James Cagney – The Signature Collection

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  • Warner Home Video will honor one of America’s greatest motion picture stars with the release of James Cagney: The Signature Collection. The Oscar? winning screen icon comes to life in this collection that includes five new-to-DVD films – The Bride Came C.O.D., Captain of the Clouds, The Fighting 69th, Torrid Zone and The West Point Story. Cagney’s versatile talent is on display opposite a star-stu

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Warner Home Video will honor one of America’s greatest motion picture stars with the release of James Cagney: The Signature Collection. The Oscar® winning screen icon comes to life in this collection that includes five new-to-DVD films – The Bride Came C.O.D., Captain of the Clouds, The Fighting 69th, Torrid Zone and The West Point Story. Cagney’s versatile talent is on display opposite a star-studded array of screen favorites including Bette Davis, Doris Day, Gordon Mac… More >>

James Cagney – The Signature Collection

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5 Comments
  1. I like the movies that are included, but I’ve seen them before on TCM. I don’t really care about vintage short subjects. I wish there were more current special features like current documentaries about the movies that are in the set or commentaries on the movies. That was why when selecting a box set to purchase this month, I got the Tyrone Power set since he is another of my favorite actors.

    Rating: 3 / 5

  2. This set is fine as far as it goes. However, where are THE STRAWBERRY BLONDE and THE OKLAHOMA KID?

    Warners has given other actors 6 or 7 disc sets. Why not Cagney?

    On the other hand, maybe a CAGNEY, VOLUME 2 is in the works.

    Let’s hope so.
    Rating: 4 / 5

  3. A nice collection of James Cagney movies that promotes support for our troops during the early wars. Not his typical gangster movie. A nice change.
    Rating: 4 / 5

  4. I’m a huge Cagney fan and admittedly, I prefer him in the gangster-type roles he does best. However, this collection gives us the Cagney performances that aren’t as well-known but are more examples of his versatility. The best movie in this bunch is “The Bridge Came COD” with Bette Davis, it’s charming and funny and because both of them have such strong personalities, it’s very amusing to watch them fight. There aren’t many actors that can upstage Cagney like Bette Davis. “The Fighting 69th” and “Torrid Zone” are also well-done as is “West Point Story,” which gives Cagney an opportunity to show off his singing and dancing skills. The weakest film in this collection is Captains of the Clouds–a film that takes a bit too long to develop and mostly honors and promotes the Canadian Air Force. All in all, this is but a glimpse into Cagney’s pocket of tricks and skills that made him one of the best, most well-rounded actors.
    Rating: 5 / 5

  5. James Cagney burst on the scene in the 1930s and very quickly proved his ability to menace or charm at the drop of a hat. An undersized powderkeg gifted with fast-talking blarney and nimble swagger, dude certainly made plenty of bank for Warner Brothers studios even as he quickly became typecast into those tough guy parts. It’s a bit of a nudge in the ribs for me that this DVD set is titled JAMES CAGNEY: THE SIGNATURE COLLECTION, because the collected cinema here aren’t by any means considered his most celebrated movies (those would be THE PUBLIC ENEMY, ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES, WHITE HEAT, and YANKEE DOODLE DANDY). But the five films offered here do serve to demonstrate the man’s range beyond starring in gangster dramas. These films span a decade, from 1940 to 1950. TORRID ZONE (1940), THE BRIDE CAME C.O.D. (1941), and THE WEST POINT STORY (1950) present the lighter and even musical side of James Cagney. Meanwhile THE FIGHTING 69TH (1940) and CAPTAINS OF THE CLOUDS (1942) feature him in wartime dramas, with THE FIGHTING 69TH casting Cagney against type as a craven American soldier. Each film is featured on its own disc, with this set I think overall meriting four out of five stars.

    A few years ago I saw Cagney and Bette Davis co-star in 1934’s terrific JIMMY THE GENT on the TCM network, and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on THE BRIDE CAME C.O.D. once I learned that it reunited these two actors on screen (alas, for the second and final time). While this one isn’t quite up there in the timeless classics category, it’s still a fine screwball comedy, with Cagney’s charter pilot brokering a deal with a Texas oil magnate to kidnap his flighty daughter (Davis) to prevent her from eloping. Cagney and Davis are two magnificent fireball personalities, and it’s insane fun watching the two wage war with snappy banter and attempt to one-up each other with oodles of that domineering attitude. Oh, but check that, there’s a chance that these two volatile actors might actually have elevated the dialogue, rather than it being all that snappy. And so what if Bette Davis looks a bit older than her 23-year-old character? She’s still lovely. Madcap goings-on all around, in tiny, horrifyingly clunky charter planes and in desert ghost towns and mine shafts and with Davis’s backside several times being introduced to sharp, sharp cacti. Love – and aggrieved snootiness – are in the air, and Cagney gets smacked around by Bette Davis… and Jack Carson. It’s all improbable stuff, but what’s not to like?

