To celebrate the studio’s 90th anniversary, Warner Bros. has slated a vast array of DVD and Blu-ray compilation sets for home video release this year highlighting the studio’s impressive catalogue. Among these releases are box sets collecting 50 and 100 of the most celebrated films the studio’s ever released, 20 Academy Award-winning Best Pictures, adaptations of Superman on television, and selections of the studio’s output in the genres of romance, comedy, and the musical. Additionally, the Warner recently released this 20-film collection of Warner Bros. “thrillers.” The collection includes:
The Public Enemy (1931)
The Maltese Falcon (1941)
The Big Sleep (1946)
Strangers on a Train (1951)
North by Northwest (1959)
Dirty Harry (1971)
Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
Lethal Weapon: Director’s Cut (1987)
The Fugitive (1993)
Natural Born Killers: The Director’s Cut (1994)
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
L.A. Confidential (1997)
American History X (1998)
The Dark Knight (2008)
The Town (2010)
Although these films as a package make total sense commercially and even achieve a certain cohesiveness, to my mind it’s not necessarily the best representation of the studio’s thriller output. Nor would I, for that matter, consider some of these films thrillers in the first place. Before I explore these issues, however, I should say that this is otherwise a terrific set featuring a broad array of both time-tested and modern classics (a term I have great reservation about employing when referring to the post-1995 entries in this collection). And it’s one that I not only happily add to my DVD library, but also recommend wholeheartedly, even if I do so with these couple caveats.
For a set intended to celebrate 90 years of Warner Bros. thrillers, you’ll find it conspicuously weighted in favor of a single decade: the 1990s. Eight of the films here are from the 90s, with another three titles released post-2000. That leaves nine spots to be filled by thrillers released in the 66 years between the founding of the studio in 1923 and 1989. The result: we get one film from the 1930s, no films from the 1920s and shockingly no films from the 1960s! With twenty slots, you’d expect them to have chosen two titles from each decade (maybe one from the 20s given the limited number of films that still exist from that era) and divided the remainder between the decades which brought us the most stellar thrillers. It’s a no-brainer, really. To that end, excluding the 1960s is an egregious oversight by Warner, given the terrific thrillers released by the studio during that era, including Wait Until Dark (1967), Peter Bogdanovich’s Targets (1968), Bullitt (1968), and a little film maybe you’ve heard of called… oh yeah, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)!
Furthermore, given that they excludes that entire decade of pictures from this release you might think that the films they did include are somehow a better fit for the collection than those I’ve listed from the 1960s, that they are perhaps more thrilling. But that’s not the case. I would go so far, in fact, as to say that a number of the films in the set aren’t even thrillers. After all, thrillers rely on suspense– suspense akin to that of a great horror film even– and intense physical tension to give viewers a, well, thrill. The climax of a thriller should tie your stomach in knots. It should make you sweat, make your heart race. And while that certainly describes a number of the films in this set, The Shawshank Redemption, Batman, and The Dark Knight in particular are a bit lacking in this regard. (Admittedly, arguments could be made against others in this set as thrillers, but these three really stuck out to me.) Granted, Shawshank’s climax centers on a prison escape, but the thing is, we don’t even know anything about that until after it’s happened and thus we know the character made it out alive even as we learn about the escape. So no suspense there. As for the other two, we all know full well that Batman will triumph over the Joker, no matter the film. It’s a foregone conclusion.
That said, the films collected here make total sense as a package. They’re predominantly popular or notable pictures, and many are the first installments (or second (i.e. The Dark Knight)) of franchises, which is really smart from a promotional standpoint. And given that all center around crimes of murder or robbery (perhaps they might have been better collected as a “Crime” set?), there is a strong common thread binding them, which is something that can’t be said for a lot of multi-film packages floating around out there right now. What’s more, these are films worth watching, featuring some of the great talents to ever roam the Warner lot, including Alfred Hitchcock, Martin Scorsese, Humphrey Bogart, Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, and many, many more!
Like the 20 Film Collection: Musicals set I reviewed before it, however, the discs collected in this set are merely repackaged discs from previous, standalone DVD releases of these pictures. And again as with that set, eight of these discs are merely the first discs of two-disc editions of which no second discs are included, leaving you sadly without those releases’ special features to enjoy. As I said in that review, had the discs been relabeled, this would have likely gone unnoticed by most, but it’s hard to ignore as is, and something of a disappointment at that. Still, if you’re not bothered by this, and don’t own the bulk of these films already, The Best of Warner Bros. 20 Film Collection: Thrillers brings them together in one affordable and attractive collection that I myself am proudly displaying on a shelf even as I write this. Check it out over at the official site!