Have you ever had the great fortune of finding something great for next to nothing? You think to yourself- “They made a mistake. This can’t be right.” And then you run to register before they figure it out. That’s the great fun in bargain bin diving. You know what I’m talking about- those bins or displays near the DVD section in the store of your choice. All the movies are under $10 - most of them are $5 and under.
The secret to bargain bin diving is clearly knowing what your looking at. When you pull up a DVD out of the bin- ask yourself – is it worth $5? Is it a steal, or is it not really worth a $1. The bargain bin is rife with material better left on the cutting room floor. Sometimes there are even foreign language films, educational films, public domain films- all really in bad shape. But every once in a while you find a gem that makes all the panning through fool’s gold worth it.
You want to be careful of where the bin is also. For example, some movie rental places may have certain films that the local Wal-Mart won’t. The quality of the “previously rented” is also a crap shoot. I tend to stick with other stores. Sometimes a Mom and Pop may have titles that you’ve never or even want to hear of. And please stay away from questionable establishments, like gas stations – you might think you are getting a get copy of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory- but look closely. That man in the hat on the cover probably isn’t Johnny Depp and those Oompa Loompas might be dressed in leather. Instead of the Hollywood hit, you just might have pulled up a copy of Charlie in My Chocolate Factory. Put it down, leave the store and go wash your hands. Twice. Other titles that you might question and stay away from:
The Bare Witch Project
Saving Ryan’s Privates and
Good Night and Good…but I digress.
Here at the Shelf- we consider ourselves an average member of the public- Joe Consumer, if you will, and we figure that we can perform this vital service to fellow members of the DVD buying public. Therefore we now present a new regular feature here at the Shelf:
It Came From the Bargain Bin!
In ICFBB we’ll take a look at some DVD’s that we’ve dug up (HAW!) out of the bargain bin and evaluate them in several areas:
Price: $1, $5- under $10? Was it really a bargain, or just another DVD slumming’?
Difficulty: Did it take a while to find, or was it right on top? Or was it hit or miss- kinda fifty fifty depending on how the store has them displayed.
Quality: Does it look like someone copied it from a VHS tape that their Uncle Fred taped off of the Sunday Night Movie, or is it pretty stellar DVD that is just been in rotation for a while? How does the print and sound hold up?
Features: Might be pretty skimpy, or you might be surprised. Is the packaging pretty pathetic? Don’t you hate when they put an ad for other films on the DVD and call it a feature? These questions and more are answered for you. And don’t worry- you’re really buying for the film anyway. Right? Which brings us to…
The Film: This is what you came for- was it worth your $5 bucks? Do you wish you hadn’t really bought this turkey and grabbed a pack of gum instead? Our mini-review will reveal all.
Tilt: This is the je ne sais qou quotient. The pop culture factor, the geek factor, the unknown. Maybe the film is so bad that it’s good. Like MST3K good. Maybe there is a nostalgia attached to it that makes you hang on to it when you should have let go years ago- like that stuffed animal you hide in the closet when your friends come over.
Bargain?: Is it or isn’t it? Is it a bargain? The sum total of the evaluation will tell.
So now on with the show:
For our debut feature- The Glenn Miller Story with James Stewart and June Allyson.
Price: This one was found for around $5 at my local Target. Sure, I could have ordered it for around the same price from Amazon or BN.com- but it’s not the same. And I didn’t have to pay for shipping.
Difficulty: Hit or Miss- no bins at Target. These lower priced DVDs are mixed in with most everything else, so if you’re looking for a deal you might have to sort through a lot of regular priced DVDs. On the other hand, if you’re just browsing or know what you’re looking for it’s either a great surprise or a piece of cake.
Quality: Pretty good. Now this isn’t a print restoration or anything, but it has held up OK. The print they used has a few very minor issues, but the sound is great – which is integral to the movie. I would buy a special edition in a heartbeat.
