Crime Does Not Pay: The Complete Shorts Collection
July 18, 2012

I’m familiar with “Crime Does Not Pay” as a classic comic (recently collected from Dark Horse), but it was also a series of movie shorts.

Crime Does Not Pay: The Complete Shorts Collection

Six discs from the Warner Archive hold all 50 shorts from 1935-1947, each about 20 minutes. They’re cautionary tales, examples of criminals who thought they were clever but got caught in the end, brought to us by “the MGM reporter”. He interviews investigators and officers who then tell us the story as a flashback. The series is a precursor to the many procedurals we watch today, comforting reminders that justice will prevail and bad guys will get caught.

The first, “Buried Loot”, starred one of my favorite classic actors, Robert Taylor. He’s a bank teller who embezzles money with the idea that he’ll do the time for the crime and then retrieve the hidden funds and live well. As part of this plan, he burns his own face with chemicals. Taylor was known for being a very beautiful man, so it was particularly odd to see him in fake scars. Especially given the twist ending, a surprise that reinforces the idea that even clever criminals are dumber than the cops that chase them.

“A Thrill for Thelma” involves a woman (Irene Hervey) marrying a crook and going to prison as his accomplice because she was chasing excitement and riches. The two rob cars together, until events turn deadly.

“The Public Pays”, eighth in the series, marks something of a departure, as the series begins covering crimes that affect more than just a handful of victims. It deals with a protection racket affecting milk companies, in which dairy producers are pressured to raise prices to pay off racketeers. It won an Oscar for Best Short Subject and was also included on the DVD for the Clark Gable / Myrna Loy / Jean Harlow movie Wife vs. Secretary (available individually or as part of the Gable Signature Collection) because it uses the same office set as that movie.

I haven’t gotten a chance to watch many more yet, but I plan on spacing them out, anyway, to better appreciate them without all running together. I’m particularly curious to see how the series changes over the decade-plus it ran. It would have been nice if the set had included some background material, whether a short featurette or liner notes, because there’s very little information about this series easily available, although I know that’s not how the Warner Archive usually works.

This is a great choice for a movie fan hoping to recreate the period movie-going experience. Show a couple of these, a classic film, a cartoon or two, and a B picture for a full evening’s entertainment. (The studio provided a review copy.)

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