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Warners has put six of its' best gangster flicks into this first volume of "Gangsters",and many still pack a mean wallop.
"The Public Enemy"(4 stars),referred still mistakenly by many today as just "Public Enemy",stars James Cagney as Tom Powers,his two girlfriends Mae Clarke as Kitty and Jean Harlow as Gwen,Ed Woods as his buddy Matt Doyle,his girlfriend Joan Blondell as Mamie,and others.The movie involves the story of Tom and Matt as two boys growing up on the mean streets of the big city and their first brushes as young kids with petty criminals and crime.As they grow up we see their graduation into the big time and their climb to success during prohibition as two of its' biggest hustlers in the illegal distribution of homemade booze.Of course crime doesn't pay and Tom gets his,in the end.Skillfully directed by William Wellman(Wings),this was Cagneys' breakthrough part and put him solidly on the path to major stardom in short order.Originally Woods had the Cagney role but they were reversed due to Cagney's powerful presence.This version has two minutes of restored footage re-inserted into it.It is definitely pre-code(/34)and is violent,with(still)quite shocking overt sexual moments and has the famous grapefruit in the kisser scene.
"Little Ceasar"(4 1/2 stars)released in August of /31,was Edward G.Robinson's breakthrough role also.Robsinson gives a rivetting performance as Enricco Bondello who as a petty thief longs to be the number one man and one day starts on the path to become so.It is a slow climb up the ladder as he steps on many toes,displaces bosses and makes many enemies.When you're at the top there is only one way to go and down and out Bondello goes in a hail of bullets;the only fitting end.Director Mervyn LeRoy(Wizard of Oz,Mister Roberts)nicely directs this taut gangster flick and Robinson gives an Oscar-caliber performance.It is absolute lunacy that Robsinson was never nominated for an Oscar in his entire career.He received an honourary one in /73 but died before getting it.
"Petrified Forest"(4 stars),released in Feb/36,stars wonderful British Actor Leslie Howard as Alan Squier who is hitchiking westward through Arizona when his journey brings him to a small cafe.Bette Davis as Gabrielle works as a waitress for her father,who dreams and longs to go to her mothers' homeland of France.The two strike up a quick bond,much to the chagrin of her boyfriend Dick Foran(Boze).Enter Duke Mantee(Humphrey Bogart)as an arch criminal on the run trying to get to Mexico,who decides to use the cafe as a temporary lay over.In the end the law gets its' man and Gabrielle gets her wish,with the help of Alan;in spirit.The film was originally a successful play starring Howard and Bogart.Howard retained the rights to the property and when Warners wanted Edward G. Robinson in the Mantee role he stubbornly balked and in the end won the day for Bogie.The mise en scene for the most part revolves around the cafe and a wonderful tension and atmosphere prevails the entire film.This was Bogies' breaktrough film who literally dominates every scene he is in.
"Angels with Dirty Faces"(3 1/2 stars),released in Nov/38,stars James Cagney as Rocky Sullivan and Pat O'Brien as his buddy Jerry Connelly.We again see the rise of two friends during lean times as petty thieves.As Rocky continues on the path of crime doing major jail time over the years,his friend Jerry pursues a different course and becomes a priest in their old neighbourhood.Rocky returns to his old haunt and is looked up to by a local gang of youths(The Dead End Kids with Huntz Hall,Leo Gorcy,Gabriel Dell,et al).In the end Rocky gets caught and is sentenced to death in the chair.Jerry asks Rocky to act a coward in his final moments to turn the lives around of the admiring local kids.He does so and the final scene shows Jerry leading the boys off to Church.The film has top acting throughout and is well directed by Michael Curtiz(Casablanca).I have always had a major problem with this films ending.I just cannot see any justification in the script for anything that would remotely suggest in Rocky's personality, that he'd turn yellow at the end just for the kids sake.See what you think.
"The Roaring Twenties"(4 stars),released in Oct/39,stars James Cagney as Eddie Bartlett,an out of work WW1 vet.Unable to get his old job back or ANY employment he eventually turns a burgeoning cab business into hauling bootleg booze.He hires his WW1 buddy Jeff(Lloyd Hart)as his lawyer.Along the way he meets up with another WW1 pal George( Humphrey Bogart),who comes into business as a partner.George gets other ideas along the way and double deals Eddie.Priscilla Lane stars as Jeannie,the girl who can never return Eddies'love and Gladys George as Panama Smith,who loves Eddie but again never in turns receives the love she wants from him.In the end,Eddie goes out in a blaze of glory.The movie almost runs like a documentary and is a telling comment on the times and how such behaviour amongst other wise good people could have developed.Skillfully directed by Raoul Walsh(Sadie Thompson) the movie really packs a powerful punch in its' portrayals and Gladys George is an especial stand out.
