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Black Legion (1936)
This hard-hitting, socially conscious drama, the sort of story that Warner Bros. made their hallmark in the 1930s, concerns a factory worker named Frank Taylor (Humphrey Bogart), who is convinced that a big promotion is right around the corner for him. However, the promotion goes to a harder-working Polish immigrant named Joe Dombrowski (Henry Brandon). Angry and upset, Frank is approached by members of a secret organization called the Black Legion, who believe in "America for Americans" and want to drive away immigrants and racial minorities through violent means. While Warner Bros. attempted to avoid the wrath of Black Legion and Ku Klux Klan members by stating that all characters and institutions were entirely fictional, Black Legion was still a brave attack on hate groups, given that lynchings were not uncommon in parts of the United States in the mid-1930s.

Brother Orchid (1940)
Edward G. Robinson plays orchid-loving gangster Little John Sarto, who aspires to "real class." During a power struggle with usurping mobster Jack Buck (Humphrey Bogart), Sarto is taken for a one-way ride, but he escapes his would-be assassins and hides out in a monastery overseen by Brother Superior (Donald Crisp). Sarto insists that he'd like to become a monk himself, but in fact he's using the monastery as a hideout, the better to mount his counterattack against Buck. Eventually Sarto's resolve is weakened by the kindness of the monks, and he decides to turn over a new leaf. He sees to it that Buck is brought to justice, and also fixes up his true-blue "moll," Flo Addams (Ann Sothern), with good-hearted Texas rancher Clarence Fletcher (Ralph Bellamy). (News flash! Bellamy gets the girl for once!) Sarto, now known as "Brother Orchid," returns to the monastery for good, declaring that he's finally found the real class.

Lady Killer (1933)
We first lay eyes on Jimmy Cagney in Lady Killer while he's working as a movie theater usher. This job lasts just long enough for Jimmy to be swindled in a "badger game" orchestrated by hard-boiled Mae Clarke and a gang of crooks headed by Douglass Dumbrille. Knowing a good thing when he sees it, Cagney joins the mob, and soon is calling the shots. But though he's got larceny in his soul, Cagney draws the line at murder, and when gang member Raymond Hatton is bumped off, Cagney and Clarke board the Super Chief and head to California. With the cops laying for Cagney in LA, he's suspicious of everyone. A shifty-looking mug (William B. Davidson) takes after Cagney on the street; catching up to the winded Cagney, the mug explains that he's a movie director, and that Cagney is a perfect "type" for an upcoming prison picture. After several months as a bit player, Cagney befriends good-natured movie-star Margaret Lindsay, who encourages Cagney to seek out bigger parts. The enterprising Cagney engineers a phony fan-mail campaign encouraging the studio to give him starring roles. Though now a slick, pomaded romantic lead in pictures, Cagney is still Cagney; when a snooty critic pans Lindsay's most recent performance, Cagney forces the reviewer to literally eat his words! It must needs be that Cagney's old gang shows up in Hollywood, planning to use Cagney's influence to gain entree into movie stars' mansions, then steal their valuables.

The Mayor of Hell (1933)
Gangster Cagney allows his powerful political connections to appoint him "deputy inspector" of a state reform school. There he finds the youths abused and battered by a brutal, heartless warden and his thuggish guards. It is a nurse who informs Cagney and pleads with him to clean things up. Something touches Cagney's normally hard heart and he commits himself to enacting more humane reforms. Soon, he gets the warden booted out and begins working closely with the inmates, who come to trust and respect him until Cagney's dark side emerges and he reveals himself for what he is--a ruthless mobster. This destroys the boys' trust and when the old warden is reinstated makes matters even worse until Cagney makes a difficult choice.

Picture Snatcher (1933)
Picture Snatcher stars Cagney as Danny Kean, a former gangster who has decided to go straight after a stretch in the big house. Danny has fallen for Patricia (Patricia Ellis), the daughter of the cop who put him away (Robert Emmett O'Connor). Dad isn't convinced that Danny has left his life of crime behind him, and he isn't too impressed with his new career taking pictures for a sleazy tabloid newspaper. Between getting a lurid photo of a fireman in front of a burning building (where his wife and her lover met their fate) and a daring shot of a woman being executed (based an actual incident when a New York Daily News photographer got a photo of Ruth Snyder in the electric chair), Danny's work is selling papers but hardly making Officer O'Connor think his daughter is in good hands (especially since he was in charge of press security for the execution). Short, sweet and sassy, Picture Snatcher is the sort of gutsy fare Warner Bros. did best in the 1930's; Ralph Bellamy turns in a great supporting performance as Danny's boozy editor.

Smart Money (1931)
Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney were teamed for the only time in their careers in Smart Money. Robinson has the larger part as a small-town barber who fancies himself a big-time gambler. He travels to the Big City in the company of his younger brother Cagney, who wants to make sure that Robinson isn't fleeced by the high-rollers. Unfortunately Robinson has a weakness for beautiful blondes, most of whom take him for all his money or betray him in some other manner. The cops aren't keen on Robinson's gambling activities, but they can pin nothing on him until he accidentally kills Cagney in a fight. The incident results in a jail term for manslaughter, and a more sober-sided outlook on life for the formerly flamboyant Robinson. Watch closely in the first reel of Smart Money for an unbilled appearance by Boris Karloff as a dope pusher.

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WA27329 Warner Gangsters DVD Box Set 3 (Smart Money / Picture Snatcher / The Mayor of Hell / Lady Killer / Black Legion / Brother Orchid) $59.92 $53.99