Wednesday, April 27, 2011


WALT DISNEY’S COMICS AND STORIES # 718 (April, 2011): To the Moon by Noon(10 pgs.) teams Mickey Mouse with Ludwig Von Drake. This “lost” (…in space?) effort dates from the year 1963 and, for reasons that will become clear upon reading, is SET in that year.

Art is by the great Mickey Mouse comic book artist Paul Murry! With dialogue by yours truly. Needless to say, I am quite honored to have had the opportunity to “collaborate” with one of my most favorite Disney comic book artists – though separated by nearly five decades! 

This is my first turn at writing dialogue for both Mickey and Ludwig. I’m quite familiar with Murry’s Mickey, but Ludwig Von Drake was more of a challenge. I feel that Ludwig wasn’t always handled properly in comics past. Perhaps the “newness” of the character, when many of his early-to-mid 1960s stories were created, resulted in his being characterized sometimes less than authentically. Often, Gyro Gearloose could have been substituted for Von Drake in those stories, with little noticeable difference.

One notable exception to this was “The Planet X Mystery”, written by Bob Ogle and drawn by Tony Strobl, in 1965’s DONALD DUCK # 102. Indeed, this story had poor Donald literally overwhelmed by BOTH Ludwig AND Gyro! If ever a comic book story “got” the difference between the two, this was it!

Drawing on this story, and the brilliant voice characterization Paul Frees employed for “The Professor”, I made my best effort to write Ludwig in character. Bombastic, egocentric, absent minded, often trailing off into digressions, etc. Hopefully, you will let me know if I succeeded.

Look for a very obscure Carl Barks reference (Perhaps even two!) somewhere in the body of the story, as well as a mention of the year I received my very first issue of WALT DISNEY’S COMICS AND STORIES -- a comic I still possess to this day, though sans cover, and with red crayon smeared all over Page One. …Forgive me, I was four!

The incomparable David Gerstein adds to the “period feel” of the piece by employing the font for the story’s title that WOULD have been used by Gold Key Comics back in ’63 – and closing the tale with Gold Key’s little “The End” logo! Oh, how we wish we could have found a “Paul Murry lettering” font for the balloons.

Finally, if you read the story a second time, you might experience an additional “Oh, yeah!” moment! If you do, let us know by posting a comment! Let’s see who’s first to notice! Enjoy!

Monday, April 25, 2011


Once upon a time, WALT DISNEY’S COMICS AND STORIES began with Carl Barks’ Donald Duck and ended with Paul Murry’s Mickey Mouse. This was the standard for much of the 1950s and 1960s.

Over time, both creators retired and a great number of talented successors arose. But the classic formula, though often tampered with, remained: Duck lead and Mouse close.

An unusual configuration in the vast history of this magazine takes place this week… one that really should have occurred more often, given the number of published issues.

William Van Horn is the generally acknowledged successor to Carl Barks, when it comes to the short (10-12 page) Donald Duck leads. And no matter how many have tried, it never feels quite as “right” as when Mickey Mouse closes an issue – and the Mouse is by either Floyd Gottfredson or Paul Murry.

But, it happens this week in WDC&S # 718, leading off with Van Horn’s “Just in Time”, and closing with Murry’s “To the Moon by Noon”.

Making the paring odder still is that, in Van Horn’s 2007 yarn, Donald time travels to the age of dinosaurs – and Murry’s tale, for reasons that will become clear upon reading, takes place in the year 1963! Meaning that Mickey might stay temporally put, but the READERS get to “go back in time”! And, I might add, to a considerably friendlier place than those gosh-darned “dinosaur days”!

Murry’s story originates with the Disney Studio Program. This Disney initiative produced original works concurrently with those produced by Western Publishing for their Gold Key Comics line. Often, they used the same talent found in the Gold Key issues: Jack Bradbury, Tony Strobl, Al Hubbard, and Paul Murry.

In fact, some of Murry’s stories from this time WERE used as backups in Gold Key’s MICKEY MOUSE title… but not very many of them, including this one from 1963.

…And, you’ll get to see it this week!

On a purely personal level, the issue is special to me because I got to write the dialogue, working from an Australian translation. Murry’s Mickey is rather easy to write, especially if you “grew-up” on him, but his co-star Ludwig Von Drake provided more of a challenge. We’ll get more into that in our next post on the issue’s day of release.

For now, I’ll depart by saying what a THRILL it was for me to “collaborate” with one of my most favorite Disney comic book artists, in a story that dates from my ACTUAL YOUNG READING DAYS – and in THE most classic of Disney comic book titles.

See you, both here and in WDC&S # 718, on Wednesday!