Finally "White Heat"(4 stars),released in Sept/49,stars James Cagney as Cody Jarrett.He leads a rag tag bunch of criminals who loyalties are suspect to say the least.Cody is married to Verna(Virginia Mayo)who doesn't love him and is coddled by his dominant mother(Margaret Wycherly).The gang opens the film by pulling a train heist and spends the rest of the movie fleeing from the law.The law is persistant and when they threaten to capture Cody he gives himself in in another state on a lesser(time)indictment.While in the pen a plant by the name of Eddie(Edmond O'Brien) befriends Cody.Suspicious at first Cody finally comes to trust him.In the end Cody is surrounded on top of a gas storage tank,now completely out of his mind, with his mother dead and the truth about Eddie now revealed.Raoul Walsh again directs this gangster flick and Cagney plays a wide range of character personality quirks to a tee.His last gangster flick had been ten years before and it was "The Roaring 20s".
Technically, although many of these films do show their age,they have been transferred very well by Warners.All the DVDs contain the same general line up of extras which include things like the trailers,snippets of vintage newsreels,featurettes,commentaries and of course those wonderful vintage cartoons.
All in all this is a collection worth owning.It helps,but you do not have to be a gangster fan to enjoy the offerings here.The acting is all first rate and historically speaking they are important for it shows three of Hollywood's biggest names,Cagney,Bogart and Robinson in their breakthrough roles.A fine collection on anybody's shelf.
Warner Bros. Pictures presents "THE PETRIFIED FOREST" (1936) (82 min/B&W) (Fully Restored/Dolby Digitally Remastered) -- Starring Leslie Howard, Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis, Dick Foran & Joe Sawyer
Directed by Archie Mayo
Burned-out British intellectual Alan Squier wanders into the desert service station/restaurant owned by Jason Maple. Alan finds himself an object of fascination for Jason's starry-eyed daughter, Gabrielle, who dreams of moving to France and establishing herself. Boze Hertzlinger, Gabrielle's bowser attendant boyfriend, grows jealous of Alan, but the penniless, dissipated Briton has no intention of settling down; in fact, as soon as he scores a ride from wealthy tourists Mr. and Mrs. Chisholm, he's on his way out of Gabrielle's life or so everyone thinks. Later that same day, Alan, Gabrielle, Jason, Boze, and Mr. and Mrs. Chisholm are huddled together in the same restaurant, held at gunpoint by Dillinger-like desperado Duke Mantee (Humphrey Bogart) and his gang.
When originally presented on Broadway, Robert E. Sherwood's The Petrified Forest starred Leslie Howard and Humphrey Bogart. Warner Bros. intended to cast Edward G. Robinson in Duke's role, only to be thwarted by Howard, who told the studio that he himself would drop out of the project if Bogart wasn't retained. The film proved to be just the break that Bogart needed; years later, he expressed his undying gratitude to Howard by naming his daughter Leslie Bogart.
Leslie Howard & Humphrey Bogart re-teamed a year later for the delightful "Stand-In" (1937).
1. Archie Mayo [Director]
Date of Birth: 29 January 1891, New York City, New York
Date of Death: 4 December 1968, Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico
2. Leslie Howard [aka: Leslie Howard Steiner]
Date of Birth: 3 April 1893, Forest Hill, London, England, UK
Date of Death: 1 June 1943, Bay of Biscay (casualty of war)
3. Humphrey Bogart
Date of Birth: 25 December 1899 - New York City, New York
Date of Death: 14 January 1957 - Los Angeles, California
4. Bette Davis [aka: Ruth Elizabeth Davis]
Date of Birth: 5 April 1908 - Lowell, Massachusetts
Date of Death: 6 October 1989 - Neuilly, France
Mr. Jim's Ratings:
Quality of Picture & Sound: 5 Stars
Performance: 5 Stars
Story & Screenplay: 5 Stars
Overall: 5 Stars [Original Music, Cinematography & Film Editing]
Total Time: 82 min on DVD ~ Warner Bros. Pictures ~ (01/25/2005)
on March 5, 2005
The good people at Warner Home Video have outdone themselves on this sassy six pack of classic gangster films. The box set includes William Wellman's "The Public Enemy" (1931)a benchmark acheivement in crime cinema; Raoul Walsh's intense character study of criminal insanity, "White Heat" (1949)and his ode to the ultimate decade of decadence - "The Roaring Twenties" (1939); Robert E. Sherwood's Broadway blockbuster, "The Petrified Forest" (1936),"Little Caesar" (1931)and "Angels With Dirty Faces."
