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THE FIGHTING 69TH is the romanticized/fictionalized Hollywood version of the exploits of New York's 69th Infantry Regiment during the First World War. James Cagney portrays self-centered Jerry Plunkett whose lack of respect for authority and bravado is ultimately overshadowed by the cowardice he demonstrates in the face of battle and the death of his comrades. Pat O'Brien is Father Francis Duffy, the company chaplain who doesnít lose faith in Plunkett or his ability to redeem himself. Thoroughly entertaining, THE FIGHTING 69TH offered the right mixture of inspiration and propaganda as America prepared itself for the inevitable entry into WWII. The cast of THE FIGHTING 69TH also features George Brent, Jeffrey Lynn, Alan Hale, Frank McHugh, Dennis Morgan, Dick Foran, William Lundigan and William Hopper.


TORRID ZONE is really terrific old style Hollywood entertainment, albeit of the empty calorie variety. Watching TORRID ZONE, one is certain to savor every flavorful bit of witty dialogue, but ultimately, the film isnít particularly memorable- save for its terrific cast. In TORRID ZONE, Cagney portrays Nicky Butler, the wisecracking, crackerjack former manager of a banana plantation, who finds still in demand by his former employer Steve Case (Pat O'Brien). Also added to the mix is singer/card shark Lee Donley (Ann Sheridan), who adds plenty of fun, sex appeal and clever banter to the TORRID ZONE. The cast TORRID ZONE also features Andy Devine, Helen Vinson, Jerome Cowan, George Tobias, George Reeves, Victor Kilian, Frank Puglia, John Ridgely and Grady Sutton.


An under appreciated little comic gem, THE BRIDE CAME C.O.D. is my personal favorite amongst all the films in this collection. Despite his tough guy image, Cagney never had any problem playing comedy or wringing a comic moment out of a drama. However, co-star Bette Davisí career of heavily dramatic roles certainly makes her performance in this breezy screwball comedy a surprising delight. In THE BRIDE CAME C.O.D., Davis is madcap heiress Joan Winfield on her way to marry a man- of whom her father disapproves. Cagney is pilot Steve Collins, who "kidnaps" Joan at the behest of her father, Lucius K. Winfield (the always engaging Eugene Pallette). As expected, Collinsí aircraft experiences mechanical difficulties, which strands the two together, as the comic and romantic sparks begin to fly. The cast of THE BRIDE CAME C.O.D. also features Stuart Erwin, Jack Carson, George Tobias, Harry Davenport, William Frawley, Edward Brophy, Harry Holman, Chick Chandler, Douglas Kennedy, Herbert Anderson, William Newell and William Hopper.


Released just as America made its entry into WWII, CAPTAINS OF THE CLOUDS production pushes all the right propaganda buttons with its tale of Canadian bush pilots who hear Churchillís rallying cry and become flyers for the Royal Canadian Air Force. CAPTAINS OF THE CLOUDS finds Cagney in the role of brash bush pilot Brian MacLean, who always seems to be muscling in on other pilotsí territory. Forever taking risks, MacLean survives one tough scrape, only to marry the wrong woman to save a buddy from making that very same mistake. After his noble deed costs him a friendship, the call to war lands MacLean on the doorstep of the Royal Canadian Air Force. Unfortunately, age, recklessness and an underlying lack of respect for authority finds our hero with a limited number of choices to serve his country, so he takes on the mission of ferrying an unarmed bomber to England, under the command of his old buddy. The cast of CAPTAINS OF THE CLOUDS also features Dennis Morgan, Brenda Marshall, Alan Hale, George Tobias, Reginald Gardiner, Air Marshal W.A. Bishop and Reginald Denny.


THE WEST POINT STORY probably isnít the best film contained in this boxed set, but it is a must see for the simple joy it affords us in watching the song and dance man inside Jimmy Cagney burst out onto the screen. In THE WEST POINT STORY, Cagney portrays down on his luck Broadway director Elwin 'Bix' Bixby, whose gambling problems and short fuse have cost him his place on the great white way. Desperate for cash, Bix agrees to direct a musical cadet show up at West Point at the behest of an old partner. However, Bix quickly learns that his old partnerís true intentions are to lure a cadet away from the military and onto Broadway. Supporting Cagney in THE WEST POINT STORY are Virginia Mayo, Doris Day, Gordon MacRae, Gene Nelson, Alan Hale Jr. and Roland Winters.


