By Tim Purtell
January 24, 2005 at 05:00 AM EST

EW reviews the Warner Bros. Gangster Collection

Long before Tony Soprano took to the couch and Prozac, there was a black-and-white realm of mugs with monikers like Scabby, Rocky, Putty Nose, Soapy, Scratch, and Big Ed — feral men good with a gat (and the occasional grapefruit) whose Zen-like pursuit of nice clothes and swell dames was inevitably cut short by a bellyful of bullets. Unsurprisingly, most of this pulp fiction was churned out by Warner Bros. (certainly not MGM!), and now six of the studio’s best-known are being released with luminous digital makeovers plus period newsreels and cartoons, featurettes, and commentaries.

Little Caesar is as graphically gorgeous as one of Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy comics, with stumpy Robinson delectably brutal and hammy (gasping ”Mother of mercy, is this the end of Rico?”). In William Wellman’s The Public Enemy, Cagney’s tommy-gun delivery and dancer’s grace make underworld life seductively enthralling. Bette Davis and Leslie Howard have top billing in Archie Mayo’s stagy adaptation of The Petrified Forest, but it’s a charismatically surly, unshaven Bogart as ”Duke Mantee, the world-famous killer” whom you remember. Bogart and Cagney spar as rival mobsters in Raoul Walsh’s irresistibly snappy The Roaring Twenties, while Angels With Dirty Faces is prime Warner malarkey with Pat O’Brien’s priest trying to bring Cagney’s hood back from the dark side. Does he succeed? Don’t be a sap! Walsh’s White Heat, starring Cagney in great form as psychotic mamma’s boy Cody Jarrett, is shot by shot, frame by frame, the hard-boiled masterpiece of the bunch. Top of the world? You betcha!

Little Caesar: B+

The Public Enemy: B+

The Petrified Forest: B

The Roaring Twenties: B+

Angels With Dirty Faces: B

White Heat: A

Angels with Dirty Faces

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