Friday, July 29, 2011

DVD Review: Crime School (1938)

Crime School (1938)

(Released: 2010 by The Warner Archive Collection)

Another looong DVD Review by Joe Torcivia

Summary: Bogie does Cagney! (Oh, cut it out… I don’t mean THAT!) Though they both HAVE been known to frequent prisons! Hmmm

As it is a relatively new enterprise, “The Warner Archive Collection” might bear some initial explanation, before moving on to the film itself.

“The Warner Archive Collection” offers online exclusive DVD packages that are “manufactured-on-demand” (or MOD). They are not mass-produced, standard pressed DVDs, but are recorded on DVD-R.

I don’t consider DVD-R to be the most desirable medium. Though the end product is certainly superior to “bootleg” material, it is a step or two below the mass-marketed product we know and love.

At least in this regard, Warner plays fair with us by issuing the following disclaimer:

This disc is expected to play back in DVD video ‘play only’ devices, and may not play back in other DVD devices including recorders and PC drives”.

True enough. Warner Archive discs are not recognized by my computer, though they play just fine on my Blu-ray player.

“The Warner Archive Collection” product takes a no-frills approach. Extra Features, if they exist at all, are kept to a bare minimum. Films and programs are not segmented by “Chapters”, but the Skip Forward and Skip Backward keys of your DVD remote allow you to navigate at ten-minute intervals – regardless of where that ten minute jump will land you logically within the story. No subtitles are included and source material is generally fine and sharp, though not always as pristine as a standard release.

Retail prices are often higher than they might otherwise be, but that comes with the nature of “Manufacture on Demand”. Sales and other promotions are offered regularly, once you’ve made the initial foray into TWAC, mitigating the impact of pricing somewhat.

On the plus side “The Warner Archive Collection” is able to offer many movies, TV shows, and animated series that would not likely find support in the present-day mass market. “The Warner Archive Collection” has provided such wonders as Hanna-Barbera’s ‘60s series FRANKENSTEIN JR. AND THE IMPOSSIBLES and Irwin Allen’s early ‘70s aborted TV pilot CITY BENEATH THE SEA... just to name two.

Oh, yes… about Bogie vs. Cagney…

Go read THIS REVIEW of James Cagney’s “The Mayor of Hell”, add Humphrey Bogart, substitute the predominantly Irish “Dead End Kids” for the more ethnically diverse juvenile delinquents of the Cagney picture, mix in a bit of Hays Office / Hollywood Production Code censorship, and you’ve got “Crime School”!

Bogart’s “Mark Braden” assumes control of the cruel and corruptly run reform school, to which the Dead End Kids, are sentenced. He brings reform to the school and respect to the boys, and is undermined by the bad former headmaster. In concession to the times, the ending is far less violent and more comedic.

There’s also a romantic subplot between Bogart and Gail Page, as the older sister of one of the boys (Billy Halop), where Halop’s “Frankie Warren” gets the wrong idea about Bogie and Sis and sets out to shoot Bogart.

Ironically, this exact same subplot, finds Bogie on the other end – in a murderous rage over rumors about Pat O’Brien and Bogie’s sister (Ann Sheridan) – in 1937’s “San Quentin” (Released the previous year!). So “Crime School” might be thought of as having been stitched-together from TWO different Warner pictures.

Overall though, it’s a very interesting contrast with “The Mayor of Hell”. You can decide which version is better. I like ‘em both for different reasons. Now, I’d like to see the second remake, “Hell’s Kitchen” (1939), with Ronald Reagan for additional perspective.

As is our custom in these reviews, we’ll break it into CONS and PROS.


It’s Warner Archives: That means virtually nothing in the way of Extra Features. No commentary. No background or “Making Of” featurette. No “Warner Night at the Movies” that I’ve loved so much in other packages! And, there is a needlessly limited choice of devices on which to play it, vs. standard DVD.

Robo-Promos:Robo-Promos” is my term for advertisements that play automatically before you even reach the initial menu. Each Warner Archive set, of those I’ve seen thus far, leads of with the same “Robo-Promo”:

Introducing The Warner Archive Collection!”

