D.O.A. [1988]

Spanning a lively decade in the career of one of Hollywood's greatest stars, The James Cagney Signature Collection highlights Cagney's versatility beyond the gangster roles he was best known for. You won't find any of Jimmy's hard-boiled classics in this five-disc set, but you'll find plenty to enjoy, with each film given the care and respect we've come to expect from Warner Bros.' archival DVD releases. From the World War I heroism of The Fighting 69th to the musical extravaganza The West Point Story, these five films represent fully one-third of Cagney's movie output from 1940 to 1950, and they're all above-average showcases for Cagney's enduring appeal. For sheer entertainment value, the best of the bunch is 1940's Torrid Zone, a still-delightful comedy teaming Jimmy with his best pal Pat O'Brien and Hollywood's "Oomph Girl," Ann Sheridan, in a savvy send-up of tropical adventure. Cagney loved working with O'Brien (who also costars in The Fighting 69th), and this collection also highlights Cagney's generous penchant for surrounding himself with some of Hollywood's best-loved character actors, like George Tobias, Alan Hale (Sr. and Jr.), George Brent, and others. And while 1941's The Bride Came C.O.D. teamed Cagney and Bette Davis for the second and final time (resulting in a breezy comedy that shows both stars at their most endearing), 1942's Captains of the Clouds is a standard-yet-sturdy example of Hollywood's wartime patriotism, with Cagney (in his first Technicolor feature) as a seasoned pilot recruited into the Royal Canadian Air Force. The latest film in this batch, 1950's The West Point Story, was conspicuously promoted to capitalize on Cagney's Oscar-winning role in 1942's Yankee Doodle Dandy, and while it's the most dated movie in this set, it's still got plenty to offer in terms of Cagney's unique style of showmanship. As with previous Signature Collections, Warner Bros. has done a spectacular job of bringing these films to DVD. Picture and sound quality are uniformly superb throughout, and each film is accompanied by a variety of "Night at the Movies" short subjects, specifically organized to approximate the experience of seeing these films in their original theatrical context. Vintage newsreels, Warner Bros. cartoons (both "Looney Tunes" and/or "Merrie Melodies"), documentary shorts, and movie trailers are all included here, some seen for the first time in decades and chronologically corresponding to the feature presentation. No other studio cares for its library as passionately as Warner Bros., and The James Cagney Signature Collection is further proof that there's a wide and appreciative audience for DVD sets that showcase great stars while honoring Hollywood's history and the nostalgic pleasure of "a night at the movies." --Jeff Shannon

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