Customer Reviews: William Powell at Warner Bros.
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on September 14, 2013
Wonderful collection of four early William Powell pictures, all on separate discs. Consider, however, where you buy this. As was the case with the last couple of Warner Archive Forbidden Hollywood sets, the initial run of this set is being pressed instead of burned. That said, you've got to order it from the WB Shop to get it that way. I bought mine from Amazon for convenience, and my set was burned. I also paid $10 more by buying from Amazon! I have no problem with the DVD-R format, but given a choice I'll take pressed discs. Order yours from if you prefer pressed discs.
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on November 25, 2013
Warner Archive has released a real treat for William Powell fans, four of the seven films he made for Warner Brothers between 1931 and 1934 in a four DVD set. They must be selling quite a few of these Pre-Code collections, recently many have had their the initial run on factory pressed discs instead of CD-R. After an auspicious start in 1922 opposite the great John Barrymore in SHERLOCK HOLMES, Powell worked his way up the ladder, finally nearing stardom at Paramount during the dawn of the sound era. After a short detour at Warner Brothers he reached the top of his profession at MGM, and today remains an icon of the "golden era" of film. Suave and debonair, but never haughty or condescending, Powell's persona was that of a man confident in his own skin who made it to the top but never forgot, or was afraid of, what lie below. Powell made many iconic films, as PHILO VANCE,THE THIN MAN SERIES (with frequent co-star Myrna Loy), MANHATTAN MELODRAMA,LIBELED LADY,MY MAN GODFREY, THE GREAT ZIEGFIELD, I LOVE YOU AGAIN and LIFE WITH FATHER, to name a few, and also had the good sense to quit while on top as "Doc" in the great MISTER ROBERTS......

"This heat is bad enough for married women, but for young girls it's dynamite!" opines tropical island doctor George March (Louis Calhern, THE ASPHALT JUNGLE, JULIUS CAESAR) in 1931's turgid dramatic potboiler THE ROAD TO SINGAPORE. The film begins by doing everything but hitting you over the head to make sure you know that Hugh Dawltrey (William Powell) is a "cad." Set in a far-flung outpost of the British Empire, conjectured since most of the "white" men have a posh accent, belong to a club, constantly complain about the heat, and are rude to the natives. In said club the scandal du jour is the imminent return of Powell. Cut to Powell traveling on a steamer, unsuccessfully wooing the soon to be revealed fiancee (Doris Kenyon, 1939's THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK) of the cold-hearted doctor. We can tell that Bill's actually a stand-up guy though, since he's nice to the natives. Unfortunately, after their marriage Doris finds that hubby is more interested in tumors than honeymoons. The doctor also has a fetching young sister (a wasted Marian Marsh, SVENGALI, BEAUTY AND THE BOSS hot for our Bill as well. All the overheating finally takes it's toll as things expectedly soon boil over into a tepid finale. Being a Pre-Code film all the adultery stuff is right up front, and the film's ending would have never passed the Hays Office censors. We also get a most welcomed gratuitous scene of Marian Marsh in her scanties. Rotely directed by Alfred E. Green (APPOINTMENT IN BERLIN, COPACABANA) the film, except for a few establishing scenes, betrays it's genesis as a play by Roland Pertwee. The film and its included trailer are in in decent shape with a minimum of damage, probably due to their rarity. An inauspicious beginning to the set for sure......

Luckily, things loosen up with our second offering, the 1932 "Hawk-sian" comedy HIGH PRESSURE directed by eight-time Oscar nominee Mervyn LeRoy (LITTLE CAESAR, I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG, THREE ON A MATCH). This go-round our star is a successful promoter given the task by a Jewish businessman (actor/director George Sidney, MANHATTAN MELODRAMA, VIVA LAS VEGAS) to make sewage palatable, rubber MADE from sewage, that is. The only reason I mention the character's ethnicity is that this cheeky Pre-Code treat doesn't shy from ethnic jokes, whether Jewish or Irish, suicide jokes, and enough drinking to float the Titanic. Basically a dry run for the upcoming screwball comedy craze, it also benefits from the wonderful support cast of Harry Beresford (THE MATCH KING, DINNER AT EIGHT), as a screwy German Scientist, Evelyn Brent (THE MAD EMPRESS, THE SEVENTH VICTIM), as the long-suffering girlfriend,, and the always enjoyable Guy Kibbee (GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933, DON'T BET ON BLONDES), whose performance could be an audition for his next role in LADY FOR A DAY......

