Do it the hard way, the right way, the Judge Daryl Loomis way.
Mr. Swain has promised me an incident that will poignantly illustrate that sometime, somewhere, the criminal always pays.
Once upon a time, going to a movie didn't just involve a ton of Coke ads, the feature, and a drive home wondering why you just spent a quarter of your mortgage on taking your family to some piece of Adam Sandler garbage. There were cartoons, serials, and short films before the feature started, arguably giving a fuller experience than what we have today. Just like with the features, their quality was most definitely mixed, but there's no question that it added value to the movie-going experience that we do not enjoy today. Some of these pieces were stand-alone, but there were plenty of continued series out there. Between 1935 and 1947, speaking of mixed quality, MGM produced fifty of these shorts under the banner "Crime Does Not Pay." These films may be ham-fisted, silly attempts to enlighten audiences about crime, but for fans of early filmmaking, Crime Does Not Pay: The Complete Shorts Collection is an absolute treasure chest and is now available for the first time on six discs from Warner Archive.
Facts of the Case
For brevity's sake and the extreme repetition of subject matter, I'll just list out the titles, presented over six discs…just know that the plot of each one is that, no matter the crime, IT DOES NOT PAY!
The Buried Loot
Were one to actually listen to the "lead MGM crime reporter" who bookends each short in the collection, one would firmly believe that every industry on earth, no matter how normal it might seem, is riddled with corruption and led by villainous rackets of confidence men. The series really takes you through the paces, with election fraud, dairy rackets, corrupt car dealers, and charity thieves all getting their twenty minutes in the sun.
It's sort of amazing that the producers were able to keep coming up with crimes that do not pay, and they didn't even need to work with everyday stuff like basic murder, robbery, or thuggery. The closest that it comes is a piece on drunk driving, which is a pretty weird inclusion given the big time nature of most of the crimes presented, but I think they were starting to see it as a big problem, so it got put in.
Mostly, it appears that they wanted to provide some awareness to less-than-savvy moviegoers who, I'm sure they supposed, might fall for shoplifting schemes or immigration rackets or some other seemingly random conspiracy that viewers would almost assuredly never experience. This awareness, clearly, would make them afraid of phantoms and believe that strangers were out to get their hard-earned money. As the war years come on, the subject matter verges more toward spies and domestic terrorism that conspiracies, which makes a lot more sense, but these entries are seriously poorly done propaganda, first focusing on the Nazis and later the dirty Soviets.
The real value in Crime Does Not Pay: The Complete Shorts Collection is historical. The series was a repository for up-and-coming filmmakers like Fred Zinnemann (From Here to Eternity) and Jacques Tourneur (I Walked with a Zombie) and older directors on the backsides of their careers. There aren't a lot of appearances from young, soon to be famous actors, but Robert Taylor (Quo Vadis) appears in the debut short and a few other recognizable faces appear here and there. I don't know how often I'll go back to this series of shorts, but I'm glad I've seen them. It taught me many valuable lessons that I'll never forget about watching out for toughs and confidence men and not falling for their clever, ill-thought tricks. Plus, my brother will get a huge kick out of them, so the collection is worth it just for that.
As it usually is from Warner Archive, Crime Does Not Pay: The Complete Shorts Collection is presented unadorned and bare bones, but the fact that they are out in one set makes it worth picking up on its own. The image transfers are mostly solid, surprisingly so, with clean prints and mostly strong contrast. It isn't perfect; there's certainly age damage in every film, but it's better than I expected them to look across the board. The sound is your average mono mix, though the general lack of background noise is nice to hear. It isn't perfect, but it's pretty good. The only extra is a bonus short, not part of the series, called Eyes of the Navy, which is pure propaganda for how rad the navy is to join.
None of the shorts in this collection could be mistaken in any way for art or for quality or for any adjective that might imply that they are anything but exploitative pieces of propaganda. For that very reason, though, there is immense value here for historians and fans of classic films. Plus, while I always thought that, done right, crime might just pay, now I know otherwise and I have Crime Does Not Pay: The Complete Shorts Collection to thank.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Bonus Short
• IMDb: The Buried Loot
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