Warner Home Video has made all the movies that comprise the JAMES CAGNEY: THE SIGNATURE COLLECTION available on DVD in the proper 4:3 full screen aspect ratios of their theatrical releases. THE FIGHTING 69TH sports a terrific black and white transfer, with very good detail, contrast and grayscale. TORRID ZONE is also black and white, although the image isnít quite as crisp as the previous film, the contrast and grayscale do hold up nicely. THE BRIDE CAME C.O.D. is another great looking black and white film that features a very film like presentation that appears nicely defined, with deep blacks, stable whites and a varied grayscale. CAPTAINS OF THE CLOUDS is the sole Technicolor offering in the set, and generally looks very nice and features pretty good image detail. Although a little inconsistent, the colors give a respectable impression of what an IB print might have looked like. THE WEST POINT STORY is the last black and white film in the collection and appears pretty solid, with satisfactory sharpness, contrast and grayscale. In varying quantities, all of the films show some signs of age and blemishes, not to mention different levels of film grain. Digital compression artifacts are always well contained across the boxed set.

All of the films in the JAMES CAGNEY: THE SIGNATURE COLLECTION feature nice sounding Dolby Digital monaural soundtracks. The majority of background hiss and audible anomalies have been cleaned during the mastering process for each film, although with different levels of success. Fidelity has the expected limitations of films from the 1940s; not surprisingly, the music is mid-fi, while the sound effects are occasionally less than believable. As expected, dialogue is always crisp and completely understandable. No other language tracks have been included on the DVDs, but English subtitles are provided.

Music underscores the basic interactive menus, which allow one access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the supplements that have been spread out across the collection. Individual disc supplements are as follows: THE FIGHTING 69TH comes with the Warner Night At The Movies 1940 Short Subjects Gallery featuring: a vintage newsreel, two patriotic shorts: Young America Flies and the Oscar-nominated London Can Take It!, the classic cartoons Pilgrim Porky & The Fighting 69Ĺth, Theatrical Trailers for THE FIGHTING 69TH and 1940ís BROTHER ORCHID, plus the audio-only bonus: radio adaptation with Pat OíBrien, Robert Preston and Ralph Bellamy. TORRID ZONE comes with the Warner Night At The Movies 1940 Short Subjects Gallery featuring: a vintage newsreel, the musical short Ozzie Nelson And His Orchestra, the Technicolor historical short Pony Express Days with Torrid Zoneís George Reeves, the classic Oscar-nominated cartoon A Wild Hare and Theatrical Trailers for TORRID ZONE and 1940ís SANTA FE TRAIL.

THE BRIDE CAME C.O.D. comes with the Warner Night At The Movies 1941 Short Subjects Gallery featuring: a vintage newsreel, the musical shorts Carnival Of Rhythm and the Oscar-nominated Forty Boys And A Song, the classic cartoons Porkyís Pooch and the Oscar-nominated Rhapsody In Rivets and Theatrical Trailers for THE BRIDE CAME C.O.D. and 1941ís HONEYMOON FOR THREE. CAPTAINS OF THE CLOUDS comes with the Warner Night At The Movies 1942 Short Subjects Gallery featuring: a vintage newsreel, the sports short Rocky Mountain Big Game, the classic cartoons Fresh Hare & Whatís Cookin; Doc? and Theatrical Trailers for CAPTAINS OF THE CLOUDS and 1942ís IN THIS OUR LIFE. THE WEST POINT STORY comes with the Warner Night At The Movies 1950 Short Subjects Gallery featuring: a vintage newsreel, Oscar-winning Sports Parade short Grandad Of Races, the classic cartoon His Bitter Half and Theatrical Trailers for THE WEST POINT STORY and 1950ís TEA FOR TWO.

While many of Cagneyís greatest films are already available on DVD either individually or in other collections, JAMES CAGNEY: THE SIGNATURE COLLECTION offers a nice sampling of the actorís other works. Warner does their usual fine job, offing solid presentations and enjoyable extras. Recommended.

Note: the collection is available for $49.98, while the individual films can be had for $19.98 each.



James Cagney - The Signature Collection (The Bride Came C.O.D. / Captains of the Clouds / The Fighting 69th / Torrid Zone / The West Point Story)



DVD reviews are Copyright © 2007 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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