Friday, April 22, 2011

DVD Review: Looney Tunes Superstars: Foghorn Leghorn and Friends Barnyard Bigmouth

Looney Tunes Superstars: Foghorn Leghorn and Friends Barnyard Bigmouth

(Released November 30, 2010 by Warner Home Video)

Another Looong DVD Review by Joe Torcivia

Foghorn Leghorn and Friends Barnyard Bigmouth”?

Does that mean that all of Foghorn’s “friends” are “Barnyard Bigmouths” too? Or is this just an awkwardly worded title cooked up by WHV for the latest in its unsatisfying alternatives to the once great, but now discontinued, “Looney Tunes Golden Collections”? We’ll attempt to answer that, and many other questions, if you’ll stay tuned… or Blogged, or logged-on to this Blog… or whatever the proper term might be.

After the Tasmanian Devil (who appeared only a scant few times during the original theatrical run of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies – but achieved superstardom nevertheless), director Robert McKimson’s signature character was Foghorn Leghorn.

Foggy was indeed quite THE “Barnyard Bigmouth”, based on actor Kenny Delmar. In his earliest appearances he would literally never shut up, talking over other characters, slapping them, or bowling them over with sweeping gestures to accompany his verbal onslaught.

The cartoons included here, of post-1953 vintage, represent the more “sedate” (if one could apply that term to this character) Foggy. The obnoxiousness factor that made him so funny is toned down or outright eliminated to where he’s just another foil. Still, while he’s not Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck, there’s much to like about the character, and he gets his due in the first nine consecutive cartoons of the set, with his usual costars in tow: The Barnyard Dog, Henery Hawk, Miss Prissy, Egghead Jr., and the manic, slobbering weasel. The unrelated “Friends” take over for the remainder of the set.

In or out of the “barnyard”, and whatever their decibel level, these “friends” account for six out of the 15 cartoons contained herein. The Goofy Gophers, Elmer Fudd, The Honeymousers, and the Two Mexican Crows. The “Ralph Kramden Mouse” certainly qualifies as a “bigmouth”, but I know, because I once lived there, that there are no “barnyards” in Bensonhurst.

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

 The CONS:

The Number of Shorts vs. the Price: Fifteen cartoons may seem like a lot, until you consider that (at the rate of three shorts per a theoretical half-hour show), you are only getting the equivalent of FIVE SHOWS! That’s not very much for an MSRP of 19.98.

The Extra Features: There are NO extra features! This is mitigated by the extraordinary amount of such features on the Looney Tunes Golden Collections. But, still for the price, something could have been attempted. At the very least, a few short commentary tracks, as were done in the past.

Too Many Warnings: Like Disney, Warner has lawyered itself to excess. A more recent result of this is that, when the program content ends, there are ELEVEN (I’ll repeat it for effect: ELEVEN!) warnings against copyright violations and the like – and in more languages than anyone purchasing this DVD would be likely to comprehend!!! I can certainly understand the use of ENGLISH, SPANISH, and even FRENCH, but this expansive journey into multi-lingual legalese includes various Asian and Arabic languages! WHY? This excessive exhibition kicks in the moment the final cartoon ends and runs for over two minutes (…or nearly ONE THIRD the running time of some of the later cartoons!). Thankfully, you are able to skip through these, if you wish. …And you WILL wish!


Robo-Promos:Robo-Promos” is my term for advertisements that play automatically before you even reach the initial menu. They are unavoidably inflicted upon the viewer before “getting on with the show”. Warner sets have most often been the worst offenders in this regard. However, in direct contrast with nearly every WHV animated product DVD of the last two years, there are NO “Robo-Promos” to delay (or momentarily derail) your enjoyment of this set!

For the record, this is the FIRST TIME the category of “Robo-Promos” is listed as a PRO, rather than a CON! Good for you, WHV!

(Almost) No Double-Dipping: Considering that there have been SIX Looney Tunes Golden Collections – of FOUR DISCS per set, for a total of 24 discs chock full of Looney Tunes – WHV is to be commended for releasing FOURTEEN OUT OF FIFTEEN cartoons that have NOT YET been released to DVD! …Kinda makes you wonder why they couldn’t go for one more! (Yeah, I know… Never satisfied!)

The Talent: Some of the very best talents in the history of theatrical animation are featured in this collection, even if some of their later efforts included here are not fully representative of them at their best.

Directors: The severely underrated Robert McKimson is finally showcased, directing 13 of the set’s 15 shorts. Joining him is I. (Friz) Freleng for the remaining two.

Writers: Warren Foster, Michael Maltese, Tedd Pierce, the also-underrated John Dunn (…who stepped into the breach when Foster and Maltese moved-on to Hanna-Barbera), Charles McKimson, and Sid Marcus.

Music is by “Classic Carl Stalling”, Milt Franklyn, and the also-also-underrated William Lava – who had the sheer misfortune to follow Stalling and Franklyn. Oh yes… there are some additional music oddities that will be noted at the proper time.