"The Public Enemy is the undisputed trend setting monarch of this box set with James Cagney in his breakout performance as bad boy Tom Powers, a deviant from the wrong side of the tracks who refuses to mellow with age. In "White Heat" Cagney plays the psychotic and sadistic Arthur 'Cody' Jarrett, a ruthless gang leader with a penchant for deriving pleasure from the affliction of pain. "The Petrified Forest" is basically two acts of melodrama with a crime thriller finish, pitting idealists, Alan Squier (Leslie Howard)and Gabby Maple (Bette Davis) against ruthless prison escapee, Duke Mantee (Humphrey Bogart). In "The Roaring Twenties" Cagney and Bogart unite as a pair of unlikely pals who scratch each other's back for a while, then tear one another to pieces. "Little Caesar" is the slightly off kilter recanting of the Al Capone story, told under the auspices of not so pure fiction. It's loveable fluff mixed with arsenic and twice as explosive with Edward G. Robinson in the driver's seat. And last, but certainly not least, is "Angels With Dirty Faces" a mix of empathy and excitement as two childhood buddies wind up on opposite sides of morality. Good versus evil never came out so good!
Warner's DVD transfers throughout this box set are marvelous improvements over previous video incarnations. Though age related artifacts still exist the remastered print elements are generally smooth and inviting. Of the set, "Little Caesar" rates the poorest in quality - though it's still pretty good. "The Roaring Twenties" is the best of the bunch - a near flawless transfer that simply sparkles. The gray scale on each transfer has been impeccibly rendered. There are moments where film grain will appear more excessive but this, again, is the fault of a 70 plus year old negative. The audio is mono and exhibits a decided hiss on "The Public Enemy" but is generally smooth and engaging elsewhere. No more could have been done by the good people at Warners on these transfers - save a full blown and costly restoration.
Extras include engaging audio commentaries by film historians, featurettes for each film and the return of Leonard Maltin, hosting "Warner Night at the Movies." Highly recommended.
on March 5, 2005
Based on Robert E. Sherwood's Broadway blockbuster, "The Petrified Forest" (1936) is basically two acts of melodrama with a crime thriller finish. It stars Leslie Howard as cockeyed idealist, Alan Squier. Alan arrives at the ramshacked oasis of Maple Service Station - a little bit of nothin' presided over by Jason Maple (Porter Hall) and his drunken Grampa (Charles Grapewin). Fat Paula (Nina Campana) rounds out the motely crew in charge of eats and gas at this filling station in the middle of nowhere. The one jewel sparkling amidst the dessert heat is waitress, Gabby Maple (Betty Davis). She's just as cockeyed as Alan, aspiring to study art in Paris. After much lamentation - most of it needless, Gabby persuades a visiting couple, the Chisholms (Paul Harvey and Genevieve Tobin) to give Alan a ride to California. However, plans take a turn for the worst when everyone is forced to spend the night hold up inside the diner at the hands of ruthless prison escapee, Duke Mantee (Humphrey Bogart).
After some high stakes threats and more than a bit of action Alan creates the circumstances by which Gabby's aspirations for a better life will flourish.What elevates this minor bit of tripe from its humble roots are the brilliant performances by Davis and Bogart. Bogart, in particular, is menacing in a reserved sort of restraint. Although he rarely becomes animated or excited he always seems capable of becoming completely unhinged.
Years of viewing this film on late night television in less than stellar prints didn't have me holding out for much on this outing. I am pleased to report that Warner's newly mastered DVD is a quiet vision of beauty. The gray scale has been impeccibly rendered. Though blacks are soft and somewhat more deep gray than black, overall the contrast levels are superb. Whites are clean. Occasionally there is a bit more film grain present than one would like but the image quality is a definite improvement over what I have been used to seeing. The audio is mono but nicely represented with minimal background distortion and hiss. A competent commentary by Bogie biographer, Eric Lax, newly produced featurette and audio only bonus of the original radio broadcast of the film are nice extras worthy of this classy classic. Highly recommended!
on August 8, 2002
Actually, this was not quite Bogart's debut. He had been in a few utterly forgettable films in tiny roles in the early 1930s before returning to Broadway, but this is his "real" debut.