    Special Features for THE BRIDE CAME C.O.D.: a vintage newsreel (Easter Parade preview, focusing on women’s fashionable wear); the musical shorts “Carnival of Rhythm” and the Oscar-nominated “Forty Boys and a Song”; two cartoons “Porky’s Pooch” and the Oscar-nominated “Rhapsody in Rivets”; trailers for THE BRIDE CAME C.O.D. and 1941’s HONEYMOON FOR THREE.

    TORRID ZONE is a neat action comedy and Cagney’s eight film with Pat O’Brien, his pal in real life and perennial movie wingman. The story takes place in some unnamed perhaps Latin American country and revolves around a despotic general manager of a banana company, the brash foreman he rehires to salvage his floundering banana plantation, and the beautiful fugitive (and card cheat) who sashays into their lives. If you like them movies featuring Americans wisecracking and fighting and falling in love in sweaty tropical places, then let TORRID ZONE hook you up.

    Sharp performances liven things up. Cagney does his James Cagney thing, and this time sporting a rare thin mustache. Pat O’Brien, who really is an accomplished actor, this time comes in as Steve Case, the general manager who is such a pushy heel that he is told: “Mister, the stork that brought you must’ve been a vulture.” Ann Sheridan makes big noise as sassy chanteuse Lee Donley, and here she does her best Bacall impersonation from TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT. She and Cagney display crackling chemistry, and their zingers fly fast and furious, joined at times by a very game O’Brien. The central romance does take a detour when a reedy, unhappily wedded femme fatale (Helen Vinson) darkens the picture. And, for fans of Superman, keep an eye out for a cameo by George Reeves as a Latin outlaw henchman.

    It isn’t all comedy and romance. In ramrodding the banana plantation Nick Butler (Cagney) ends up tangling with an escaped bandit and his henchmen. But you never really get the feeling that things will ever get that desperate. The escaped bandit, as it turns out, is too good natured. The vacuous chief of police, too much of a bumbler and relegated too much to being the brunt of jokes to ever take seriously. In the end, O’Brien convinces Cagney to hang around as foreman, Cagney gets the girl, and in that final clinch, he tells her: “You and your 14-karat oomph.” I’m not sure if this is where Sheridan garnered the nickname of “the Oomph Girl” (I know Warner Bros. gave it to her) but, brother, she sure did openly detest being called that. It’s the price of fame, baby.

    Special Features for TORRID ZONE: a vintage newsreel (Uncle Sam Wants You); the musical short “Ozzie Nelson and His Orchestra”; the historical short “Pony Express Days” starring George Reeves as Buffalo Bill Cody (19 minutes long); the classic Oscar-nominated Bugs Bunny cartoon “A Wild Hare”; trailers for TORRID ZONE and SANTA FE TRAIL.

    Go get your patriotism on with 1940’s gritty war drama THE FIGHTING 69TH, the seventh of nine films to co-star Cagney and Pat O’Brien. Cagney plays mouthy misfit Jerry Plunkett, newly enlisted in the Irish-American World War I regiment, the Fighting 69th (165th Infantry, A.E.F.). Plunkett, disliked by the other men in his regiment, brags that he can’t wait to get at the Fritz and earn fame and medals. And, yet, when he finally ends up in the trenches, he blinks. The disgraced Plunkett, a shirker of work and now a firm coward, draws inspiration and learns the true face of courage from the Fighting 69th’s supportive chaplain Father Francis Duffy. But when a chance surfaces for him to do the right thing, will Plunkett once more scurry away?

    Running at an hour and a half, THE FIGHTING 69TH does a good job of exploring life at Camp Mills as the newbies of the 69th get trained and prepped for the big tussle overseas. The film’s first half is top heavy with brawny humor consisting of good natured ribbing and roughhousing. It even features an all-inclusive brawl between the 69th and the 4th Alabama, these two regiments apparently having been on opposite sides of the Civil War. The film then follows the 69th overseas as the regiment finally joins the war, and this is where things turn on the grim, and where the film audiences witnesses the shocking reveal point of Plunkett’s character. The fallout of his cowardice tallies such a dear cost that I wasn’t certain the guy could ever fully redeem himself. Cagney and Pat O’Brien are really excellent, O’Brien rock steady as the understanding Father Duffy and Cagney riveting and chewing the scenery like it was pizza and beer (not that you chew beer). Also co-starring familiar faces George Brent, Alan Hale, Dennis Morgan, and Frank McHugh. After all this time, I’m still checking to make sure my collar is buttoned.