And, of course, Voice Characterizations are by the great Mel Blanc – with additional roles by Arthur Q. Bryan (as Elmer Fudd), Daws Butler, and June Foray.

Menu and Navigation: Menu navigation is very easy. The Main Menu image of Foghorn is attractive
despite the anachronistic disco-inspired pose, with a nice WB Water Tower background image, similar to the outer packaging pictured above. The main Looney Tunes theme, complete with the “forward thrust sound” of the WB Shield, plays in an endless loop.

Image Quality: In previous releases, “Looney Tunes Superstars: Bugs Bunny Hare Extraordinaire” and “Looney Tunes Superstars: Daffy Duck Frustrated Fowl”, there was a notable controversy over the presentation of post-1953 cartoon shorts having been remastered in some sort of WIDESCREEN effect. (See the BUGS BUNNY REVIEW for more details!)

Initially, I’ll admit that it looks nice when viewed on a widescreen HD TV, but closer inspection reveals that the TOP AND BOTTOM OF THE SCREEN IMAGE look to be cut off – or, are far too close to the frame than I recall from nearly a lifetime of viewing these cartoons.

In an unusual bow to the hardcore fans, WHV offers an option to view the cartoons in either “Full Frame” (as we’ve long been accustomed to) or “Widescreen”! For the second time in this review, I must say: Good for you, WHV!

If the choice is not made within a certain amount of time, “Full Frame” automatically activates as a default. Meaning, don’t insert the DVD and walk away, if you desire the “Widescreen” option. You’ll find WHV has already made the selection for you.

Though, typical of today’s Warner Animation DVDs, even this step forward is not without its inconvenience. The CHOICE between “Full Screen” and “Widescreen” is ONLY offered BEFORE the display of the main menu. Meaning that you cannot “toggle” back and forth between the two options once the DVD is engaged.

I wished to see a cartoon in “Full Screen”, and then immediately after in “Widescreen” for comparison purposes. NOPE! Not so simple! You must completely disengage the DVD, and start it all over again – sitting through the disclaimer that discusses the “prejudices” that went into making cartoons in days gone by – before you can select the alternate viewing option.

Given this, I’ve tended to stay with “Widescreen”, as moving between the two options is far too time consuming for the “reward” involved.

And, the ultimate “PRO” for “Looney Tunes Superstars: Foghorn Leghorn and Friends Barnyard Bigmouth”…

The Shorts:

Cartoons starring a character or characters other than Foghorn Leghorn will be noted as such.

“All Fowled Up” (McKimson, 1961): Out of the (barnyard) gate, we get two of the main hallmarks of the Foghorn Leghorn series: A war of violent pranks between Foggy and the Barnyard Dog, and the implacable Henery Hawk trying to steal a chicken. Both mainstays of Foghorn’s “universe” are well executed in this outing, but it also points how relatively limited in scope his cartoons are when compared with Bugs or Daffy. I can only guess that Robert McKimson (or someone at Warners) thought that, if these two bits work so well individually, it’ll be “killer” if we COMBINE them! Given the positive end result, they weren’t far wrong.

“Fox Terror” (McKimson, 1957): A rare occasion for the great Michael Maltese to write Foghorn Leghorn, and does he ever make the most of it. Breaking with the established “Foggy-formulas”, Maltese gives us a “Wile E. Coyote-esque” fox, but with a verbal touch of Bugs Bunny, who is out to steal the chickens under Barnyard Dog’s protection. Aiding the Dog (if you can call it “aid”) is a hyperactive yet mute little rooster whose job it is to warn the Dog, by pulling a bell-cord labeled “In Case of Fox, Pull Rope”. The Fox counters by using an unwitting Foghorn to stymie or otherwise waylay the Dog, allowing the Fox to prowl about the henhouse. In what is strictly my view, this is one of the BEST Foghorn Leghorn cartoons of all time. Certainly, the best of the later efforts.

“A Broken Leghorn” (McKimson, 1959): Miss Prissy is derided by the other hens for never laying an egg. Foghorn decides to help the ol’ gal out by inserting an egg into her nest when no one is looking. Everyone is happy until the egg hatches, revealing a young ROOSTER! (Speaking with the voice of Tweety, no less!) Foggy spends the rest of the cartoon trying to eliminate the potential competition with the expected results. This short has a running time of 6:19, down from the seven-minutes-plus of better days past.

“Crockett Doodle Doo” (McKimson, 1959): Would-be woodsman Foghorn takes Egghead Jr, into the wild to teach him survival skills. Poor Foggy! Another of the “Foghorn Formula” cartoons.

