Wednesday, August 15, 2007

dvd review: myrna loy & william powell collection

Just a few years ago, Wolf and I were discussing the fact that we had a huge list of films that were not out on DVD, and it was a downright travesty that studios weren't digging into their classics. I am very pleased to report that just in the past three years, that list has decreased dramatically. We live in a brave, new world folks. Not too long ago, the only Looney Tunes that was available to purchase on DVD was a copy of Space Jam. I was holding on to more rapidly deteriorating VHS copies of Droopy, The Naked Spur, homemade collection of Disney classic shorts (taped off of Disney Channel back when it was great) and more for dear life. I was converting my collection of flicks over to DVD, and really hoping that in the many years that VHS had been able to accumulate a library of classic films in print would one day carry over to DVD.

The one set of films that was near the top of both of our lists were the Thin Man films. I couldn't believe they weren't out on DVD! Heck, we even looked on the Internet and found that Australia had DVD box set of them. Right then and there, had I been in Australia, I could've gone into any place that sold DVDs and go up to the sales girl, pluck my ducats (or whatever they spend there) down on the counter and say, "G'Day! I'd like a copy of The Thin Man Collection. Right! Thanks much, you're a good Sheila!" (Please note that my Australian is a bit weak these days, but I sure would've brushed up with a Berlitz course before I went.)

The Thin Man was that important to us. We grew up on them. My dad had all six on VHS and Wolf and I "borrowed" them from time to time til it grew like a custody battle of sorts. They were essential, along with several other films, to my beginnings as a classic film fan and historian. Wolf and I agreed that if they ever released The Thin Man or the Marx Brothers films on DVD, we would do all in our power to secure them. Even if it meant saving every Christmas and birthday gift card we could muster- they would be ours! (A set each, I may add. Custody battles over VHS tapes are not a pretty thing!) It wasn't long before The Marx Brothers films, Looney Tunes and others received the box set treatment and I proudly added them to my collection.

Then that day came in 2005 when Wolf and I got our very own copies of The Thin Man DVD Collection. We celebrated on this blog with a three part series of articles reviewing the series and the set. Then I got greedy. I began thinking- maybe, just maybe if this set sells well, then WB will put out the rest of Myrna Loy and William Powell flicks. Sure, a pipe dream maybe, but something worth dream for nonetheless. Then, low and behold, it turned out that I wasn't the only dreamer around! The Thin Man set became Warner's highest selling box set, and is still selling to this day. Then earlier this year, they announced that they were bringing the remaining Loy-Powell costarring films to DVD (minus The Great Ziegfeld and Libeled Lady, which of course are already on DVD)! I rejoiced! I did a jig! In fact, I did Walter Houston's Old Miner's Dance (patent pending)!

So what does this mean to you, dear Shelfer? Just this - you can go out and purchase your very own copy of the new TCM Spotlight Collections: Myrna Loy & William Powell Collection! And, if you are still in any doubt, never fear! The Shelf is here to bring you a complete review of the new collection. Is it worth your hard-earned cash and time. Will they just sit on the stack to collect dust, or will you be watching them over and over? Is the new set a Shelf Classic? Read today's Shelf review of the Myrna Loy & William Powell Collection, and find out.

The Hard Facts:
TCM Spotlight: Myrna Loy and
William Powell Collection
Five Discs in a digi-pak folding case
Studio: Warner Home Video
Black & White (some extras in color)
Original Studio: MGM
Release Date: Aug. 7, 2007
Rated: NR for All Films
Stars: Myrna Loy and William Powell

Let me quote from my 2005 review of The Thin Man:
Director "Woody" Van Dyke once said that The Thin Man movies worked because of the chemistry and personalities of lead actors William Powell and Myrna Loy. Although they were playing characters from Dashiell Hammett's famous detective novel, the actors portrayed them with so much of their own charm and a real affection for one another. "Powell was just Powell," he said, "and Loy was just Loy." The Thin Man premiered in 1934, and Powell and Loy began a on-screen partnership that lasted for 14 films. That's one of Hollywood's best records folks, Ginger and Fred aside. Although Powell and Loy were never married, many people thought they were a real married couple. In reality, William and Myrna were close friends, sharing a similar sense of humor and sensibilities. The charm and chemistry was so natural in their films, and you could tell, above all- they were having fun. Loy once said about Powell, "I never enjoyed my work more than when I worked with William Powell. He was a brilliant actor, a delightful companion, a great friend and above all, a true gentleman." And of working with Loy Powell remarked,"We weren't acting, we were just two people in perfect harmony."

