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Warner Brothers continues to amaze fans of cinema past with their magnificently produced signature collections. This second collection for mega-star Humphrey Bogart (technically his third) collects five more of his best films, with one of them receiving a well-deserved three-disc treatment. With five films to make it through, it's now time to see Bogie as detective, spy, gangster, ex-con and marine.

Humphrey Bogart - The Signature Collection, Vol. 2

Feature



The Maltese Falcon (1941)
As far as detective films go, The Maltese Falcon is an unrivalled achievement. You've got everything you could ask for from a film noir: a seedy metropolis, a femme fatale, brooding cinematography and a morally questionable anti-hero, Humphrey Bogart as detective Sam Spade. He's hired to locate the titular object (worth an unimaginable sum of money, we're told) before several other ruthless individuals do so. Falcon is of a rare breed, it's one of those few deliciously flawless films, and why not? Everything about the production is top-notch, from the source material to John Huston's direction to the supporting cast. Wonderfully striking visuals and dialogue dangerously sharp with wit make this a must-see film noir masterpiece. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, the finest film in this collection.

All Through the Night (1942)
Night is an interesting and appreciated inclusion in the set because it shows Bogie in one of his few comedies. Backed by Phil Silvers and Jackie Gleason, Bogie plays Gloves Donahue, a gangster ready to take revenge on the dirty scoundrels who killed his cheesecake chef, only these aren't your average scoundrels! These are sworn members of the Nazi party! And so begins the propaganda.

With the exception of The Maltese Falcon, each film in this set has ulterior motives aside from entertaining you for two hours. These films are all about gaining public support and interest in the war. Manipulative? Absolutely. Convincing? Surprisingly. I can't say I'm fond of motion pictures being used for such a purpose. Getting back on track, Night is a fun mockery of your standard gangster film. It's certainly likeable, although sadly forgettable when held against Bogies more serious roles. I still say give this one a try - it's a worthwhile inclusion to the set. Strange enough, after this film - I had a peculiar urge to buy war bonds.

Across the Pacific (1942)
Here Bogie plays Rick Leland (interestingly, his next role would be Rick Blaine in Casablanca), a soldier dismissed from the US army for shady behaviour. Leland enters into a traitorous deal with the mysterious Doc Lorenz (Sydney Greenstreet) into leaking classified information about US military installations. Bogie, how could you do this to your own country!?! Or perhaps there's more to this situation than meets the eye? You bet your bottom dollar there is. Along the way Rick romances Alberta Marlow (another coincidence of names as Bogie would famously portray Phillip Marlow in 1946's The Big Sleep) played by Mary Astor. As if this reunion of three Maltese Falcon performers wasn't enough, director John Houston returns to the helm to make this an engaging thriller. My inexplicable desire to purchase war bonds continues. A quick internet search proves my speculation that they haven't been sold for quite some time.

Humphrey Bogart - The Signature Collection, Vol. 2
Action in the North Atlantic (1943)
The propaganda just doesn't get any thicker than this. Bogart leads a battleship of American caricatures in the good fight against Satan and his Nazi minions. In the first act, enemy forces sink the battleship carrying our crew (which includes Raymond Massey and Alan Hale Senior). As the Germans sail away from the carnage, they snicker and laugh at the devastation. Do our best and brightest let this stop them? Heck no; and just a few short scenes later they're back in action defending our freedom. I never thought I'd find such incontestable propaganda so enjoyable, but I do. Even some sixty odd years later, the film still has the ability to rouse one's spirits against the enemy. Action boasts several highly impressive effects sequences, notably the sinking of a battleship accomplished through a combination of miniatures and rear-screen projection. Technically well-made, and somewhat manipulatively well-written, Action is an entertaining slice of WW2 history. These films are beginning to control me, I can't seem to shake this desire to help the cause via war bonds. Damn.

Passage to Marseille (1943)
Passage tells the story of Bogie's tough guy, Frenchman Matrac, which encompasses his rise from a prisoner of Devil's Island to a gunner in the French Air Corps. Most unexpected about this film is how heartless it paints our leading man as the hero, who at one point brutally guns down three unarmed Nazi pilots after their plane has been shot out of the sky. Like Across the Pacific, the filmmakers here provide several fantastic battle sequences utilizing trick photography. The film serves as a practical Casablanca reunion with director Michael Curtiz and players Sydney Greenstreet, Claude Reins and Peter Lorre. Not one of Bogie's most charming roles, but again a well-made and thoroughly enjoyable motion picture. Now I not only wish to purchase American war bonds, but French ones too, which also haven't been sold for a right many years.

Humphrey Bogart - The Signature Collection, Vol. 2

Video


Given the age of these five movies, the video presentation is remarkable. Understandably, the best looking of the bunch is The Maltese Falcon, which boasts a sharp and well-contrasted transfer. With the exception of Passage to Marseille, the other three gems appear satisfyingly clean and free of distracting dirt and scratches. Unfortunately Passage is home to more dust and grime than the others, but it's nothing to ruin the experience. Overall, a well-polished bunch of motion picture goodness.

