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DVD reviews: Gangsters and Bonds galore 

Two Casino Royales and one Warner Bros. set

CASINO ROYALE (1967). While producer Albert Broccoli and star Sean Connery were enjoying incredible success with the James Bond franchise, producer Charles K. Feldman, holding the rights only to author Ian Fleming's 007 adventure Casino Royale, decided it would be in his best interest not to make a serious Bond film to compete directly against the official series. Therefore, he elected to transform the material into a spoof, a decision that ended up requiring five directors, three screenwriters (and countless uncredited ones), a budget that doubled over the course of shooting, and a temperamental star in Peter Sellers. Despite all the signs of a doomed production, the film eventually turned a profit, but that doesn't negate the fact that this is often a spectacularly unfunny comedy. David Niven plays James Bond, who's lured out of retirement to take on the criminal outfit SMERSH. In order to conceal his identity, the British government decides to give the name James Bond to a number of its agents, most notably the nebbishy Evelyn Tremble (Sellers) and the lovely Vesper Lynd (Ursula Andress). There are stars as far as the eye can see – Orson Welles is cast as the villainous Le Chiffre, William Holden and John Huston (also one of the directors) appear in small roles, and even Peter O'Toole pops up in a cameo – but the only laughs come courtesy of a young Woody Allen, hilarious as Bond's nephew Jimmy Bond. The Burt Bacharach-Hal David composition "The Look of Love" earned a Best Original Song Oscar nomination, though it's the catchy title theme, performed by Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass, that stays in the memory.

DVD extras include audio commentary by film historians Steven Jay Rubin and John Cork; a 41-minute making-of feature; and a photo gallery.

Movie: **

Extras: **1/2

CASINO ROYALE (2006). In most respects, Casino Royale ranks among the best James Bond films produced over the past 46 years, just a shade below Goldfinger, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, The Spy Who Loved Me and the criminally underrated For Your Eyes Only. Basically, it wipes away the previous 20 installments by going back to when James Bond was first promoted to the level of a double-oh agent with a license to kill. As intensely played by Daniel Craig, this Agent 007 isn't a suave playboy quick with the quip and bathed in an air of immortality but rather a sometimes rough-hewn bruiser who makes mistakes, usually keeps his sense of humor in check, and, because he's just starting out, possesses more flashes of empathy than we're used to seeing in our cold-as-ice hero. With memorable characters (Eva Green's Vesper Lynd is Bond's match, and their wordplay is wonderful) and exciting action scenes, Casino Royale is so successful in its determination to jump-start the series by any means necessary that it tampers with winning formulas left and right. When a bartender asks Bond if he prefers his martini shaken or stirred, the surly agent snaps back, "Do I look like I give a damn?" Blasphemy? Perhaps. But also bloody invigorating.

Extras in the new three-disc DVD edition include audio commentary by director Martin Campbell and producer Michael G. Wilson; four deleted scenes; a half-hour making-of feature; two pieces on the Bahamas (where part of the film is set); a look at the free run, the athletic style which figures in a thrilling early sequence; and the extras found on the previous DVD release, including a look at the Bond women over the years and Chris Cornell's music video, "You Know My Name."

Movie: ***1/2

Extras: ***1/2

GANGSTERS COLLECTION, VOL. 4 (1933-1942). James Cagney is nowhere to be found in Warner Bros.'s fourth assemblage of hard-boiled Hollywood hits, and while Humphrey Bogart appears in three of the five titles, he's strictly the supporting heavy (true stardom was just around the corner). But not to worry: The studio's other mob superstar, Edward G. Robinson, is on hand to take center stage in four of the featured flicks.

The Little Giant (1933) finds Robinson in the amusing tale of a gangster who, upon the end of Prohibition, decides he wants to become a member of high society. This one was made before the Production Code took effect, and it shows in some of the dialogue. (Robinson, pointing at an abstract painting: "Have you ever seen anything like it?" Other man: "Not since I got off cocaine!")

A childhood favorite, Kid Galahad (1937) features the incredible marquee teaming of Robinson, Bogart and Bette Davis. Yet the title character is played by Wayne Morris, cast as a bellhop who finds success as a boxer under the management of a quick-tempered promoter (Robinson). The 1962 remake, fashioned as an Elvis Presley vehicle, is also a lot of fun.

John Huston co-wrote (with John Wexley) the script for the screen version of the play The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (1938), an odd drama (with plenty of comic vibes) about a doctor (Robinson) who becomes obsessed with the mentality of the common criminal. To better study the subject, he joins a gang of thieves led by a particularly unsavory fellow (Bogie).

The only non-Robinson film in the set, Invisible Stripes (1939) casts George Raft as a parolee determined not only to go straight but also to insure that his baby brother (a young William Holden) doesn't do anything to screw up his own future. But when it becomes clear that his status as an ex-con will perpetually be held against him, he turns to a fellow jailbird (Bogart) for illegal aid.

The set wraps up with Larceny, Inc. (1942), an often delightful comedy in which an ex-con (Robinson) and his pals (Broderick Crawford and Edward Brophy) buy a luggage shop solely for the purpose of tunneling from its basement into the bank vaults next door. Naturally, complications ensue, especially when the crook learns that the suitcase business can be very profitable (and legal!). Methinks Woody Allen used this film as inspiration for his own Small Time Crooks.

In addition to audio commentary by film historians and the theatrical trailer, each disc also features the "Warner Night at the Movies" package which the studio includes in many of its box sets (vintage newsreels, shorts, classic cartoons and additional trailers). The collection also includes a bonus disc featuring a new, 106-minute documentary, Public Enemies: The Golden Age of the Gangster Film.

Kid Galahad: ***1/2

All Other Titles: ***

Extras: ***1/2

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