MGM ran a much publicized and manufactured campaign which named Clark Gable and Myrna Loy as the King and Queen of Hollywood. While it's true that she had a number of films with Gable and a good on-screen chemistry, through the years it has been her pairing with William Powell that has charmed fans over and over again. Their easy chemistry, wit, and obvious genuine affection and respect for each other made them a true classic on-screen duo; one of Hollywood's all-time pairings right up there with Tracy and Hepburn, Bogie and Bacall and Astaire and Rogers.

Powell and Loy really stood out with romantic comedy. The Thin Man series always had a mystery, which in and of itself was good, but it was the interplay between the two that made the series stand out. In their first few films together, melodrama seemed to be more in order. The very first time the pair met was on the set of Manhattan Melodrama; in fact in their very first scene together. They had rehearsed their lines separately and then literally met in that very first scene. They clicked on screen right before our eyes. And you can see something happening, even though the lines in the film are being spoken, it's the twinkle in their eyes that can't be manufactured. A team either has it, or they don't. Director Van Dyke knew they had it. MGM found it with the enormous success of the film that they had it. Now, what to do with it?They attempted to redo the "melodrama" aspect with Evelyn Prentice that same year, and of course, Van Dyke directed them in The Thin Man. It was that movie which really demonstrated their flair for wit and their chemistry for romantic films. Most of their films from that point on would be romantic comedy or screwball comedy. Speaking of the films....

The Films:

Manhattan Melodrama
Co-Stars: Clark Gable, Nat Pendleton and Mickey Rooney
"Blackie" Gallagher (Gable) and Jim Wade (Powell) are friends since childhood who endured many hardships together. Their parents died on the "General Slocum" riverboat, which blew up and burned in the East River. Then their adoptive father dies during an anarchist riot, which leaves them on their own at a young age. While they had each other, they were very different. Jim pushes himself academically, eventually becoming the District Attorney. Blackie on the other hand, had no use for books and runs with gangsters, eventually running a gambling joint and racking up the dough. The two reunite later in life, still good friends, but on opposite sides of the law. But Blackie is as proud of Jim success as ever, telling him he could even become governor and refuses to stand in Jim's way. One night when on his way to celebrate with Jim for his latest political victory, Blackie gets sidelined and sends his girlfriend, Eleanor (Loy) to met Jim and to wait for him. When the two meet there is an instant spark. All of the sudden Eleanor knows what she wants: a home, a family- stability. In short, all of the things Blackie won't give her. Eleanor leaves Blackie, who despite his feelings for her, knows it's the best thing for the two people he loves. Blackie's loyalty knows no bounds. When Jim's career is in danger he even resorts to murder to make sure nothing happens to Jim and Eleanor. When Blackie is arrested, Jim must make a series of decisions about his oldest friend, his convictions, and even his wife, Eleanor.

Extras: Comedy short: Goofy Movies #2, classic cartoon: The Old Pioneer and the theatrical trailer.

This film is well known for several reasons beyond being the first film with Powell and Loy. It is the film that solidified Clark Gable as a matinee idol, being his first big one shortly after It Happened One Night. It is also the film that John Dillinger was out to see with the infamous "women in red" when he was caught and gunned down by the feds. It was also one of the first major screen films for a very young Mickey Rooney. The film itself was a hit with the public. It was MGM's attempt at a gangster film in a different vein than Warner Brothers, whose outlook was more gritty and violent. But the public latched on to the melodrama aspect of the film. And was it melodrama. They really laid it on thick with the crying young lads at the beginning of the film after the sinking (based on the real event) of the riverboat and death of their adoptive father. When we get to Gable, Loy and Powell that's when things pick up. This is perhaps the real beginning of Gable's film persona as a lovable blackguard, one that would reprised with similar themes in San Francisco. And it's Gable's role (not his performance) that provides some sticking points. While you feel a genuine earnestness about his loyalty to Jim, having him talk Jim into not commuting his sentence is a bit of a stretch. And it's a bit disconcerting to see a character that for the most of film is pretty fair, even if he's a gambling boss, but at the same time can gun down someone so coldly. It's hard to reconcile the two, but it doesn't really take away from the performance or the film. Any way you cut it, Manhattan Melodrama is an excellent film, and it's great to see it finally on DVD.

