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Beast of the City [DVD] [1931] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]

Walter Huston , Jean Harlow , Charles Brabin    DVD
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
Price: 9.47
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Beast of the City [DVD] [1931] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC] + Rasputin & The Empress [DVD] [1932] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
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Product details

  • Actors: Walter Huston, Jean Harlow, Wallace Ford, Jean Hersholt, Dorothy Peterson
  • Directors: Charles Brabin
  • Writers: Ben Hecht, John Lee Mahin, W.R. Burnett
  • Producers: Hunt Stromberg
  • Format: Black & White, DVD-Video, Full Screen, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (US and Canada DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 4:3 - 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Classification: Unrated (US MPAA rating. See details.)
  • Studio: Warner Archives
  • DVD Release Date: 23 Mar 2009
  • Run Time: 86 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • ASIN: B002E7GCMC
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 90,218 in DVD & Blu-ray (See Top 100 in DVD & Blu-ray)

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
Terrific film with Jean Harrow glowing with sex appeal. Tough, tight and with that fabulous shoot out at the end. This is pre Hays American cinema at its best.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.8 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Early Vigilante Film 9 April 2010
By Dr. James Gardner - Published on
"Beast of the City" is a pro-police reaction to the gangster films of the 30s. Crime dramas, especially gangster films were the big hits of the early 30s - Wallace Beery in "The Big House" (1930), Edward G Robinson's "Little Caesar" (1930), Peter Lorre's "M" (1931), Jimmy Cagney's "Public Enemy" (1931), Clark Gable and Jean Harlow in "The Secret Six" (1931) and Paul Muni's "Scarface" (1932). Most of these films glorified the gangster and showed the authorities in a poor light (a notable exception was Lewis Stone's performance in "The Big House"). With the advent of the Hayes code and changes in popular culture, producers felt a need to be more pro law enforcement.

The film "Beast of the City" has a big name cast, starring Walter Huston, Jean Harlow, Wallace Ford, and Jean Hersholt. Also featured are J. Carrol Naish, Tully Marshall, and, if you look closely, Mickey Rooney plays Huston's son.

Walter Huston plays a crusading police captain. At this point in his career, Huston was churning out films in assembly-line precision. He appeared in 4 films in 1931, 8 in 1932 (including "Beast"), and 5 in 1933. His performances are relatively undistinguished, even if some of the films (e.g., "Gabriel Over the White House") were hits. Huston got better as he got older, and he was nominated for an Oscar in 1937 ("Dodsworth"), 1942 ("Devil and Daniel Webster") and 1943 ("Yankee Doodle Dandy") and won in 1949 for "Treasure of the Sierra Madre". He died in 1950. His performance in "Beast" is enthusiastic (as usual) but ordinary.

Jean Hersholt plays the Italian gangster. He appeared in more than 100 films between 1906 and 1955, including such memorable films as "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" (1921), Erich von Stroheim's "Greed" (1924), Karloff's "The Mask of Fu Manchu" (1932), and "The Country Doctor" (1936). He's best remembered as Shirley Temple's grandfather in "Heidi" (1937). In "Beast" he seems to be trying too hard to do a stylized version of Al Capone, which may have been terrifying in its time, but today looks a little silly.

20-year old Jean Harlow plays the gangster's moll. Harlow was the biggest sex symbol of her times. Only Marilyn Monroe in the 50s ever achieved a rival position. Harlow specialized in playing the gangster's moll in such films as "Hell's Angels" (1930), "The Secret Six" (1931), and "Public Enemy" (1931). Look for a picture of Clark Gable on a table in Jean Harlow's apartment. Harlow and Gable appeared together in 6 films, starting with "The Secret Six" (1931), and were good friends. Harlow is Harlow.

Wallace Ford plays Huston's brother who falls in love with Harlow, and ultimately betrays his big brother, only to seek redemption in the final scene. Ford appeared in over 100 films from 1930 to 1965, often as a comic foil. He did 5 films for John Ford including "They Were Expendable" (1945) and "The Last Hurrah" (1958). He was nominated for a Golden Laurel in 1965 for "A Patch of Blue", his last film. Ford's performance in "Beast" is typical of the gangster genre.

The film was directed by Charles Brabin who directed nearly 100 films between 1912 and 1934, the most famous of which are "The Mask of Fun Manchu" (1932) with a young Boris Karloff, and "Rasputin and the Empress" (1932) which is the only film to feature all 3 Barrymore siblings. Brabin is best known for his long lasting marriage to screen vamp Theda Bara.