“Weasel While You Work” (McKimson, 1958): Michael Maltese, in what must be one of his final Warner efforts before leaving for Hanna-Barbera, combines two “Foggy Standards” – battling the Barnyard Dog, and flummoxing the ravenous, hyperactive weasel. And he throws in a winter setting for additional variety!

This one falls among the very small number of Warner cartoons that employed “stock music cues”, rather than the more familiar cues of Carl Stalling and/or Milt Franklyn. Music is credited to “John Seely”, and many of these cues were regularly heard as part of THE QUICK DRAW McGRAW SHOW, which would have been assembled around the same time. The funny thing is, rights to these music cues (as opposed to the later, original, H-B owned music of Hoyt Curtin) are said to be the reason that THE QUICK DRAW McGRAW SHOW has never been released to DVD. If so, did anyone notice their inclusion here? I’d assume not, and thankfully so, because I’d hate to have that handful of Looney Tunes ALSO denied us on DVD for the same reason.

“Weasel Stop” (McKimson, 1955): Another, possibly the first, appearance of the ravenous, hyperactive weasel, but with a different guard dog – more shaggy overall, grey head and paws with brown body and brown floppy ears, laid-back voice by someone other than Mel Blanc, constantly whittles a stick, etc. The “new dog” actually changes things up a little but, in the end, it’s the same old antics with Foggy using the weasel to get at the dog. Nice ending shot of the weasel on the wrong side of the iris-out. Running time: 6:21. I didn’t think they’d “shortened the shorts” so much this soon.

“Little Boy Boo” (McKimson, 1953): With the onset of the coldest winter in years, Foghorn decides to court and marry Miss Prissy, so he can leave his drafty hovel, and take up residence in her warn and cozy coop. The catch is that he must be deemed as a good father to Prissy’s son Egghead Jr. Toward that end, Foggy indulges in baseball, paper airplane building, hide and seek, and chemistry set play – all to disastrous results. Clocks in at 6:43, so you can see the trend toward “shrinkage”.

This cartoon contains my favorite joke of the entire Foghorn Leghorn series. During the “hide and seek” bit, Foggy hides in a feed bin, while Jr. works up some calculations, walks off in another direction, and DIGS FOGGY UP out of the ground! Completely dismayed, Foggy walks over to the feed bin, where he originally hid – then stops before opening it. “No, I better not look! I just MIGHT be in there!”

“Banty Raids” (McKimson, 1962): Story by Robert McKimson and Nick Bennion. Running time: 6:19. A pint-size hip and, frankly, “horny” guitar-playing beatnik rooster infiltrates Foghorn’s barnyard by posing as an abandoned baby! Foggy adopts the lad, and tries to school him in the fine art of harassing the Barnyard Dog – but the poser sneaks off at every chance to make it with as many different hens as he can. We end with the Dog depositing Foggy into female garb and make-up – and MARRYING HIM to the beatnik!!!

As he is carried off to a fate the likes of which I’d rather not guess, Foggy protests: “But, I’m a ROOSTER!” “Don’t let it bug you, Man! Like, we can’t all be perfect!” replies the amorous little guy… as we fade out!

Whoa! I don’t know who Nick Bennion is – but I wonder why he and McKimson didn’t team up to write many more cartoons! They would certainly have made the “late-period” Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies a bit more interesting!

“Strangled Eggs” (McKimson, 1960): Running time of 6:19. All these years I thought that Looney Tunes that ran for less then seven minutes were cut for time and/or political correctness – when many of the later ones were just shorter to begin with!

Once again, Foghorn courts Miss Prissy to spend the winter in her nice warm house. The wooing is interrupted by a “baby” left on the doorstep. It is Henery Hawk! Prissy insists on raising him over Foggy’s uncharacteristically correct objections that he can’t overcome “being a chicken hawk”. Thus, we have Foggy trying to do away with Henery, while Henery does everything he can to devour Foggy! An interesting variation on several of the Foghorn Leghorn formulas.

With this, we bid adieu (…ad-doo-da-day?) to Foggy, and move on to “The Friends”…

“Gopher Broke” (McKimson, 1958): The Goofy Gophers drive the Barnyard Dog to insanity. A pig is witness to the spectacle and ends up in the psychiatrist’s office at cartoon’s end. Once again, we have a “John Seely” music score made up of much music heard on THE QUICK DRAW McGRAW SHOW.

This short should be noted among ALL cartoons for having a large balloon (…that lifts and carries the Barnyard Dog away) undergo a puncture – and LEAK SLOWLY, defying the cartoon convention of “violent decompression-propelled flight”!

“A Mutt in a Rut” (McKimson, 1958): “Rover”, an amalgam of the Barnyard Dog and Chuck Jones’ “Charlie Dog”, is swayed by a television program to turn against his loving master Elmer Fudd! An unfortunate mistake. Rover’s next mistake would be resorting to Wyle E. Coyote’s bag of tricks to eliminate Elmer… including “ONE ACME WILD CAT – Handle With Care”, and the unerringly defective dynamite detonation plunger!