THE PETRIFIED FOREST had been a highly successful stage play starring Leslie Howard and Humphrey Bogart, and Warner Brothers wanted to do a film version of it. They therefore approached Howard with the offer, indicating that they would like to have him reprise his starring role, and have him star opposite Edward G. Robinson as Duke Mantee. Howard, however, indicated that he would only make the film if his Broadway costar, Bogart, played Duke Mantee. At this point in his career, Bogart's acting career had consisted primarily in playing juvenile parts in various plays (the famous line "Tennis anyone?" is perhaps mythically attributed to one of his roles, but sums up the spirit of onstage persona) and failed attempts to break into film. Playing Duke Mantee had been a dramatic departure for Bogart, who had never previously played a heavy. Luckily for film history, Howard insisted that he would not make THE PETRIFIED FOREST unless Bogart played Mantee.
Historically, the most important thing about this film is that it launched Bogart's film career. Although he would spend the next four years playing a huge number of gangsters, he was, nonetheless, after this film, a Hollywood mainstay, becoming the number four gangster in the Warner Brother stable after Robinson, Cagney, and Raft.
THE PETRIFIED FOREST is, however, entertaining on its own. The one great negative of the film is the fact that it is very obviously a film version of a stage play. The action of the film is limited to only a few locations, and overall the production has a very static feel. Although there are some interesting sets, with some fascinating painted backdrops of Arizona landscape (some of it was shot live, but most of it is done in a studio), the real interest in the film lies in the performances. Leslie Howard made far too few films for my taste. I know he was deeply involved in the stage, but he was both immensely talented and quite charismatic. Unfortunately, his bizarre death cut his talent off far too soon (during WW II, the Luftwaffe shot down a plane he was in, thinking that a military or political VIP was on it). Bogart is striking as Duke Mantee. Bette Davis is as enjoyable in this as any film I have seen her in. I have to confess that by and large I don't care for Bette Davis. She has a tendency to over enunciate every word in a way that is not merely unnatural but a little unnerving. She never seems at ease on screen. She always seems to be "acting." Still, she is well suited to this role.
on June 27, 2002
Humphrey Bogart and Leslie Howard reprise their stage roles as "bad guy/good guy" in this ever timely tale of greed and ruthlessness vs. selfless and compassionate courage. Caught in the middle of this age old story is a young Bette Davis, who in the course of hours learns to love the "hero", never stopping to despise the evil enemy.
The setting is a diner, suddenly held-up by Bogart, who eventually shoots and kills the kindly Howard who 'dared' to stand up to the bully (mainly to protect Davis). The helpless waitress (with the universal 'dream' to get away and make a better life for herself), sees the crisis as a 'sign'. Before dying, Howard makes Davis the sole benefitiary of a modest insurance policy, which Davis tearfully accepts.
This film lives on in Cinema History as one of the true classics of all time. The transition from stage to silver screen was sucessful, especially when considering that the story was made available to a much greater audience. This is a highly recommended 5-star film!*****
on June 9, 2002
There are probably many reasons why THE PETRIFIED FOREST is as watchable today as it was in the 1930's. It would be easy to point to the collection of stars in it: Bogie, Bette Davis, Leslie Howard, but for me its appeal becomes obvious only after multiple viewings. The inner charm of the film lies in the quickened relationship between Ms. Davis and Mr. Howard. At the start of the film, Gaby, played by Davis, is clearly unhappy with her life, her job, her dumb jock boyfriend. She seems to be waiting for something to happen to her in a dramatic way. Enter Leslie Howard, who supplies instant magnetism and charm as the itinerant intellectual in pursuit of his own dream in California that takes a detour in a scruffy diner in the American desert. Much of the charm of the first half of the film lies in the reversal of roles of who pursues whom. Typically, the male chases the female, but in a manner later duplicated numerous times by David Janssen as the Fugitive, Howard strolls into a sleepy small town environment wherein the local lovely simply takes a gander at the Handsome Smart Stranger and falls for him to such an extant that she is willing to run off with him. Howard clearly cares for her too, but he has the smarts to know that the odds are stacked against them, so off he goes. Now if the movie had ended right there, it still would have been a fascinating period piece. As soon as Howard takes off, a crew of bank robbers headed by Humphrey Bogart force him and a wealthy married couple to return to the diner as hostages. It is at this point that director Archie Mayo complicates and intensifies the relation between Davis and Howard by having the wealthy married matron interact with Davis such that the movie takes on a tender tone of 'what might have been' for that matron. This matron tells Bette Davis her own life story which parallels what Davis' life might have been had she married for reasons other than love. The matron describes her marriage decades earlier to a wealthy banker prompted by her greedy parents. Not a day goes by, she warns, that she does not regret giving up her true love. The matron exhorts Davis to 'go for it.' From this point, the film revolves around a complicated triangle of the robbers, Davis and Howard, and the pursuit of the law. By the film's end, Howard sacrifices his life so that Bette Davis can have hers.