William Riley (W.R.) Burnett was the writer. Given his previous work with "Littler Caesar" and "Scarface", the crime elements of the film are pretty standard. Burnett also produced "High Sierra" (1944), "This Gun for Hire" (1942) and "The Asphalt Jungle" (1949), but he wasn't limited to crime themes. He also did such memorable films as "Wake Island" (1942) for which he received an Oscar nomination, "Sergeants 3" (1962), and "The Great Escape" (1963). Burnett's particular skill, regardless of the genre, was creating interesting characters to populate his novels/films, and this is certainly true in "Beast."

For 1932 the film is particularly well photographed, avoiding the look of a studio flick. There is one tacky scene where models are used to simulate a crash from a bridge, but otherwise the cinematography is sharp. Norbert Brodine is the cameraman. He was nominated for an Oscar 3 times, and won an Emmy for "Letter to Loretta" (1953). He filmed more than 100 films including James Mason as "The Desert Fox" (1951), Howard Hawks' "I Was a Male War Bride" (1949), Victor Mature's "One Million BC" (1941), and "Of Mice and Men" (1939).

The film is extremely interesting in the first 10 minutes. It starts with a plea from President Herbert Hoover for citizens to stop glamorizing gangsters. Then it shows how a major city police department worked, and provides examples of how the protection racket results in generating price increases to cover the costs of protection. After this, it shifts to a crime story that features the police as the main protagonists. "Beast" is not the only film to focus on the police, and many of the key crime stars came to play on the other side of the fence - Jimmy Cagney stars in "G-Man" (1935), Edward G Robinson plays an undercover detective in "Bullets or Ballots" (1936) and a crusading law professor in "I am the Law" (1938), Peter Lorre becomes "Mr. Moto" (1937) and Bogart becomes a detective.

The film shows how gangsters are allowed to operate due to corruption at every level. Huston perseveres, but is unable to make any in roads. Precursing the vigilante films ("Death Wish", "Dirty Harry") of later years, Huston decides to take the law into his own hands and with a dozen men, invades the gangster's night club and carnage ensues. Ironically, the climatic scene is really unmatched by most of the classic gangster films in terms of death and destruction. It has been ranked among the top 10 shoot-outs of all time and surely was the inspiration for Peckinpah's conclusion in "The Wild Bunch".

The film is worth watching to give you the other (neglected) side of the crime dramas in the early 30s, but it in no way compares to the classics from that period. Thus, its appeal is largely to sociology students or people interested in the history of cinema.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Pre-Code Hollywood Classic -- Cousin to Noir and Gangster 13 May 2012
By Malo Bo - Published on
Before Jimmy Cagney starred in G-Men, few films had really touched on the fight against organized crime, and yet, still glorified that battle. That is not true with 1932's "The Beast of the City." In this Charles J. Brabin film, a vigilant police chief takes the fight against organized crime up a notch, and the violence holds true with the best films of Pre-Code Hollywood.

This is not a boring movie that has a limited appeal. The violence seethes like the outburst in the final shootout, and the plot and general story, if slightly predictable, are very fitting for the characters the script has developed. The cast is great. Walter Huston stars with Jean Harlow. Wallace Ford and Jean Hersholt co-star. Huston, Harlow and Ford are good, but Hersholt is no Paul Muni in this role. Most people either get this film because they are interested in the early 1930's gangster films or Jean Harlow movies. I think that this is one of the best Pre-Code Hollywood movies we have available today, and as a old horror film enthusiast, that means a lot. A film like "The Beast of the City" and it's pre-Film noir qualities, is a cousin to both the gangster flick and film noir, and

Yes, this is a very old film. However, if you can dig Hawks and Hughes' Scarface or classic Edward G. Robinson roles, you will fit right in with this picture.

There are two bad things about the picture
1) it makes viewers wish there had been more Pre-Code movies from the golden era - as usual
2) the WB Archive Collection release is expensive and offers no bonus features, however the print is beautiful - as usual
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Updated Version of the "Earps in Tombstone" Story 27 May 2013
By James Doherty - Published on
This is, as other reviewers have pointed out, one of the few gangster pictures of the early '30's to focus on law enforcement rather than the gangsters. Although sympathetic law enforcement figures were often supporting characters in such films (e.g. Thomas Jackson as Sgt. Flaherty in LITTLE CAESAR, C. Henry Gordon as Sgt. Guarino in SCARFACE, Clark Gable as reporter-turned-undercover-DA's-investigator Carl Luckner in THE SECRET SIX, or an uncredited Robert Homans as a nondescript beat cop in THE PUBLIC ENEMY), they were not the focus of the films; the charismatic mobsters were.