This cartoon is notable in several ways. It is surely one of Arthur Q. Bryan’s last turns as Elmer Fudd. In addition to Bryan and (of course) Mel Blanc, Daws Butler speaks ONE LINE as a TV announcer. If one were to freeze-frame on the newspaper Fudd reads, there are stories of violent California rain storms and narcotics! And there is an on-camera shooting death of a grizzly bear!

This is actually a good cartoon for the period, which suffers from the short length of 6:18.

“Mouse-Placed Kitten” (McKimson, 1958): A husband and wife mouse suddenly find themselves with a baby kitten – in sort of a variation of “Strangled Eggs”. The mice are wise enough to leave the growing feline with a human, but trouble begins when they visit the cat, who is now all grown up.

“Cheese It, the Cat” (McKimson, 1957): The Honeymousers – a nicely played parody of guess what classic black-and-white era sitcom, features Daws Butler as the Gleason and Carney characters and June Foray as “Alice”. In this entry, “Ralph and Morton” try to sneak past a cat to get a cake from the refrigerator for Alice’s birthday. Butler is simply superb in this one!

“Two Crows from Tacos” (Freleng, 1956): “Manuel and Jose”, two dumb, sombrero-ed Mexican Crows are after a wiser, though similarly sombrero-ed, Mexican Grasshopper. In view of the occasional eruptions against the character of “Speedy Gonzales”, Warner is commended for including both this cartoon and the one that follows.

Some particularly violent gags – including a high-speed, head-on collision between the two crows and an extended “firecracker sequence”, in which the explosive changes hands several times before discharging on both crows – and a 7:12 running time allowing for the best use of said gags, make this a better than expected short. It is also noteworthy for a parting camera-hold of the “THAT’S ALL FOLKS” tagline over a nicely painted Mexican landscape background.

“Crows Feat” (Freleng, 1961): Manuel and Jose return to try to steal corn from Elmer Fudd. Encountering a scarecrow dressed in Elmer’s old hunting togs, we get the following:

Manuel: “Don’t I know you from somewhere?”

Jose: “Yeah, we see him in moving pictures, in a Chihuahua drive in!”

Manuel: “Yeah, he’s that gringo that’s all the time chasing El Conejo Bugs Bunny! Ha-Ha! I like that loco conejo! Heh-Heh!

Manuel (continues, to scarecrow): “Now, why you try shoot my friend Bugs Bunny, huh?”

Jose: “Go ahead, Manuel, give him a punch in the nose! He’s afraid from you! He don’t talk back!

Manuel (with club): “You gonna talk, or I gonna knock the stuffing out from you?

And he does! Jose tries on the scarecrow’s hat to further mock the as of yet unseen Elmer – and is conked by Manuel! By now you get the picture! Nice self-referential “Bugs and Elmer” stuff.

The “real Elmer” shows up, with his shotgun, and gets the best of the pair, blasting them every time! Though Fudd never speaks a word in this cartoon, it is without a doubt HIS MOST SUCCESSFUL APPEARANCE EVER! Just goes to show, it’s all in the adversary, folks!


While far from perfect, “Looney Tunes Superstars: Foghorn Leghorn and Friends Barnyard Bigmouth” is a vast improvement over the two previous releases in this series, and the concurrent “Tweety and Sylvester” volume that consists ENTIRELY of “double-dips” of Looney Tunes Golden Collection shorts.

The cartoons are (almost) all new to DVD. The “Robo-Promos” have been shelved. The widescreen issue has been dealt with in a way that should please all.

The issue of “number of cartoons vs. list price” will vary by viewer, as discounted prices can be found by anyone with a search engine.

Strictly speaking for myself, I find the complete and total absence of “Extras” to be the greatest negative – especially as WHV has already and routinely shown us just how WELL they can be done.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

When Life Throws You Road-Blogs…

Say, I think I’ve just coined a new phrase… Road-Blogs.

Those things that occur in life that keep you from Blogging!

Lots of work, an unexpected comics script just turned in, two Yankees games on my ticket plan for this week – and the usual host of obligations!

But, fear not… we’ll be back n’ Blogging soon… with new DVD reviews, some good comics coming up, and whatever else comes our way!

BTW, notice how Donald's accident has even jarred the logo out of alignment?  That was unusually good for Gold Key of the seventies!

Monday, April 4, 2011

DVD Review: The Public Enemy (1931)

The Public Enemy (1931)

(Released: 2005 by Warner Home Video)
Another looong DVD Review by Joe Torcivia

It is the ambition of the authors of ‘The Public Enemy’ to honestly depict an environment that exists today in a certain strata of American life, rather than glorify the hoodlum or criminal.

