Are you a fan of old gangster movies? Cagney, Bogey, Edward G? The gangster, or mobster, movie has been a staple of Hollywood since Prohibition, arguably the longest lasting and most successful genre in film history. Because of this, many great gangster movies haven’t made it to DVD yet; at least not in single-film form.
If you’ve been out shopping recently at discount stores like Ross for Less, you may have noticed a boxed set of 16 movies going under the title Mobster Movies and selling for about $15.00. That’s less than a dollar per film and as Bart Simpson once said, that ain’t not bad. You may have picked this item up out curiosity, noticing that such old-school stars as Peter Lorre and Alan Ladd are featured on the cover. Then you looked at the back and saw that you didn’t recognize any of the movies and so you put it down.
Big mistake. This is one Platinum Disc release that’s worth twice its price. Few movies in this boxed set can accurately be called classics, but there are a few. In addition, you can find several films that are way more interesting than anything in the theatres this week. (And I don’t care what week you’re actually reading this!)
At the top of the heap are The Big Combo, The Chase, and Crime Inc. I have already written a full review of the first film elsewhere on this site, but the other two deserve a little detail. The Chase in particular is a fascinating film. Starring Robert Cummings cast away against type as a simple soldier getting caught up with a mobster’s girl, this is a movie that is almost two movies in one.
Steve Cochran is brilliant as the gangster who tracks down Cummings and the girl after they make a getaway to Havana. Or do they? After she gets stabbed in a nightclub and the murder is pinned on Cummings, he suddenly wakes up in a hospital back in Florida being told he never went to Cuba. At which the movie starts again and goes off on a different path to the very same direction. Crazy, but irresistible.
Crime, Inc. is a little more predictable, but no less surprising. It won’t ruin the plot to tell you that one of the major characters in the first half of this movie gets killed before it’s half over. Another character who disappears for a half hour comes back and plays a major role. They made them nutty way back when, and these two movies just goes to show how predictable and formulaic most movies made today really are.
Also of interest are two little flicks that center on women and gangsters. Gangs Inc., not to be confused with the movie described above, starts out with the still shocking scene of a little girl watching her stoolie dad get murdered. Flash forward to when she’s an attractive young woman being taken for a ride by a playboy.
She decides to take the rap when he runs over a man and kills him, thinking she’s going to marry into money, but she soon finds that you can’t trust rich people. Before you know it, she’s a leading player in the crime syndicate.
Lady Gangster starts out with a woman helping some mobsters with a little bank heist and then turns into a richly rewarding jail movie that not only includes a lip-reading deaf inmate, Jackie Gleason as the one decent member of the gang, another member of the gang turning up at jail to visit her in drag, but also a cracking great supporting performance from Ruth Ford as a prison stoolie hated by everybody but the warden. I would say this would be a great candidate for a remake, but I’m afraid they’d cast somebody like Halle Berry or Julia Roberts in the role and ruin it.
One of the more bizarre movies in this collection is something called Kid Monk Baroni. It stars Leonard Nimoy in his first role as an inner city youth who meets up with a priest teaching him how to box. The really bizarre thing about this flick is that he’s called Monk because his face is supposedly terribly disfigured and so he looks like a money or something.
Frankly, I couldn’t even tell he was wearing makeup! And then to make matters worse, he undergoes plastic surgery to fix his face and suddenly women are dropping for him at every turn. And he doesn’t look any different! And he STILL looks like Leonard Nimoy! Even so, it’s a humdinger of a boxing film, showing that back in the 50s actors didn’t care about actually training to make it look like they knew how to box like DeNiro would do a few decades later in Raging Bull.
Another odd little movie is called Johnny One-Eye. Now this being a boxed set of mobster movies, you probably think that the title character is one of the gangsters, right? Well, it’s a dog. A little scruffy dog who gets kicked around by a gangster and loses his eye. But that’s not all making this film unusual. What the plot is really about is the relationship between the Pat O’Brien character and a little girl.
O’Brien has tried to go straight while his old mobster friend is turning state’s evidence against him to save himself from an old murder they were both involved in. The other mobster has a girlfriend with a daughter and the daughter has a dog and, well, guess who kicked little old Johnny One-Eye. After getting shot himself while trying to rid himself of his problem, O’Brien winds up in an abandoned tenement building across the street from his nemesis. He strikes up a friendship with the young girl by convincing her that he’s Santa Claus. And I will say no more.
There are many more movies to enjoy, but those are the true highlights. I must give one word of warning, however. Whatever you do, don’t go the plot descriptions on the backs of the individual DVD cases. These descriptions range from only slightly misleading to completely wrong.
I don’t know who was responsible for writing them, but it almost seems as they put the discs on fast-forward while they were doing something else and occasionally looked up to take a guess about what the movies were actually about. The summaries of the two female gangster movies I described are particularly egregious, almost seeming to describe completely different movies from the ones on the disc.
The quality of the video isn’t the greatest, but all movies are watchable, though the older movies tend to have sudden jerky cuts in dialogue. Even so, for the price you just can’t beat the deal.