Novelist W.R. Burnett, who wrote the novel on which LITTLE CAESAR was based, and who adapted Armitage Trail's novel SCARFACE into the Paul Muni film, was, probably more than anyone else, responsible for the popularity of the gangster figure in films. He was one of the co-writers of the screenplay for BEAST OF THE CITY, and is also credited for the original story.

But, it wasn't really an original screen story. Burnett's second published novel, SAINT JOHNSON (1930), was the first fictionalization of the face-off between the forces of the law, represented by the Earp brothers, and the forces of criminality, represented by the Clanton gang, in Tombstone, AZ. The reality was at least a little more nuanced, but in general, the Earps really were the good guys, to the degree anyone was, and the Clantons really the bad guys. Certainly, though presenting the characters warts and all, that's the depiction Burnett gave in his novel, and his fictionalized Earp figure, Wayt Johnson, is, though deeply flawed, principled and heroic.

What Burnett did in BEAST OF THE CITY was, essentially, to adapt SAINT JOHNSON for the screen, substituting Depression/Prohibition-era Chicago for 1880's Tombstone, a similarly upright, but modern-day urban police chief for his Earp figure, and a fictionalized Capone mob for the fictionalized Clanton gang.

Coincidentally, mere weeks after Paramount released this contemporary version of SAINT JOHNSON, Universal released LAW AND ORDER, a more faithful, western version of the novel, with a script by John Huston (who would later both adapt and direct the film version of Burnett's THE ASPHALT JUNGLE). Even more coincidentally, the Earp-based law officer in this version was also portrayed by Walter Huston.

Burnett's work seemed particularly suited to this sort of cross-genre adaptation. Just as he turned his western novel into a contemporary police film, his gangster novel, HIGH SIERRA, filmed with Humphrey Bogart as the gangster Roy Earle, would be remade as a western, COLORADO TERRITORY, starring Joel McCrea, and THE ASPHALT JUNGLE, starring Sterling Hayden, would be remade as a western, THE BADLANDERS, starring Alan Ladd.

It's interesting to compare BEAST OF THE CITY with LAW AND ORDER, but, on balance, I have to say that BEAST OF THE CITY is a better cop film than LAW AND ORDER is a western. Huston's performance in both is crisp and professional, and he was that rare actor who could move back and forth from leading roles to character roles.

Jean Harlow is very good, and it is, as others have said, a tragedy that she died so young. It seems as if she was Marilyn Monroe before Marilyn was.

Wallace Ford is okay, but not great, as Detective Fitzpatrick, Chief Fitzpatrick's unreliable younger brother, but better than Luther Hopkins was in the counterpart role in LAW AND ORDER.

The biggest disappointment (and really, it's not that big a disappointment) is Jean Hersholt as Sam Belmonte, the Capone figure. He's pretty good, but compared to Paul Muni's verson of a fictionalized Capone in SCARFACE, or even Wallace Beery's in THE SECRET SIX, Hersholt is lacklustre. Plus his kindly image, forged in his later films and TV series as "Dr. Christian," works against his being accepted as a ruthless mob chieftain.

All in all, though, if it's not quite in the same class as SCARFACE (the best of the "Gangster Big Three" of the early '30's), it's at least a technically better made film (coming a little later, and taking advantage of technological advances) than either LITTLE CAESAR or THE PUBLIC ENEMY.

Highly recommended.
3.0 out of 5 stars Beast of the City 8 Feb 2013
By Richard G. Lewis - Published on
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
Not a great movie But, if you are a hard core Harlow fan as I am it is a must have. A bit creeky because it is so old, but still fun to see Harlow in her prime.
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Film 11 Mar 2012
By HR Wolfe - Published on
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
The more of Harlow I see the more I realize just how tragic her early demise was. This woman held incredible talent for her craft. Yes she played one of the best "Vamps" but she was an incredible comedic actress, where I find some of her best work. Who really knows how far she could have gone if she had lived more than 27 years. Film arrived swiftly in the condition advertisec, very comendable.
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