During the Great Depression MGM was the movie studio.
With the biggest stars (and boasting that they
had "More Stars than There are in Heaven") and a solid cash flow (it
only studio to pay dividends through the depression) they were the
every wannabe star dreamed of signing with.
Constantly on the look for the next heart throb or celluloid
MGM had a very active shorts department where crew on both sides of the
could hone their craft (for the new talent) or pass their skills on to
generation (for the people past their prime).
They released several series of shorts that would play before
features including the Dogville
Gang (after 1938), and the Pete
Smith Specialties. One of their most
well known series is Crime Does Not Pay,
a collection of 50 shorts released between 1935 and 1947.
The entire series has now been released
through the Warner Archive Collection, a magnificent MOD (manufactured
demand) program that distributes lesser know features that wouldn't
see the light of day, and it's one of their best releases yet (and
saying a lot!)
Each short, introduced by the "MGM crime reporter," was a
tale cautioning the viewers to avoid a life of crime since criminals
prosper. The crime reporter would
interview someone at least tangentially related to crime prevention or
protecting the public who would relate an amazing case, all of which
illustrated the point that Crime Does
Not Pay. Starting at the height of
the depression, it was probably seen as a public service to counteract
glamorization of some bank robbers such as John Dillinger, Pretty Boy
and Bonnie and Clyde (all of whom
the year before this series started).
The great thing about this series is that each short is a
bit different. Some are police
procedurals, others are courtroom drama, some are simply cautionary
showing that even the smartest crook ends up behind bars and they also
as a warning against being conned with several installments devoted to
frauds. They weren't cookie cutter plots
either; some of them were quite intricate.
The very first episode is a great tale with several
twists. Entitles Buried Loot,
it tells the extraordinary tale of a man, Al Douglas,
who embezzles $200,000 from the bank where he works and then confesses
he's even suspected. He tells the
manager that he's gambled the money away, and he would rather pay his
society than spend the rest of his life on the run.
He's tried, found guilty, and sentenced to
5-10 years in the pen.
It turns out that Al didn't gamble the money away.
He buried it where no one would find it, and
after he serves his time he'll dig it up and live on easy street. It's quite a plan until his cellmate starts
talking about how things change on the outside and Al starts to worry
money isn't as safe as he thought it was.
Concerned that someone else will find his stash, Al breaks out
and runs to Canada. There he intentionally creates an explosion
that scars his face badly. That way no
one will recognize him once he heads back to Jersey
to reclaim his ill gotten gains. As well
planned and thought out his scheme was however, Al didn't realize that
were smarter and have a plan of their own!
Like Buried Loot,
each short is a mini gangster flick filled with a lot (for the time) of
violence, sex, and greed. Since these
were made at MGM, they have excellent production values too. The sets, lighting, design, and scripts are
all top-notch and nearly equal to the features of the time. That should come as no surprise given the
people who worked on these films. Some
of these were directed by Fred Zinnemann (From
Here to Eternity) and Jacques Tourneur (Cat
People), and Robert Taylor (Magnificent
played the lead in the first installment.
This MOD (manufactured on demand) set comes on six discs
housed in a single-width keepcase.
The unrestored original mono soundtrack that goes with each
short is surprisingly clean. There's
little to no background noise and the occasional pop or crack is pretty
rare. Being made in the 30's and 40's
the sound quality is limited by the technology of the time, but these
sounded very good and much better than I expected.
The full-frame image also looks surprisingly good.
Not perfect, there is some dirt and print
damage here and there, but the contrast is generally excellent and the
detail is good. Viewers will be very
pleased with this collection.
Also included is the short Eyes of the Navy, the Top Gun
of its day. It shows how much fun,
excitement, and travel a young man can have by becoming a pilot in the
Navy. Made before the US
WWII, it's a nice recruitment tool that probably increased the lines at
These shorts are addictive.
I kept telling myself "I'll watch just one more..." and was always
surprised when it was time to change discs.
This is a collection of very enjoyable films made even more so
sometimes absurd plans the criminal devised.
Though the movies are not restored both the image and sound are
good for films that are this old. If
you're a fan of gangster movies, shorts, or just classic Hollywood
fare in general, this is a must-buy. DVDTalk Collector's Series.