Features: Nil. Just an ad for similar biopics. And when I mean ad, I mean a screenshot of three other DVDs. But again- we’re here for the movie. But in case anyone is listening at Universal – let Warner Brothers handle a special edition on this one. Your track record is pretty spotty. They could do it right. Some nice features on Glenn Miller and the stars, Jimmy Stewart and June Allyson.
The Film. Oh- that film, that film. I will ad a disclaimer. I love this film. I had it on VHS and wore out two copies. I was holding out for a S.E., but when I found this at this price I couldn’t resist. All bargain bin finds should be like this but alas, they are not.
Jimmy Stewart plays, as you could guess, Glenn Miller in this bio-pic tracing Glenn’s life from obscurity to fame and thru war and ultimately- an untimely death. Anthony Mann, one of Jimmy Stewart’s frequent collaborators, directs this great film. The delightful June Allyson co-stars as his wife, Helen. A great supporting cast including Henry Morgan and George Tobias fill out the film nicely. And one great thing about the film is the many appearances by genuine musical greats like Louis Armstrong, Gene Krupa, Ben Pollack, Francis Langford, and groups like the Modernaires and the Mellowmen. Some great little catches include a bit part by Mrs. C of Happy Days fame- Marion Ross. In fact if you look for the Mellowmen- you’ll discover one of their members is Thurl Ravenscroft – better known to my generation as the classic voice of many Disney characters (including animatronics characters in the parks), the singer of “You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch” and the voice of Tony the Tiger. Greeeeat!
The story of Glenn Miller is pretty well known and when this movie came out in 1953, it was a smash hit. It spawned other musical biopics like The Benny Goodman Story and others. You can find a pretty thorough synopsis here at the TCM database -so check it out. The music is sensational- Glenn Miller’s friend and cohort, Chummy MacGregor (played by Henry Morgan in the film) served as a technical advisor to the film and some of Glenn’s band participated in the making of the film. Although the movie was made in 1953, almost ten years after Glenn’s place disappeared overseas around Christmas of 1944, the music had moved on. The Glenn Miller Story sparked a revival of sorts of interest in Glenn and his music. Indeed, today, Glenn Miller’s music continues to thrive and find new fans. When I was a kid seeing this film sparked my own interest in big band, swing, and jazz. I even found a soundtrack recording of The Glenn Miller Story and listen to it still today. In short- this movie is highly recommended. It is a gentle, sentimental, and musical journey into the life of a man who was very gifted.
The tragic ending is perhaps handled with greater class than in many other films. Helen (June Allyson) has received word of her husband’s disappearance over the sea, and is listening to a Christmas broadcast of Glenn’s band. Their friends Si and Chummy and his wife are there comforting her- and telling her that Glenn’s music and in a way his legacy will live on. Glenn had traveled ahead of his band to make arrangements in Paris for the Christmas broadcast- but never made it. The band went on with the broadcast as planned as a tribute to Glenn and the first number was a new arrangement that Glenn had worked on as a Christmas present for his wife: Little Brown Jug. It was a song that had a special meaning for the couple – Helen listens and realizes what the song is- and gets that “funny feeling”. The funny feeling she gets on the back of her neck several times during the film- when she knows everything will be alright. Very little dialogue, but wonderful acting by June Allyson. A bittersweet, classy, and memorable ending to a wonderful film.
Tilt: I am sentimental about this movie – no doubt about it - it figures heavily into my discovery of music and classic films at an early age.
Bargain- Uh- yeah. A no brainer. I checked out some online vendors and found out it’s actually more expensive online- $12-15. What a find. If you can find it for the same price then walk, nay- run to the register and go home and enjoy. And hope for a special edition in the future.
Well Shelfers, that’s it for this edition of It Came From the Bargain Bin! Hope our sacrifice and public service in our ongoing quest to dig into the dark realm of the bargain bin was worthwhile.
Please share with us some of your bargain bin discoveries or your thoughts and opinions about The Glenn Miller Story in the comments section. Til next time- adieu.
Don't you see what Si is getting at Helen? If the band goes on now, even if Glenn's not with it- that's the proof. It means that Glenn's Band, Glenn's music keeps right on going.