While the story of ‘The Public Enemy’ is essentially a true story, all names and characters appearing herein are purely fictional -- Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.”

...Um, they left off “Very Truly Yours”!

With this foreword, opens the James Cagney gangster classic “The Public Enemy”, based on the book by New York and syndicated newspaper columnist Mark Hellinger (1903-1947). Along with Edward G. Robinson’s Little Caesar, it was – and is – one of the two greatest films of the early Hollywood gangster genre. It was directed by William A. Wellman.

The story follows the life of “Tom Powers” (Cagney) from his 1909 boyhood to coming of age in the Prohibition era of 1920. Alas, with his best friend “Matt Doyle” in tow, Tom’s “coming of age” takes him into organized crime – where he becomes a merciless gangster. Mother Powers may turn a blind eye (or a naive one) to her baby’s activities, but older brother “Mike” becomes more and more uneasy with Tom’s increasing life of crime.

Mere juvenile delinquents, under the sway of petty crook “Putty Nose”, they grow into full-fledged thugs under Prohibition criminal and gang boss “Paddy Ryan”. Ryan’s mob pushes bootleg beer on speakeasy proprietors, at Ryan’s prices – and takes either cash – or wounded flesh – in return for the goods.

Ryan’s front man, “Nails Nathan” is killed (…not by a rival gang, but in a horse riding accident), and Ryan’s competition in the bootleg beer business seizes the opportunity to begin a gang war.

Unlike Rico of “Little Caesar”, Tom Powers and Matt Doyle never rise to the top – but remain street-level hoods, comfortable with collecting dough and busting the occasional head. The death of Nathan, and the events that follow, change all this.

Honestly, despite all I’ve heard over the years, I felt “The Public Enemy” “moved slower” than “Little Caesar” and, though quite interesting, didn’t deliver quite the pure excitement of its “Robinsonian” predecessor. …THAT IS UNTIL WE REACH THE 01:11:50 MARK OF THE 01:23:55 FILM!

From that point on, until the very end, it’s an entirely different animal – and so is Cagney’s Tom Powers! For the remainder of the film, there is one shock after another. Cagney’s expression, standing in the pouring rain, is truly frightening!

And then, there is the film’s FINAL SCENE! No spoilers. I don’t care how many of you may have seen it. All I’ll say is: I would love to have been in the original theatre audience for THAT!

Just send me back to 1931 for those TWELVE MINUTES… PLEASE!

Now, this is an early Hollywood gangster film, so it’s not much of a spoiler to say that Tom Powers meets his maker at film’s end. To that (pardon the expression) “end”, Warner Bros. offers this closing text, as the film fades out:

The END of Tom Powers is the end of every hoodlum. ‘The Public Enemy’ is not a man, nor is it a character – it is a problem that sooner or later WE, the public must solve.”

Additional oddities: While “Little Caesar” did not display the familiar Warner Bros Shield, the beginning of “The Public Enemy” (one year later) differed as follows: “Warner Bros. Pictures and the Vitaphone Corp. Present: [ with the WB Shield superimposed over the Vitaphone Pennant].

Every featured character in the film is introduced by a pose, in front of a black background, with both the name of the actor and the character he or she plays prominently displayed. In older films, I often have difficulty in determining “who-is-who” beyond the obvious star performers. This is a nice way to remedy that – and I wish it would have been employed more often.

As a bizarre counterpoint to the savagery herein, the tune “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” plays in various ways – and over various scenes – throughout the picture.

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


As with so many of these early gangster film packages, there aren’t really any “CONs” to list. (Other than the gangsters, themselves!) When Warner Home Video was great (as they were during this release period), they were GREAT! So, let’s move on to…


The Film: A film seminal to the rise of the gangster genre, and one with a shocking ending to boot! Cagney assumes frightening proportions as the film moves toward its climax. Sure, it would be considered tame for those raised on today’s brutally violent films but, 80 years ago, this one set the pace! …Yes, I said “80 years ago”!

The Cast:

• James Cagney as “Tom Powers”.

• Edward Woods as “Matt Doyle”.

• Jean Harlow as “Gwen Allen”.

• Joan Blondell as “Mamie”.

• Robert Emmett O’ Connor as “Paddy Ryan”.

• Mae Clark as “Kitty”.

• Leslie Fenton as “Nails Nathan”.

• Donald Cook as “Mike Powers”.

• Beryl Mercer as “Ma Powers”.

• Murray Kinnell as “Putty Nose”.

Menus: Menus are easy to navigate, and are nicely illustrated with images of Cagney’s “Tom Powers” and other characters from the film.

