MOD Movies: Crime and Punishment
The entire MGM 'Crime Does Not Pay' series and more
"Once again, as the MGM crime reporter, it is my privilege to present to you another episode in our Crime Does Not Pay series."
MGM's "Crime Does Not Pay" (Warner Archive) series numbered 50 dramatic short films between from 1935 to 1947, all running about 20 minutes, most serving as a training ground for up and coming directors, and all of them proving that, just as the title promises, crime does not pay. The debut episode, "Buried Loot" (1935), makes the case in spades. Robert Taylor takes an uncredited lead as an embezzler with a long-term scheme and a morbid end, thanks to a twitchy case of obsession and an ill-advised use of acid on his own face.
Not all shorts featured performers of Taylor's stature but minor players from the MGM studio were shuffled through these films, along with the occasional A-list supporting player or future lead. Like Marc Lawrence and Laraine Day in the shoplifting drama "Think First" (1939), where nice girls lured into a ring of thieves suffer dearly for their mistakes, or Dwight Frye (Renfield in "Dracula") as an arsonist killed by his own firebug actions in "Think It Over" (1938), the latter an early film by future auteur Jacques Tourneur. He's one of the most notable filmmakers who got his start in this series, along with future Oscar winner Fred Zinneman (whose "While America Sleeps" is a terrific industrial espionage thriller and "Help Wanted" stars Tom Neal as a working class Joe who helps the government take on the crooks in the employment rackets, both from 1939) and Joseph Losey ("A Gun in His Hand," 1945),
Other directors include George B. Seitz (who directed most of the Andy Hardy films), Felix Feist (of "The Devil Thumbs a Ride" fame), Harold S. Bucquet (he went on to direct the "Dr. Kindare" series), Joseph H. Newman, and Roy Rowland, and future film noir screenwriter John C. Higgins apprenticed on half a dozen scripts.
This series is a mix of procedural, with detectives doing proto-CSI work to solve the crimes, and morality tale with terrible ends for the criminals. And while they are clearly low budget, they feature better production values than a lot of B movies and generally move at a driving pace, at least once we get past the stiff, documentary-eque opening, most featuring real-life officials but a few with real actors in the role of authority (such as Leon Ames or Al Bridge). There are no lost masterpieces in this collection, but many are lively and engaging and they often carry an unexpected punch to the action or the dramatic twist, which is better than most of the feature-length B-movies of the era.
See a clip below from "Hit-and-Run Driver," the fifth short in the "Crime Does Not Pay" series.
"She Played With Fire" (Sony Pictures Choice Collection), a British crime thriller from 1957, stars Jack Hawkins as an insurance investigator who revives an old flame with American Arlene Dahl after her husband dies in a fire, and sure enough their affair is consumed in murder, arson, and blackmail. Sidney Gilliat directs from a screenplay co-authored by Frank Launder, his longtime creative partner (they're collaboration goes back to Hitchcock's "The Lady Vanishes").
"The Last Mile" (MGM Limited Edition Collection) stars Mickey Rooney as a prison inmate who uses an execution as cover for a prison break. Howard Koch directs this low-budget 1959 thriller, a remake of a 1932 prison film.
"The Cat Burglar" (MGM Limited Edition Collection), a 1961 crime movie from director William Whitney and producer Gene Corman (brother of Roger), runs a brief 65 minutes. Jack Hogan stars as the burglar who steals top secret information that lands in the center of foreign spies.
Available exclusively from Warner Archive:
"The Last Mile"
"The Cat Burglar"
"She Played With Fire"
MOD stands for "Manufacture on Demand" and represents a recent development in the DVD market, where slipping sales have slowed the release of classic, special interest and catalogue releases. These are DVD-R releases, no-frills discs from studio masters, ordered online and "burned" individually with every order. You can read a general introduction to the format and the model on my profile of the Warner Archive Collection on Parallax View here and on the MGM Limited Edition Collection on Videodrone here.