James Cagney - The Signature Collection DVD: Review By Evan "Mushy" Jacobs

Fans of James Cagney have a lot to marvel at here.
  • Feature
  • Extras
  • Replay Value
Fans of James Cagney have a lot to marvel at here.
Poor choice of extra features.
James Cagney: Signature Collection features 5 movies from one of cinema's legends. Showcasing a myriad of characterizations, Cagney does a very good job of imbuing each character with a new persona but still staying true to who he is and what he is known for.

The films in the James Cagney: Signature Collection are:

- The Bride Came C.O.D.

- Captains of the Clouds

- The Fighting 69th

- Torrid Zone

- The West Point Story

In The Bride Came C.O.D., Cagney plays Steve Collins opposite Bette Davis in this screwball comedy that unfolds via a "bumpy" plane ride. Captains of the Clouds finds James Cagney as Brian MacLean, a pilot who gets his wings under him in the Royal Canadian Air Force. Playing Jerry Plunkett we get a firsthand account of the Irish American experience of World War I in The Fighting 69th. Torrid Zone sees Cagney playing off of Pat O'Brien and Ann Sheridan in this film that centers around a Central American fruit company. Lastly, The West Point Story is a bustling good time in which Cagney matches Musical wits with Doris Day, Gordon MacRae and Virginia Mayo in this entertaining celebration of Americana.

Certainly an eclectic mix to be sure, we are treated to an interesting mix of of characterizations in the James Cagney: Signature Collection.
The Bride Came C.O.D., Captains of the Clouds, Torrid Zone

and The West Point Story

These DVDs contain an assortment of Vintage Newsreel footage, shorts and cartoons that sadly don't comment on the movies. While I appreciate the perspective that they gave me in regards to the films historical subject matter, I couldn't help wishing that Warner Bros. had spent a little more time putting this set together with more germane supplemental content.

The Fighting 69th

Radio Adaptation

Once again, Warner Bros. has allowed us to have the option of moving forward and backward through this feature. It showcases the voice talents of Pat O'Brien, Robert Preston, and Ralph Bellamy as they take us through this story in an audio form. The sound was remarkably clear. There some audio pops here and there but I doubt when they created this, they had the foresight to realize that one day it would make the leap to DVD. Fans of this film will certainly want to give this section a listen.
All of the films in the James Cagney: Signature Collection are in the Standard Version presented in a format preserving the aspect ratio of their original theatrical exhibition. All of the films in this collection are in black and white with the exception of Captain of the Clouds which is in Technicolor. Warner Bros. has done a litany of these sets and I have been lucky enough to review a lot of them. I haven't really run into any problems with the way these things have been compressed, and that is also the same here. These movies are in black and white and they were made some time ago. I could see them having problems, being muddy, shaky, or whatever else but everything is done on such a high level I noticed no real problems (save for some dust here and there) that caught my attention.
The movies in this set are all in Dolby Digital English Mono. I had to turn the audio on my set about halfway up and, interestingly, I needed to adjust it for a few of the other movies. Normally, Warner Bros. keeps things leveled pretty uniform over all the movies in these collections. I never really had to turn up the audio louder than the first film I put in (The Fighting 69th), but there were a few occasions that I remember having to go about 1/3 lower. Still, I have watched all kinds of movies from the biggest collections, to the DVDs from the dump bins in the .99 cent store. None of the movies in this set ever sounded any worse than your garden variety DVD put out by a studio.
A very well composed image of James Cagney is presented on the front of this slipcase cover. Like the other Signature Collections, they have tinted this with a grayish blue tone. The back portion offers us a brief listings of all the movies, a one sheet for each (which I believe were the one-sheets utilized when these movies where initially released), and on the underside are some very minor system specs. They have stored all the movies in this collection in 5 separate, slim covers, which offer up a great deal more detail on each film. Warner Bros. does a very good job packing enough films into this set so that things may look bulky but are in fact quite economical.
Like a lot of actors from yesteryear, James Cagney is of the variety that sometimes seems to come off as if he's playing the same character in every role. His facial expressions, his mannerisms, the cadence of his voice all make it very difficult to sometimes see him as a somebody else. However, he is often imitated but never duplicated and the James Cagney: Signature Collection shows you why. While his performance as Jerry Plunkett in The Fighting 69th is probably the one he is most known for out of this collection, he really surprised me in Torrid Zone and The West Point Story. I had quite simply never known that he acted in films like that, mainly because what we know of Cagney is as a tough talking hipster who isn't afraid to stand up to anyone. That person is still here in these movies but he's different. There is a vulnerability on display that we don't get in some of the other films.

I often wonder what process Warner Bros. uses in order to put something like the James Cagney: Signature Collection together. Do they have certain back catalog titles that must come out or they will lose the rights to them? Have they stockpiled a certain amount of releases and they need to get rid of them? Whatever the process is, I think it gets interesting when we get the kind of mix employed in this set.

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