Extra Features:

Theatrical Trailer for “The Public Enemy”

A really unusual trailer! We see a realistically animated HAND holding a GUN, coming directly at the viewer. The huge displays of screen text explode out of the gun’s firing:



Oddly, not a single scene from the picture itself appears in this trailer!

Commentary Track by Robert Sklar: (NYU Professor and author of “City Boys”, a book about James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, and John Garfield) Sklar’s observations include:

• The rise of gangsters during the Prohibition era.

• The foreword that began the film (quoted above) grew out of Warner Bros.’ need to make an argument as to why the studio made gangster films. When movie gangsters were shown entering classy nightclubs – nicely dressed, and with fine women – it was feared that gangsters were something to be emulated. Especially to a Depression era audience.

• Warner Bros. theatres tended to be located in urban areas, thus Warner films were more “urban” in nature. The gangster film was a perfect example of this.

• Two weeks before filming began, the role of “Tom” was to be played by Edward Woods, and the role of “Matt” was to be played by Cagney. They were abruptly switched in order to give Cagney the starring role. (GOOD MOVE, I’d say!).

• However, owing to this, the childhood roles of Tom and Matt were NOT switched, because they were already filmed. The young actor playing Tom resembled Woods, and the young actor playing Matt resembled Cagney. For what it’s worth, I did not notice this until Sklar brought it to my attention. But, yes… it’s TRUE!

• “The Public Enemy” was to be Edward Woods’ SECOND film. Alas, for him, there was not much thereafter – as James Cagney became a star.

• Sklar describes Cagney’s trademark gesture for the film, his “Short Hand Jab” (a sort of very mild, affectionate punch), as “…an endearing aspect of the physical performance of Cagney.”

• He speculates that Tom Powers went down the “wrong path” due to a doting, permissive mother – becoming the primary influence, once his father (a stern police officer) was out of the picture… presumably killed in the line of duty. In addition, Tom’s failed intimacy with members of the opposite sex may have led him to violence. A bit too much psychology, perhaps? You decide.

• Deleted from the re-release were certain lines spoken by a clearly gay tailor, a scene indicating that Matt and his girl Mamie were in cohabitation, and Paddy Ryan’s girl explicitly coming on to Tom. Thankfully, all such scenes are included here.

• The character of dapper “Nails Nathan” was based on real-life Chicago gangster “Nails Morton”.

• “The Grapefruit Scene”, in which Tom smashes a grapefruit in Kitty’s face is discussed in detail. In keeping with the times, it was hardly regarded in 1931 – but became much more of an issue in the seventies and onward, as an act of violence against women.

• As a result of his success in “The Public Enemy”, James Cagney was hurriedly written into the upcoming film “Smart Money” – to co-star with Edward G. Robinson. This way, Warner Bros. could have both their big gangster stars headlining in the same picture. Apparently, “Mrs. Warner” didn’t raise any dull boys!

Though Robert Sklar’s commentary is both informative and very interesting, it seems to me that he left a bit more “empty space”, over which the film plays – complete with its sound track, than some of the other such commentary tracks I’ve heard. Some may like to have the film “speak for itself” in spots. I prefer wall-to-wall comments from someone who knows the film and the era far better than I do. Tastes will vary.

Warner Night at the Movies. Not so long ago, when Warner was the BEST DVD PRODUCER of them all, it offered the outstanding “Warner Night at the Movies” with select DVD packages. I couldn’t be more pleased, when I uncover one of these gems!

Warner expertly recreates the movie-going experience of the day as a viewing option for “The Public Enemy”. The film may be viewed as part of the entire program, on its own, or the viewer may pick and choose among the included items.

An optional introduction to the program by film historian Leonard Maltin is quite valuable in putting the presentation in its historical perspective – helping modern viewers to best appreciate the experience.

I never cease to be fascinated at the “reconstruction” of what “Nights at the Movies” were. The films (or at least their iconography) have survived into our present-day consciousness – and to a large extent (due to decades of television airings) so have the cartoons. But the other elements are strictly out of a “lost era”. So much so that, when Leonard Maltin offers an introduction to the Warner Bros. package, I need him to INTERPRET as much as enhance.

The program consists of:
• A theatrical trailer for “Blonde Crazy”: Also starring James Cagney and Joan Blondell.

Newsreel: (Runs 01:32) From “Hearst Metrotone News”, we have coverage of female athletes training for the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles... “Fair Sex Athletes get busy under Mrs. Allen, coach, in first workouts at Pasadena, Cal”. We are there to witness drills for Track, Discus, and Javelin. Does anyone remember how they did?

“Vitaphone Presents: The Eyes Have It”: (Runs 09:54) A comedy short starring ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his “pal” Charlie McCarthy. I always felt that Edgar Bergen had the easiest job in the world – being a ventriloquist on RADIO! Not only could he have moved his lips with impunity (…with no viewers to see), but Charlie didn’t even need to BE THERE! But here, we get the full act, as it was intended to be seen. Honestly, lip movement on the part Bergen is a bit easier to detect than it should be for someone of his legend – but this short, with Bergen as an eye doctor and Charlie as a wise-cracking patient, is entertaining nonetheless.

