Most people who see this will see it as part of the Library of Congress video series under the heading "Origins of the Gangster Film"-- suggesting that it's an early example of a tradition that would lead to Public Enemy, Little Caesar, and so on. In reality, however, it (and the Griffith short included on the same tape) could just as easily be said to represent another tradition which lasted through the silent era (including von Sternberg's Underworld) but essentially was killed off by the more realistic and less sympathetic talkie gangster films-- one in which the urban gangster is essentially a romantic "good bad man" analogous to the redeemable western badmen played by stars like William S. Hart. Though this film was remade as late as 1928 (in a version now lost), it's hard to imagine a 30s gangster star like James Cagney in its plotline, which has the master safecracker Jimmy Valentine more or less instantly reform through his noble admiration (at a distance) for a good woman, become a trusted bank employee, and then be forced to choose between his past and his present-- not because of his own temptation to return to crime, but for even more noble reasons.
As that description suggests, the source material is a bit dated (although the climactic sequence, which I won't spoil, is a surefire piece of stage suspense craft and must have had them bouncing in their seats in 1915). But the smooth direction of pioneer Maurice Tourneur (father of the director of such noir classics as Out of the Past and Nightfall) makes this a very watchable film for its time, and one robbery sequence, filmed on a multi-room set shot entirely from above, is a stunning long-take sequence that suggests the clinical detachment of later caper films like Rififi and Heat. And Warwick, who will be mainly familiar as a middle-aged character actor in films like The Adventures of Robin Hood and The Palm Beach Story, makes a dashingly romantic hero (with a striking resemblance to the later silent star George O'Brien).
3 of 3 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?