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    One of the hidden gems (of which there are many) in this set is the 1937 Technicolor short "Man Without A Country" that is part of the San Quentin disc.

    It's a work of fiction (adapted from a short story), but is very captivating. Beautifully filmed and in in very good condition, it will also surprise those who think bad words weren't in movies before "Gone With the Wind". The only disconcerting thing is that the clarity of the DVD is such you can readily see the heavy amount of red lipstick that John Litel is wearing. Ugh. I can never look at Nancy Drew's father the same way again.

    Gangsters #3 can't come soon enough. I don't know how Warners is going to top this collection, but they will.

    Steve
     
  7. Lars Vermundsberget

    Lars Vermundsberget Supporting Actor

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    I know none of these titles, but will put the whole set on my short to buy-list.
     
  8. Steve...O

    Steve...O Producer

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    "Each Dawn I Die" does not have English subtitles (all the others do). Was this just an oversight or mastering error by Warners? Major bummer for me as I use these for a variety of reasons. The disc is closed captioned, but those don't show up on progressive scan players.

    The Avery short on this disc (Detouring America) is preceded by a very brief PC warning telling us certain depictions in the toon were "wrong then and wrong today". It is so brief I had to rewind and pause to read it. It, along with other cartoons in the set, do carry a "dubbed version" copyright notice at the end of the cartoon. I don't know what this means in terms of changes, if any, to the cartoon, but it's there.

    Steve
     
  9. Haggai

    Haggai Producer

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    Do we know if there's going to be another box-set installment of Warner gangster DVDs? If so, surely it will include Dust Be My Destiny, which is excerpted in almost all of the featurettes I've watched on these discs so far. It shows up in the "also available from Warner Home Video" list at the end of each of the featurettes in which it appears, and all the other titles in those lists are already on DVD, either in this Tough Guys collection or in the first Gangsters set (plus the occasional other related movie for one of the actors, like Cagney in Yankee Doodle Dandy or Robinson in Key Largo).
     
  10. MarkHarrison

    MarkHarrison Supporting Actor

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    I don't believe so. If I remember correctly, they decided to widen the scope of the Gangster set so they could continue the series with films that are similar in nature while not necessarily about gangsters. Thus the Tough Guys collection was born.
     
  11. jackbogart

    jackbogart Extra

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    I love the special features on these! MAn I love the actors, Each film either has Bogart, Cagney or Robinson! I really do like this set, but I do like the Gangster Set more . I wish Leonard Maltin was in Warner Night at the Movies again that would of been cool.!
     
  12. Haggai

    Haggai Producer

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    That makes sense. Still, I would imagine they have some sort of plan to release Dust Be My Destiny, and that it might even have been planned as part of this box set at the time they were putting the featurettes together.
     

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