Audio


All four films have Dolby Digital 1.0 tracks... yeah, I too made a sour face too when I realized it, but it's not that bad. While the sound of these films weren't designed to show off your new fancy surround sound setup, they do get the job done.

Extras


Where many studios would simply opt to go bare-bones for their older titles rather than trying to produce supplements, Warner Brothers goes a different route. They've devised a creative new way to watch these classics, dubbed 'Warner Night at the Movies'. You see, many years ago, there was much more to a night at the cinema than just a feature presentation. You had newsreels, musical numbers, cartoons, comedy shorts and trailers. By selecting WNATM on each film, you can achieve a viewing experience similar to the ones had when these gems were released. I can't tell you how crazy I am about this feature—it's an absolute delight and I commend Warner for their ingenuity on these discs. I'd run through each supplement included, but I haven't the time nor you the patience to read it all. Take my word for it, there's a treasure trove of vintage material to be found here.

Humphrey Bogart - The Signature Collection, Vol. 2
Four of the five films included have gag reels dubbed ‘Warner Breakdowns of 1940-Something’. In these, you can see bloopers from To Have and Have Not, The Man Who Came to Dinner, Action in the North Atlantic and many more. This rare glimpse into the outtakes of the past is easily one of the most fun supplements in this entire set. Given that profanity was non-existent in motion pictures of the era, hearing performers (Bogie included) swear after flubbing a line is terribly strange, even if humorous. G** d**** is apparently the phrase of choice among Warner performers.

This collection comes with four non-film specific featurettes entitled 'Hollywood Helps the Cause', 'Credit Where Credit is Due', 'The Free French: Unsung Victors' and my favourite, 'Call the Usual Suspects: The Craft of the Character Actor'. It admirably recognizes over a dozen seasoned character actors from the studio system days at Warner Brothers including several from films in this set. It interviews modern character actors Edie McClurg, Bruce Davison, James Cromwell, Jon Polito and Clint Howard. The 'Free French' featurette is also absorbing as it provides great insight into the war climate that Passage To Marseille was released into. Overall, four outstanding supplemental featurettes.

I can't tell you how much of a rare treat it is to have a commentary by someone actually involved with one of these older films, especially the director! For All Through the Night, director Vincent Sherman and Bogie biographer Eric Lax (recorded separately it would appear) provide a first rate commentary which switches between personal recollection and historical trivia. Not surprisingly, Lax also provides an exhaustively full commentary for The Maltese Falcon.

Humphrey Bogart - The Signature Collection, Vol. 2
The remaining supplements fall on the two extra discs devoted to The Maltese Falcon. The first is home to the two previous attempts at Dashiell Hammett's novel, The Maltese Falcon (1931) and Satan Met a Lady. The original Falcon sticks close to the source material but unfortunately lacks all of the charm and charisma Bogie and his cronies brought to the parts. For comparison purposes, it's a fun watch. As for the second adaptation, not even film Goddess Bette Davis can save this stinker, which takes more than one liberty with the source material, changing names and events quite a bit. Watch the first half hour of this one and then realize it was upstaged by the 1941 version for a reason. Kudos to Warner for including both of these even if they're inferior. That is, I suppose, why they've been reduced to mere 'supplemental features' and the Huston version given a three-disc set.

Carried over from the original release is Robert Osbourne hosting 'Becoming Attractions: The Trailers of Humphrey Bogart', a captivating look at how Warner tried to market Bogart from his early days as a second-rate gangster up until his last several films. The biggest draw of the new supplements for me was the documentary ‘The Maltese Falcon: One Magnificent Bird', which is just as excellent as the smaller featurettes in this collection, only longer. It has interviews with Robert Osbourne, Michael Madsen, Frank Miller and, of course, Bogie specialist Eric Lax. Items discussed include the road leading up to production and the impact it had in creating the film noir genre. An exceptional documentary for an exceptional movie.

Also included are three radio shows of the source material totalling over three hours! Having heard the first two several years back, my main interest was in hearing a third adaptation featuring gangster film veteran Edward G Robinson. It's almost enough to make me long for a fourth film version of the novel featuring Robinson as Spade.... almost. Rounding out this mammoth set are theatrical trailers for all five films and brief make-up tests for The Maltese Falcon.

Humphrey Bogart - The Signature Collection, Vol. 2

Overall


Not that I ever expected anything less from them, Warner Brothers once again dishes out an exceptional signature collection. Not only are the movies included of great quality both in content and technical presentation, but they're brimming with a vast assortment of insightful bonus materials. Between the three signature collections bearing Bogie's name, we've been given thirteen marvellous films. I say keep 'em coming.


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