July 5, 2008

DVD Review: Picture Snatcher

Over the past few years no other studio has treated their catalog of older films with more respect than Warner Brothers. To that end, they have turned a number of these decades old films into highly desirable box sets. Among those sets are ones based on the stars such as the Gary Cooper Signature Collection and the Errol Flynn Signature Collection; in addition to those, they also released themed sets such as Film Noir. This film is a part of the Gangsters Collection, Vol. 3. It follows the Tough Guys Collection, which has since been renamed to Gangsters Collection, Vol. 2 (why the need for the name change? Your guess is as good as mine).

Would you believe that this is only the third James Cagney film that I have seen? It is, at least, only the third one I can remember seeing. I know, this is a big sin for someone who loves movies like I do. Believe me, it is one of a long list of sins that I should be held accountable for. All three of these films have been seen just recently and do not include any of his more well known films such as The Public Enemy, Angels with Dirty Faces, or Yankee Doodle Dandy. For that matter, all three of them have come from the Gangsters Collection, Vol. 3 set, a box well worth getting your hands on.

Cagney plays Danny Kean, a gangster just off a three-year stint in Sing Sing. As he gets out, Danny decides he wants to make a go at going straight. To that end, he chooses to pursue a longtime dream of being a newspaperman. It is a job that comes with a built in opportunity, having made a contact while on the inside. So, off Danny goes to the NY Graphic News, a tabloid rag where he is to meet with City Editor Al McLean (Ralph Bellamy). After some discussion, Danny finds himself hired on as a photographer, a position that will allow him to use his criminal connections and skills to get the best shot and scoop all the other local papers.

It is interesting to note that the story inspiration was ripped from the headlines, not unlike any given episode of Law & Order. You see, the big central plot thread has Danny snapping a photo of a murderess being executed in the electric chair. It is a photo that should be impossible to get as no cameras are allowed in the execution chamber. Six years prior to the release of Picture Snatcher, a reporter for the NY Daily News snuck a camera into an execution and got a snap of the death as it happened. This proved to be the spark (sic) of inspiration needed to trigger this story.

While the execution picture snatching is the primary point of the story, there is more to it than just that. We follow Danny on a couple of other photo gigs, while he is pursued by a woman who also works at the newspaper, and Danny, himself, pursues the teenage daughter of an honest cop.

Picture Snapper is a brisk 77 minutes long. It is filled with plenty of humor and action, and is never boring. At the center of all the action is James Cagney. He delivers a fantastic performance that holds the audience in the palm of his hand. There is something about the way he takes on the role and makes the dialogue his own that makes him such a magnetic screen presence. Also, since this is a pre-Code film, it has a bit more of an edge about it, including plenty of implied sex and violence, including violence towards women, just adding to the edge of Cagney's character and the troubles he has in going straight.

Lloyd Bacon ably directs the film, keeping the action flowing from a script by Alan Rivkin, PJ Wolfson, and Ben Markson. The screenplay was adapted from an original story by Daniel Ahern.

Audio/Video. Warner Brothers has done a fine job of restoring it to as pristine a copy as they could. It looks fantastic, with rich blacks and a strong level of detail. The same can be said for the audio, the mono track is well represented here. There really is no room for complaints here.

  • Commentary. This track features film historians Jeffrey Vance and Tony Maietta. As usual, Warner Brothers brings us an informative track with historians who know their stuff. Vance and Maietta bring a lot of information and have a pleasant conversational style.
  • Warner Night at the Movies. This is a great feature that is meant to replicate the experience of going to the theater during the year of the film's release, in this case 1933. So, in addition to the film you get a host of shorts totaling 31 minutes:
    • Vintage Newsreel. Filmed footage of a kidnapper and murderer being transported for trial.
    • Musical Short: Plane Crazy. Dorothy Lee is the featured performer in this short. It is a pretty humorous bit about a girl looking for a dangerous pilot willing to take up.
    • Classic Cartoon: Wake Up the Gypsy in Me. An old Merrie Melodies black and white short set in a Russian town with plenty of music.
    • Trailer: I Loved a Woman. Edward G. Robinson stars in this romance where he is possessed by one woman while being loved by another.
  • Bonus Trailers. The original trailer for Picture Snatcher is included, as is that for the similarly themed Escape From Crime.

Bottomline. Excellent movie. This is a highly watchable film filled with strong performances from all involved, particularly from James Cagney. This is definitely one you will want to get your hands on and spend some time with, what with the edgy material.



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