Masterful (and prolific) Director Michael Curtiz (CASABLANCA, WHITE CHRISTMAS, to name a few) helms the last true Pre-Code film in the set, PRIVATE DETECTIVE 62 from 1933. Known for his interpretations of famous detectives, we get Powell smack dab in the middle of his portrayals of sleuths Philo Vance and Nick Charles (THE THIN MAN SERIES). Although the film never reaches those heights, this potpourri of drug abuse, double-crosses and triple-crosses, blackmail and murder, is entertaining in it's own right. You can't go wrong with Prohibition and The Depression as a backdrop either. Powell plays Donald Free, a State Department operative who gets caught spying in a foreign country. He escapes, but becomes a government scapegoat and is set adrift, finding it hard to get any kind of work because of The Depression. After some twists of fate he ends up a partner in a Detective Agency run by dim-witted but devious sleuth Dan Hogan (Arthur Hohl, ISLAND OF LOST SOULS, THE DEVIL-DOLL). The agency becomes successful but Powell isn't aware it's secretly financed by gangster Tony Bandor (Gordon Westcott, DEVIL AND THE DEEP, HEROES FOR SALE). There's also the requisite stooge, cocaine addict "Whitey" (James Bell, THE LEOPARD MAN, I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE). Mentions of "narcotic drops," "snow" and "snowbirds" definitely date this as a Pre-Code film. Powell tries to keep things on the straight and narrow, but after falling in love with a socialite his partner and the gangster are trying to frame (Margaret Lindsay, BABY FACE, SCARLET STREET) he's had enough. Is he too late to untangle all the webs spun by his backstabbing partner? You'll have to watch to find out! Includes the original trailer......

Our final film was also Powell's last for Warners, 1934's THE KEY, again directed by Michael Curtiz. One of the very last films completed before the Hays Office's new Production Code went into effect, afterwards all motion pictures had to be submitted to receive a MPDDA seal certifying compliance. THE KEY was also the only film that Powell was allowed to choose himself, due to an option in his contract. Based on a British play about Irish independence, it tells the story of a British "Black and Tan" officer recruited to quell unrest in Dublin, only to discover his lost love (Edna Best, 1935's THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR) married to his old friend, a fellow British Intelligence agent (Colin Clive, FRANKENSTEIN, MAD LOVE). Ironically it was probably the best film he made for the brothers Warner, and considering that his first two films for MGM, MANHATTAN MELODRAMA and THE THIN MAN were smash hits, the brass at Warners were probably banging their heads against the wall......
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on December 4, 2013
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon July 20, 2015
William Powell is, hands down, my all-time favorite actor. And, yet, while I enjoy him best when he shared screen time with Myrna Loy - who, to echo Dillinger, is my all-time favorite actress - Powell's catalogue of motion pictures spans beyond their 14 film partnership. Before Powell hit it big with MGM, he was contracted with Warner Brothers from 1931 to 1934, to the tune of nine lesser known films, of which four are presented in this collection. William Powell at Warner Bros. showcases the breadth of his acting. It manifests his dramatic chops, his flair for sleuthing, his cosmopolitan wit, his impeccable comic timing. Warner Brothers studio is where Powell cemented himself as a leading man. But, okay, there may be more overwrought soap opera here than a case of the giggles.


In this one, Hope and Crosby and Powell all vie for Dorothy Lamour's attention. Heh. No, this one doesn't have a lot of yucks. The Road to Singapore released some years before the Hays Code got serious with its moral agenda. It was Powell's first starring vehicle for Warner Bros. It's a steamy early talkie that makes adept use of Powell's suave bearing and sophisticated wit. He plays notorious adventurer Hugh Dawltry who has an unexpected homecoming to Khota, a place in the tropics of which climate is so beastly that "Nobody but crooks, tourists, and missionaries would be foolish enough to stick their heads into this furnace." Dawltry's return is met with the coolest of receptions, seeing as the last time he was home he was principal in a scandal involving his stealing another man's wife. At least you can count on the man for being consistent. Dawltry's eye promptly roves towards another man's wife... again. I guess it doesn't matter that the latest beauty is wife to the intolerant Dr. George March (Louis Calhern), him what harbors an unbecoming set of prejudices. Quoting him: "Everybody has got to keep his place in this country." The good doctor takes Philippa (Doris Kenyon) for granted. He seems more turned on by malaria and tumors. Quoting him: "You should've seen that tumor. It was a beauty."

Philippa, chafing from playing second fiddle to disease, dwells in the next plantation over. And in a rigid environment populated by stuffed shirts and their bored women, Dawltry, by default, is Khota's most interesting man. Even the doctor's adventurous 18-year-old sister (Marian Marsh) thinks so. And, so, it doesn't take long for an illicit romance to develop. The Road to Singapore swelters and blisters and unfolds a tale of tango and lust and infidelity. I don't even feel bad for the doctor.


This one is a landmark film in that, for the first time, Powell got to star in a comedy. High Pressure, based on the 1931 Broadway play, Hot Money, by Aben Kandel, is an irreverent yarn about a Depression-era swindle. When not passed out in some speakeasy, Gar Evans (Powell) has got rep as the world's greatest promoter, a PR man of the highest order. An entrepreneur (George Sidney) has got a line on a process for manufacturing artificial rubber out of sewage, and he wants Evans to promote this enterprise. "There's no romance in sewage!" Evans protests but is talked into it. Next thing you know, the Golden Gate Artificial Rubber Co. is founded and Evans' horde of salesmen are selling company stock left and right. All goes well until the representatives from the rubber industry demand that Evans prove that the company can actually produce artificial rubber. Only thing is, the inventor of the process has vanished.

