Public Enemies: The Golden Age of the Gangster Film (TV Movie 2008) Poster

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Interesting but perhaps a bit too far-reaching
MartinHafer18 January 2009
This is a documentary film about the so-called "Golden Age" for gangster films--the 1930s at Warner Brothers studio. Fortunately, the film makers were able to secure the rights to lots of film footage--in particular Turner Classic Movies' huge library of classic films. While I really enjoyed watching the old clips, there were two shortcomings to the film. First, there weren't that many new insights or behind the scenes information. I really wanted to learn more about the genre but felt this was of limited benefit. Second, at times, the documentary seemed to take on perhaps too much--looking at much older and newer gangster films as well. In particular, there were many important gangster films from the 1920s that were never mentioned and its discussion of Film Noir was so cursory you almost had the impression that this wasn't a very popular style or just a passing fad. I really wished the film had just stuck to the 1930s and perhaps 40s and then addressed these other things in subsequent films--or just made the documentary longer.

Still, for the average viewer, these concerns might not be a big issue. For a compulsive film watcher like myself (I have seen just about every film in the documentary), it probably isn't the most definitive look at the genre.
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Nice look at the evolution of the gangster film
blanche-211 January 2009
"Public Enemies: The Golden Age of the Gangster Film" is an extensive look at the gangster film from the very early days of the silents and follows its evolution through the Depression, World War II and beyond. And of course, no gangster film documentary would be complete without the genre's great stars, shown in various scenes and in one amusing outtake: Edward G. Robinson, James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, George Raft, and Paul Muni.

"Public Enemies" demonstrates what a great match Warner Brothers was for this particular type of film and talks about some of the producers and directors influential in getting these movies onto the screen: Darryl F. Zanuck, Jack Warner, William Wellman, Raoul Walsh, Michael Curtiz.

It's a fascinating look at the effect that various happenings had on the gangster movie: the advent of sound, Prohibition, the Hayes Code, the Depression, WW II, interest in psychiatry, and the documentary gets into the melding of the crime film with the film noir. There are interviews with authors and film critics like Leonard Maltin and Molly Haskell, but also old interviews with Edward G. Robinson, Virginia Mayo, Joan Leslie, Raoul Walsh, William Wellman, and Joan Blondell that are great to see.

Highly recommended.
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