“Smile Darn Ya Smile”: (Runs 06:56) A Merrie Melodies cartoon starring “Foxy”. A Hugh Harman – Rudolf Ising cartoon production. With Abe Lyman’s Brunswick Recording Orchestra. Leon Schlesinger – Producer.

The WB Shield and Pennant introduce our interlude with Foxy, who looks just like Mickey Mouse but with a fox’s ears and tail, as a trolley driver. His lady-friend, and passenger, is also a duplicate of Minnie Mouse, with the same add-ons.

There was marginally more of a plot than Foxy’s prior outing, “Lady Play Your Mandolin” (packaged with “Little Caesar”) – said plot concerning Foxy’s ability (or lack thereof) to safely guide the trolley through some absurdly rough, hilly, and curvy terrain – and successfully negotiate the “wildlife” along the way.

Not so coincidently, this short bears a remarkable resemblance to 1927’s silent “Trolley Troubles”, starring Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks’ Oswald the Lucky Rabbit – made four years earlier. Many of the same gags appear, such as the wild, out-of-control ride and an encounter with an uppity, bespectacled COW blocking the trolley tracks. Both Oswald and Foxy solve that latter problem by driving their respective trolleys UNDERNEATH the cow – who then walks off in a huff.

This aside, the cartoon is entertaining and succeeds in providing a suitable level of enjoyment – at least up to the standards of the time. Aw, what the heck… the drawings moved – and they spoke and sang. What more could you really ask?

The film itself: Cagney starts out “Solid” and ends up “Amazing”! In its techniques, “The Public Enemy” is ALREADY a noticeable leap forward from the previous year’s “Little Caesar”. And, like its genre predecessor, it is one heck of a film – especially when one considers the “very recent” technical advances that it reflects.

Other Extra Features Include:

“Re-Release Foreword”: (Runs 0:43) Later on, both “Little Caesar” and “The Public Enemy” were re-released as a twin-bill. With Hollywood taking a more conservative stance on gangster films, and the glorification of crime in general, this video disclaimer was offered before the show:

Perhaps the toughest of the gangster films, ‘Public Enemy’ and ‘Little Caesar’ had a great effect on public opinion. They brought home violently the evils associated with prohibition and suggested the necessity of a nation-wide house cleaning. Tom Powers in ‘Public Enemy’ and Rico in ‘Little Caesar’ are not two men, nor are they merely characters – they are a problem that sooner or later we, the public, must solve.”

Warner supplies us with an interesting curio of the times that has it modern-day equivalent on the warnings it rightly adds to its classic animation DVD collections, concerning the attitudes and prejudices that were prevalent when the animated shorts were produced. This exact same feature was also included with “Little Caesar”.

“Beer and Blood: Enemies of the Public”: (Runs 19:34).
This mini-documentary looks at the stars, directorial efforts, film techniques, memorable scenes, and the times of the film “The Public Enemy”.

Martin Scorsese (director of “Goodfellas”) claims to have seen the legendary double-bill of “Little Caesar” and “The Public Enemy”. He recalls that the impact was very strong, and stayed with him for many years. He also declares “The Public Enemy” as the tougher of the two. And, I’m just guessin’ here… but I’d say Martin Scorsese knows “tough”!

The piece also notes that James Cagney was originally cast as sidekick “Matt Doyle” with the starring role of “Tom Powers” going to Edward Woods. But, with the success of Cagney in another 1931 film, “The Millionaire”, the casting of the roles was reversed.

Director William A. Wellman fought to get the ending as we saw it. I can only say… THANK YOU, MISTER WELLMAN!

Perhaps in order to achieve this, much of the other violence occurs off camera. The viewer is “present”, can hear the sounds (gunshots, screams, etc.), and see the RESULT, but most of it remained unseen. Scorsese notes: “Public Enemy is probably the most brutal of them all, in a way. And yet, you never see the violence. The violence is all off screen – it makes it WORSE! (Laughs)”

In addition to Scorsese, other participants include: film historian Dr. Drew Casper, authors Robert Sklar (of the commentary track), Mark A. Vieira, and filmmaker Alain Silver.


The Public Enemy” might start out “slow”, but sit back and watch it build to something extraordinary. Watch this film define the gangster genre in cinema. And watch James Cagney become a star before your very eyes!

Warner Night at the Movies” allows you to experience the film in (at least something resembling) its proper context.

It is highly recommended for fans of James Cagney, gangster films and crime drama in general, and enthusiasts or scholars of the early sound-era of Hollywood.