Blu-ray Review: ‘Ultimate Gangsters Collection’ Present Classic Films

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CHICAGO – What would you say is the “Ultimate” gangster film? The chances are it’s included in one of two box sets recently released from Warner Bros., separated into “Ultimate Gangsters Collection: Classics” and “Ultimate Gangster Collection: Contemporary.” If your mind goes back to the timeless icons like Edward G. Robinson, Jimmy Cagney, and Humphrey Bogart, then the “Classics” set is for you. If you’re more attuned to filmmakers like Martin Scorsese, Michael Mann, or Brian De Palma when you hear the word “gangster,” go with the “Contemporary” set. Maybe buy the “Classics” set for you grandfather and “Contemporary” for your pop on Father’s Day. And get both for yourself while you’re at it. There are a number of releases tied directly to Father’s Day (which we’ll soon compile into a guide). This is one of the best. Blu-ray rating: 5.0/5.0
Rating: 5.0/5.0

Sets like these immediately send the mind reeling for those of us who love to rank (and who doesn’t in the era of Flickchart and Letterboxd?) There are nine films — four in the “Classics” box with the 2008 documentary “Public Enemies: The Golden Age of the Gangster Film” and five in the “Contemporary” box set and they’re incredibly difficult to compare. The set starts with “Little Caesar,” which is admittedly not a very good film but as iconic and influential as you could possibly find in the genre. Much better as an artistic piece of work is the Cagney classic “The Public Enemy,” the best film of the “Classics” set. Want to know why and how “Caesar” set the foundation and “Enemy” built on it? Watch the excellent “Public Enemies” doc (narrated by Alec Baldwin and featuring interviews with numerous film historians along with creative voices like Martin Scorsese). Also included in that first set is the good-not-great “The Petrified Forest” and another Cagney classic in “White Heat.” The transfers on all four films are solid but it’s the special features, all previously available on special edition releases, that are truly stellar. There’s a commentary on each film, featurettes, and, coolest of all, newsreels, shorts, and cartoons that played before each film in the ’30s and ’40s.

Ultimate Gangsters Collection was released on Blu-ray on May 21, 2013
Ultimate Gangsters Collection was released on Blu-ray on May 21, 2013
Photo credit: Warner Bros.

Likely more popular will be “Ultimate Gangsters Collection: Contemporary,” which contains Scorsese’s “Mean Streets,” “GoodFellas,” and “The Departed,” Michael Mann’s “Heat,” and Brian De Palma’s “The Untouchables.” No special disc/doc here but you can’t argue with any of those movies (except it might have been nice to throw in a 6th disc and include “Casino” but that might have been Scorsese overload…Mann’s “Public Enemies” would have been a great closer as well but that’s Universal-owned.) “GoodFellas” has to be included on any list of the best mob movies of all time, arguably at the top, and the other have probably held up better than you remember. Once again, all of the films come with the special features and transfers available in the past (including the 20th anniversary edition of “GoodFellas”). So, if you own them, there’s no need for the upgrade, but if you, or dear old dad, have been holding off recently made the Blu-ray upgrade, this is a fantastic collection. Actually, they both are.

“Ultimate Gangsters Collection: Classics” and “Ultimate Gangsters Collection: Contemporary” were both released by Warner Bros. on May 21, 2013. content director Brian Tallerico

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