The Public Enemy appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. While it could show its age, the image looked very good overall.
Sharpness wasn’t perfect, but the movie maintained good clarity most of the time. Despite the occasional soft or muddy shot, the majority of the film maintained solid delineation. A few off elements stood out, though, like some oddly blurry takes of Cagney around the 51:30 mark. Some of the softness stemmed from lousy depth of field; for instance, around 59:20, we got a long two-shot in which Cagney remained in focus while Harlow looked blurry. That was obviously an issue related to the source, not the transfer. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and I noticed no edge enhancement.
The main distraction I encountered came from grain. That element looked a little heavier than normal, though not terribly so. A few scenes - such as the one in which Cagney got measured for a suit - were messier than most. The film showed virtually no print flaws, though.
The disc reproduced the black and white elements splendidly. While periodic exceptions popped up, most of the movie displayed nice contrast and definition. Blacks consistently came across as deep and firm, while shadows were usually smooth and distinctive. A few slightly dense shots appeared, but not enough to cause distractions. The “downs” were occasional distractions, but in general, this became a pleasing transfer.
While the DTS-HD MA monaural soundtrack of The Public Enemy didn’t impress, the mix merited a mildly above-average mark. Speech remained intelligible but tended to be metallic and brittle. Effects showed similarly thin and weak tones most of the time, though little distortion occurred, and I also noticed some pretty decent low-end. For instance, a shot with some trucks offered good rumble.
Not a lot of music popped up through the movie; most flicks of this era lack much score, though this one used those elements a little more frequently than most. The music sounded tinny and too bright, but not badly so, and the elements were acceptably clear. Hiss was present most of the time, but no significant source concerns materialized. This was an era-appropriate soundtrack.
How did the Blu-ray compare to the original 2005 DVD? The lossless track on the Blu-ray might’ve been slightly more robust than what I heard on the DVD, but only slightly; there’s not a lot of room for improvement with 80-plus-year-old material like this.
Visuals demonstrated more obvious growth. Actually, as sometimes happens, the increased resolution of Blu-ray can make flaws more noticeable, so the film’s soft shows were more apparent here. On the other hand, the Blu-ray was cleaner and tighter in general. This turned into a nice representation of the film.
All the DVD’s extras come with The Public Enemy, and we get an audio commentary from film historian Robert Sklar. He offers a running, screen-specific discussion of the film. Sklar covers topics such as the story’s origins and path to the screen, character and story themes, the careers of the movie’s participants, a historical perspective, and subsequent censorship.
When he speaks, Sklar sticks with good information. Unfortunately, an awful lot of dead air occurs, especially given the brief length of the movie. If Enemy ran for two-plus hours, I could forgive the gaps more readily, but this one lasts a mere 84 minutes, and Sklar should have been able to find material to occupy that period. Nonetheless, it’s an informative track.
Next comes the 45-second 1954 Re-release Forward. This text essentially says the same thing as the snippet created for the 1931 version. The main difference is that it also mentions 1931’s Little Caesar.
A creative and fun addition to the set, Warner Night at the Movies attempts to replicate the cinematic experience circa 1931. As explained via a three-minute and 16-second introduction from Leonard Maltin, this feature includes a trailer for Blonde Crazy - a flick from the same era as Enemy - plus a period newsreel, a cartoon called Smile, Darn Ya, Smile and a live-action short entitled The Eyes Have it. The latter is notable for an early appearance of Edgar Bergen and his puppet Charlie McCarthy.
These are the kinds of pieces that might have preceded a theatrical showing of Enemy, so if you activate this feature, you get an attempt to duplicate a night at the cinema. I like this program and think it’s quite clever. Use the “Play All” option to run each of these features and then automatically launch into Enemy.
In addition to the trailer for Enemy, the disc includes a modern featurette called Beer and Blood: Enemies of the Public. This 19-minute and 37-second program presents movie clips, archival materials, and interviews. We hear from Sklar, filmmaker Martin Scorsese, filmmaker/film historian Alain Silver, USC professor of film Dr. Drew Casper, and author Mark A. Vieira.
The participants cover the roots of the project, casting and facets of the performances, director William Welllman and his approach, the famous grapefruit scene, the film’s depiction of violence, its music, and the flick’s legacy. Inevitably, some parts of the documentary duplicate elements from the commentary. However, a lot of new information pops up here as well. Scorsese proves particularly enlightening, especially because he discusses the way the film influenced his own work. This is a tight little program.
A seminal gangster flick, The Public Enemy doesn’t always satisfy. However, much of it works well due to strong acting and directorial creativity; those elements help balance out a lackluster script and awkward pacing. The Blu-ray gives us high quality picture as well as pretty good audio and bonus materials. The Blu-ray brings home a classic gangster flick in a satisfying manner.
Note that The Public Enemy can be purchased on its own or as part of a four-film “Ultimate Gangsters Collection”. That package also includes Little Caesar, The Petrified Forest and White Heat. With a list price of $50, the “Collection” costs $30 less than the roughly $80 MSRP of the four individual Blu-rays and comes with additional bonuses.
To rate this film visit the original review of THE PUBLIC ENEMY