Wednesday, March 26, 2008

PICTURE SNATCHER (Warner Bros. 1933) Warner Home Video

The quick shot anarchy and hysterical incongruities depicted in Lloyd Bacon’s Picture Snatcher (1933) make Lady Killer (1933) seem like high art. This bizarre and nonsensical crime drama is convoluted, ill-placed and heavy-handedly slapped together as any of the Warner ‘gangster’ movies yet to be released to home video. Resident bad boy, James Cagney is ill served as a good-time mug attempting to play it legit in the real world after a weighty stint in the big house.

The story concerns ex-convict Danny Kean (James Cagney) who, after being released from prison to a hero’s welcome from his buddy, Jerry the Mug (Ralf Harolde) and other affiliated hoods, suddenly declares reformation from a life of crime. Instead, Danny wants to become a reporter on a legitimate newspaper. Disavowing his ‘friends’, Danny arrives at the office of editor, J.R. Al McLean (Ralph Bellamy). The newspaper, The Grover Graphic is a rag, but McLean gives Danny an assignment to snatch the picture of Hennessy (G. Pat Collins); a deranged fireman whose wife and lover were burned to death in his apartment. It seems Hennessy is determined to keep the press at bay. In fact, he’s already wounded one of the reporters assigned to the story with his rifle.

Using some of his old con artist skills and making out like an insurance adjuster, Danny lifts Hennessy’s marital photo, earning McLean’s respect, as well as that of the paper’s owner (Robert Barrat). His fame and salary increased, Danny is next given the assignment of showing a few college students around the newsroom on a tour. One of these is precocious Patricia Nolan (Patricia Ellis) whose father, Casey (Robert Emmett O’Connor) also happens to be the Police Lieutenant that first put Danny behind bars. A burgeoning romance between Pat and Danny awkwardly develops. It is thwarted by Casey – then reluctantly encouraged until Danny lands himself in hot water yet again over snatching a photograph; this time of a public execution after stealing another reporter’s press pass to get into the event.

Naturally, the photo proves sensational in the tabloids the next day, but it also costs Casey his job and puts a period to Dan’s intimacy with Pat – at least for the moment. Meanwhile, McLean’s slutty cub reporter and live-in girlfriend, Alison (Alice White) has decided for herself that Dan is going to be her latest fling. These affections are not shared by Dan. However, when McLean walks in on Alison’s unreciprocated seduction of Dan, he also assumes that Dan has double crossed him and vows to avenge the betrayal. Wounded by the inference that he can’t become an honest man, Dan abandons the paper and hits the bottle. En route to becoming a lush, Dan is forgiven by McLean who informs that he has left the Grover Graphic to start his own legitimate publication.

Meanwhile, Jerry the Mug is on the lam. Learning of his old affiliate’s hideout, Dan pretends to be Jerry’s friend on the eve that the police close in. In the hailstorm of bullets that eventually riddle Jerry, Dan manages to save the Mug’s wife and kids. He’s hailed a hero – setting up a very weak premise that it was Casey all along who alerted him to Jerry’s whereabouts. Casey is restored to his job. Alison reappears to attempt another seduction of Dan, but is knocked unconscious by him and dumped in the back of McLean’s car, leaving her and McLean presumably to reunite while Dan is reunited with Pat at some later date.

If the screenplay by Allen Rivkin and P.J. Wolfson (based on a story by Daniel Adhern) is being pitched as legitimate drama it’s about as unconvincing and screwball as narratives go. If, on the other hand, the story is meant to be sold strictly for laughs, there’s too much cyclical revenge, spite and deception spread throughout to make the comedy lighter than air. This scripted amalgam of chuckles and excitement bunch together in unattractive clumps; unbelievable, unsympathetic and wholly ridiculous. In the final analysis, we get silliness with more substance than featherweight laughs and a stored up summary of gags rehashed for the hard bitten crime thriller. In any case, the story doesn’t work – at least not well enough to make anyone believe it for more than a few moments at a time.

Warner Home Video’s DVD transfer is below average. Despite clean up and adequately reproduced contrast levels with a smattering of fine detail throughout, the image is marred by excessive flicker, age related artifacts and very uneven film grain. Dissolves and wipes suffer a rather soft characteristic. The audio is mono and very strident with a considerable amount of hiss during quiescent moments. Extras include a very informative audio commentary from Jeffrey Vance and Tony Maietta, shorts and trailers a la Warner Night At The Movies.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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