    Special Features for THE FIGHTING 69TH: a vintage newsreel about the U.S. Navy; two patriotic shorts “Young America Flies” and the Oscar-nominated “London Can Take It!”; two cartoons “Pilgrim Porky” and “The Fighting 69 1/2th”; an audio-only bonus: from the Lux Radio Theater, the 4/6/1942 radio adaptation (58 minutes long, and a very cool listen) of THE FIGHTING 69TH starring Pat O’Brien as Father Duffy, Robert Preston as Plunkett, and Ralph Bellamy; trailers for THE FIGHTING 69TH and BROTHER ORCHID.

    Of all the pictures on this set, CAPTAINS OF THE CLOUDS is the only one in glorious Technicolor, the other films having been shot in black & white. On a more lofty scale, CAPTAINS OF THE CLOUDS was one of the first war-themed pictures to emerge right after America threw its hat in in World War II, so there’s a certain sentimental cachet attached, even if this film was all about the Canadian war effort. James Cagney and Dennis Morgan play hardy bush aviators who take their skills to the Royal Canadian Air Force during the early days of World War II. Michael Curtiz helms the picture, just before he would direct YANKEE DOODLE DANDY and help James Cagney to a Best Actor’s Academy Award in that movie.

    Cagney channels his cocky cinema persona into brash bush pilot Brian MacLean. We first meet him in the Canadian wilds, gleefully underpricing the competition and unveiling a certain weasely charm as he romances beautiful Brenda Marshall away from Dennis Morgan. And, so, for Cagney and Morgan’s characters, the feud is full on, translating from their civilian lives and into their stints in the RCAF. But for MacLean, his independence and pure cussedness don’t serve him well in the military and he washes out. But, in these types of films, redemption is always just around the corner.

    So this movie isn’t as much a war picture as much as it is a war preparedness picture. It’s a lot dated now, but the big draw back then were the aerial maneuvers shot for the film. The personal dramas are routinely conveyed, although as ever Cagney brings it as an actor and Brenda Marshall has never been more stunning. This is a good movie, but not my favorite in this collection.

    Special Features for CAPTAINS OF THE CLOUDS: a vintage newsreel (James Cagney reads a message regarding war bonds from Secretary Morgenthau); the sports short “Rocky Mountain Big Game”; the classic Bugs Bunny cartoons “Fresh Hare” and “What’s Cookin’, Doc?”; and trailers for CAPTAIN OF THE CLOUDS and IN THIS OUR LIFE.

    For those who only knew Cagney for being all gangstery, it must be a jarring startlement to see him croon and tap dance and cavort musically, but fact of the matter is that Cags is a capable song and dance dude. Cagney never did make too many musical films, our loss. Off the top of my head, he did YANKEE DOODLE DANDY, FOOTLIGHT PARADE, and this one. Eight years after playing George M. Cohan, he once more forces his aging dogs in tap shoes, this time as Elwin “Bix” Bixby, a struggling, headstrong Broadway musical producer hampered with a gambling addiction. He gets tapped to whip into shape West Point Academy’s annual music revue, except that instead of doing this for love of country, Bix is aiming to parlay the show into Broadway and back into big time. Y’see, Bixby ain’t too classy a gent.

    THE WEST POINT STORY is clearly one of those “Hey, let’s put on a show” shows, and it works on the strength of its songs, fine humor at Cagney’s expense (he’s forced into being a cadet), and sheer star power. Cagney is joined by Virginia Mayo as Bixby’s long-suffering assistant/girlfriend, and she gets a chance to show off her singing and dancing, along with her looks. Gordon MacRae is the upright cadet whose strong singing voice Bixby longs to steal away to Broadway. Doris Day enters as the sweet movie star who, if Bix schemes it right, will tempt the cadet away from his beloved West Point and into show business. The songs are solid, although “Military Polka” and “Kissin’ Rock” don’t quite qualify as classic standards. Gene Nelson does some nifty dancing. Alan Hale Jr. threatens us with playing the “Princess” part for the West Point stage show.

    But it’s all about Cagney, who really hams it up. He bristles with energy, especially in those scenes in which he erupts into violent tantrums during rehearsals. Throughout the film Cagney gets to perform his stiff-legged dance stylings and, as always, he half sings, half speaks his lyrics. He has a big song and dance number in the end called “B’klyn,” and just in case you missed the cue, the cast then hits the stage for a curtain call to belt out “This is the finale – the end!” A good time was had by me, a sentiment that applies to all the movies in this collection.

    Special Features for THE WEST POINT STORY: a vintage newsreel about the evils of imperialistic communism; the Oscar-winning Sports Parade short “Granddad of Races”; a Daffy Duck cartoon “His Bitter Half”; and trailers for THE WEST POINT STORY and TEA FOR TWO.

    To close out this semi-rambling thing, I say if you want to see the diversity of James Cagney – the playful comedian, the hoofer, the wartime hero and heel, and, as ever, the dynamic actor – then JAMES CAGNEY: THE SIGNATURE COLLECTION, aptly titled or not, is an absolute must get!
    Rating: 4 / 5

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