THE PETRIFIED FOREST is justly known for the steely performance of Bogie as killer Duke Mantee, but for me, what made the movie click was the blossoming yet doomed relation between the thwarted lovers. Director Mayo seems to suggest that the petrification of the trees outside the diner need not include a similar hardening of the hearts of the actors. Take a chance, the matron urged. Maybe we all should.
on August 8, 2001
THE PETRIFIED FOREST is a melodramatic character drama in which the substantiating elements of romantic interest, adventure, comedy, hope and fear, triumph and tragedy and inspirational mental conflict, all held together by rigid suspense and moving to the pitch of sparkling dialogue and nerve-tensing action, are intelligently blended. Leslie Howard plays Alan Squire, a world-weary, desiccated intellectual who arrives on foot at a gas station and Bar-B-Q in the Arizona desert; Bette Davis is the ardent, fresh American girl, eager for experience, who lives there with her grandfather (Charley Grapewin). Howard was well-suited for his role but some of his lines are rather ridiculous; he's a weary traveler who states poetically "All this evening I've had the feeling of destiny closing in", etc. Sherwood's play contained such lines and there was no way anyone could make them sound unaffected. As Gaby, Davis surprisingly plays her part very simply and doesn't get into her usual histrionics, Bette successfully demonstrated to the critics of the day, that she didn't have to be hysterical in order to be credited with a good performance. In a jumper with a white blouse, wearing bobby sox and a ribbon in her hair, she's quite appealing and says her lines in a freshly open way. Grapewin is amusing as Gramps; he gets as excited as a ten year-old boy when Duke comes to visit! Geneveive Tobin is quite memorable when speaking to Gaby "Go to France, my dear, and find yourself"; her husband is as stiff as they come and a bore to boot. In its day, the movie was famous for Bogie's dangerous performance as Duke Mantee, and while he looks the part, one can't help to notice that his performance was worked out for the stage; director Archie Mayo even gives me the feeling that he retained some original stage blocking. Catch the tense scene between the black mobster and the black chauffeur!
Leslie Howard and Humphrey Bogart were in the original Broadway play. And this was made again into a film called "Escape in the Desert." Because I knew this movie was supposed to have Humphrey Bogart in it, it was almost like watching two movies, the one before Humphrey Bogart appeared, and the one with Humphrey Bogart. The actual filming location is Red Rock Canyon, California, USA. With one this is a story a lot of people coming from different directions in their life. Together they evaluate and solve their problems the best they can in a short given time. The beauty in this movie is the action and reaction of the characters.
A similar action and reaction movie that comes to mind is "Key Largo (1948)". However in this movie Humphrey Bogart gets to be a good guy. After these two movies, one that you need to look for is "Outward Bound (1930)" with Leslie Howard.
on March 18, 2004
I taped The Petrified Forest a couple of years ago when it was shown on TCM and I thought it was a very good movie! Bette Davis plays a young woman who lives in a desert town with her father and works as a waitress in his desert cafe, she is bored and would love to leave home and go see the world! A disillusioned writer played by Leslie Howard stops at the cafe and she falls for him but when a criminal played by Humphrey Bogart and his gang are on the run from the law they hide out in the cafe and hold everyone hostage. This is a good movie and I like that Bette Davis is playing a nice girl who is sweet and compassionate when it seems that she was generally known for playing ruthless, cold and calcuating women so this is a nice change. I recommend this movie, I don't think it's been put on DVD yet but I really think it should be put on DVD!