Directed by Mervyn Leroy with pizazz and precision and an eye on the clock, High Pressure predates two Howard Hawks gems: Bringing up Baby (1938) and His Girl Friday (1940). But it anticipates the snappy, rapid-fire banter that was a hallmark of those two classic comedies. Powell is in top form as the fast-talking, very opportunistic, yet likable rogue. Evelyn Brent is his leading lady for the sixth and final time, and she's engaging in a world-weary, resigned sort of way. She plays Powell's oft neglected gal pal, Francine, whom the lout has kept on the merry-go-round for the past five years. Only, she ain't havin' this no more, see? She's on the verge of marrying her Latino suitor and shoving off to South America. Can Powell talk her out of it? Does a bear crap in the woods?

It's an inadvertent flim flam caper and a romantic satire and towering proof that Powell can handle comedies. The jokes blister by you, so you must keep an ear out. My favorite may be the double entendre line delivered by one sap as a conniving Powell examines his footwear: "Are you gentlemen in the heel business?" I also admired Powell's airy introduction of Guy Kibbee, a bum whom he hires as the fledgling company's CEO: "At seven, he was the ideal president of a big company. But he had to wait forty years before he could look like one. Nobody in the world could sit in a chair the way he does." Frank McHugh also appears to try to louse up my day. Thankfully, he's not as aggravating as in other movies.


A lot happens to Donald Free (Powell) in the film's first 15 minutes. In Paris, Free, a compromised government operative, is nicked by the French Sûreté for smuggling secret state papers. He's branded an undesirable alien and deported. In New York, Free is disavowed by his government and must scramble to make ends meet. At last he finagles a partnership with goonish gumshoe Dan Hogan (Arthur Hohl) of the Peerless Detective Agency. Peerless is a shabby enterprise, a hole-in-the-wall up on 23rd St, but, hey, a gig is a gig.

You can't blame the ever opportunistic Hogan for accepting the patronage of a sketchy casino owner. So now here's the Peerless Detective Agency, relocated to posh 5th Avenue, flourishing. And there's Dan Hogan, having sold his scruples some time ago, now at the beck and call of that sketchy figure. Meanwhile, Donald Free has retained his code of honor. Still, it's hard to reject $10,000, the prize for landing innocent society girl Janet Reynolds (Margaret Lindsay) in hot stir.

Private Detective 62 is a diverting one-off that Powell made while still in his Philo Vance phase but shortly before he would assume his most recognized role of Nick Charles. Private Detective 62 was straight up shot in the Warner Bros. house style, slick and professional. At 67 minutes, the pace crackles, courtesy of director Michael Curtiz's vaunted no-nonsense approach. Powell and Lindsay simply scintillate in their shared scenes, and I have a yen now to look up the lovely Ms. Lindsay's other pictures. Ruth Donnelly delivers several zingy moments as Peerless' loyal, level-headed secretary. Hohl navigates a surprising arc in which his character goes from comic and buffoonish to cold and calculating. Anyway, when the Peerless agency's predations plant Janet in a murder frame, is there any doubt as to which side Free's loyalty falls? Free's sleuthing is bare bones stuff, but Powell's colossal charm powers us thru.

THE KEY (1934)

Powell plays another heroic cad in this one, a pre-Hays Code tearjerker staged in 1920 Dublin and against the explosive backdrop of the Irish "troubles." If this were released only a few months later, the Hays Code would've righteously stamped out that whiff of extra-marital shenanigans. Did you know that the term "Black & Tan" is an Irish pejorative for the British Military Reserve Force stationed in Ireland? Captain Bill Tennant (Powell), notorious for his bravery AND his exploits between the sheets, is a Black & Tan officer who is tasked with smashing unrest in Ireland. He ends up indiscreetly passing time with an ex-flame (Edna Best) who now happens to be the wife of his good pal, the British intelligence officer (Colin Clive). The plot gets even more turgid when the husband is captured by Irish rebels.

Clued into the plot as your are, how did you think this was going to end? Damn right. On the plus side, Powell gets to play a part that puts his skills to good use. He is rakish and jaunty and fun. I love the opening scene in which he charms a flower girl and purchases a blossom from her, only to playfully bestow it to his superior officer. That sets the tone for his character, before the self-sacrificial element comes in.
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on September 27, 2015
Fine set of 30's movies.
DVDs in perfect condition and picture/sound quality excellent.
Most enjoyable.
Good value.
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on June 13, 2016
Great Warner Brothers Pre-Code films.
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on September 7, 2014
It wasn't what we expected, the movies were not that good. We own several Powell movies that are 5 star rated.
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