It’s time to get the movies you’ve wanted, but could never find, and add them to your film collection!”

Explore the Archive today and discover hundreds of great stories, incredible performances, and rare treasures in Authorized Editions – on DVD!”

Yeah! Take THAT, ya dirty stinkin’ bootleggers! …Mnyah!

(Alleged) Theatrical Trailer for “Crime School”: (03:01) Buyers beware! This is NOT the actual Theatrical Trailer for “Crime School”! Instead, it is FIRST THREE MINUTES of the film itself!

It is not even FRAMED as any sort of trailer! It’s not narrated, nor is there any accompanying text. It’s just “there”, as you would see it at the start of the film!

I must ask WHY? Considering that the actual Theatrical Trailer for “Crime School” already exists on “The Mayor of Hell” DVD set, why didn’t Warner just port it over from there?!


It’s Warner Archives: That means we get a film that would probably not garner sufficient support for a general release. Given a choice between “Crime School” as a Warner Archive Collection release, or no release at all, I’ll gladly take a TWAC version.

I fear, as the DVD market contracts (what with downloading and most of the “best material” having already been released), more and more of the remaining as-of-yet-unreleased material will come via avenues such as this one. But, up to now, we’ve sure gotten a LOT of great stuff. More than I could have ever imagined some years ago. So, if the “last of it” arrives in this form… so be it.

The Film: When viewed alongside “The Mayor of Hell” and “San Quentin”, this Lewis Seiler-directed picture is probably enough to earn you some credits at film school! It is a textbook example of Warner Bros. filmmaking in the era of Hollywood censorship – with more than a bit of studio-assembly line craftsmanship (…and I don’t intend that to be an insult) thrown in!

It’s 1:25:03 of Humphrey Bogart and Dead End Kids goodness that falls somewhere in between “Casablanca” and “Beat the Devil” – my personal choices for Bogart’s best and worst pictures respectively. …All right, more on the “Up-Side”, ‘cause not much compares with “Beat the Devil” for Bogie-badness.
The Cast:

• Humphrey Bogart as “Mark Braden”.

• Gail Page as “Sue Warren”.

• Billy Halop as “Frankie Warren”.

• Bobby Jordan as “Squirt”. (Also a juvie in Edward G. Robinson’s A Slight Case of Murder”.

• Leo Gorcey as “Spike”.

• Huntz Hall as “Goofy”. (…Do the Disney lawyers know this?)

• Gabriel Dell as “Bugs”. (Yet another one named after a famous [future] cartoon star!)

• Bernard Punsley as “Fats”.


Crime School”, being a product of “The Warner Archive Collection”, and not a standard Warner Home Video release, must be reviewed and rated by a new and different set of standards.

There are no extras (…or no extras to speak of), and print quality is as good as the source material – with only minimal efforts at remastering. In the case of “Crime School”, the print is generally sharp, with occasional skips and scratches – but good overall. A standard release would have been better… though I can’t say anything I’ve seen from TWAC has been of an unacceptable quality. It just varies.

As a film, “Crime School”, is pretty good for what it is, despite its apparently derivative nature. Sit back and enjoy… but try to watch “The Mayor of Hell” first, if only for perspective! How I’d love for there to have been a commentary track to discuss these aspects.


Sim said...

Hi Joe!

I'm glad to tell you I've added your link to the suggested ones of my own weblog(

Go on so!


Joe Torcivia said...

Thank you, Sim!

Glad to have us “linked”! Too bad there isn’t much to write about Disney comics these days… unless I start to revisit the old ones. Hope that changes in the future. I certainly want to write scripts for them again! (AHEM!) Future editors (whomever ye may be) take notice!!

Someday, I’ve just GOTTA put up a Blog roll! Too many good Blogs – and good friends’ Blogs out there – and I should be linked to them all!

So, whadda ya think… Bogart or Cagney? :-)


Sim said...

I'd say Bogart. He's one of my favorite actors ever and, so, I choose him.

Joe Torcivia said...

Sim, I’d say you have good taste in actors, as well as comics!

One vote for Bogart! What say the rest of you?