Evelyn Prentice
Co-Stars: Harvey Stephens, Frank Conroy, Una Merkel and Rosalind Russell.
John Prentice is a successful attorney, well known for defending women who have been accused of crimes against their significant others. He is a workaholic, and although he very much loves his wife, Evelyn (Loy) and their daughter, he is rarely at home. Evelyn loves her husband and tries to find ways for him to spend more time at home. When John leaves for meeting a client in Washington, DC , his most recent client, Nancy Harrison (Russell in her debut role) has arranged to be on the train as well. John was able to get her acquitted, and Nancy, who has fallen for him, wants to "thank" him. Meanwhile, Evelyn has been out more and more by herself or her friend, Amy Drexel (Merkel). One evening, she is approached by a man, Larry Kennard (Harvey Stephens) who has designs on her. She initially refuses to spend time with him, but soon she becomes drawn to him. When she discovers that Nancy Harrison had been on the train with her husband, Evelyn decides to go to Larry. Neither Evelyn nor John ever really go through with anything, but some damage has been done. Evelyn has written a few letters to Larry who decides to blackmail her. When they argue, Evelyn sees a gun in Larry's desk and grabs it- threatening Larry to return her letters. A shot rings out and Evelyn runs home. In the meantime, Larry's live-in girlfriend has returned and discovers John on the floor. The police arrest her and accuse her of murder. When Evelyn reads the paper that evening she finds out what has happened, and despite her feelings of guilt, she can't bring herself to tell her husband. Instead she insists that he defend the woman. But all the while, her guilt continues to fester, leading her to make a decision which may ruin her family.

Extras: Comedy short: Goofy Movies #3, classic cartoon: Discontented Canary and the theatrical trailer.

Evelyn Prentice demonstrates that MGM still didn't really see what they had in Powell and Loy. It would be a little while before the real impact of The Thin Man would show them what they could do. I really enjoyed Evelyn Prentice, and it's interesting how the film subtlety and deftly handles adult issues of adultery (or at least the appearance of adultery), blackmail and the complexities of adult relationships and dishonesty. But it dabbles too much into melodrama, rather than letting the story and Powell and Loy carry the honesty of emotions and the drama. The emotional weight and the propulsion of the sequence of events rest on Evelyn's shoulders, and thus Loy's performance. She does an admirable job, but it makes the film's center rest on her choices, rather than on anyone else, thus giving it a more uneven tone. To modern audiences it may seem dated, but for 1934 audiences it remained very dramatic and touching. Evelyn Prentice is a good film, but in this viewer's opinion, perhaps the weakest of the Loy/Powell canon. It was neat to see regular Powell and Loy supporting players Jessie Ralph and Edward Brophy in the cast. It's also a treat to see Rosalind Russell in her debut role.

Double Wedding
Co-Stars: Jessie Ralph, Florence Rice and John Beal.
Charlie Lodge (Powell) is a bohemian bon vivant living in a auto trailer next to a joint named "Spikes". Irene Agnew (Rice) and her fiancee of four years, Waldo (Beal), admire Charlie's carefree life and have developed a real friendship with him. The problem is that Irene's button-down sister, Margit (Loy) will have nothing of it. She's a successful business woman who has dictated everything in her sister's life, including who and when she marries. Margit approaches Charlie and requests that he stay away from Irene, but Charlie bristles at Margit's rigidity and at the same time is falling for her. Irene on the other hand, loves Charlie's "umph" and tries to get Waldo to get some "umph" by telling everyone she's in love with Charlie instead. While she hopes it will make Waldo jealous and show some life, he just calmly accepts it. Meanwhile the more Margit spends time with Charlie, the more she alternately is attracted to him and repulsed by how he lives. While she is confused, her business backer, Mrs. Kensington-Bly (who knows Charlie and is a bit of a "dame" herself) knows that Margit is in love. In order to bring the right parties together and get Margit to admit how she feels, he orchestrates a wedding event with Irene that he hopes will bring the right couples together. The wedding becomes one of wackiest things you've ever seen- a scene not to be missed!

Extras: Musical short: Dancing on the Ceiling, classic cartoon: The Hound and the Rabbit and the theatrical trailer .

William Powell and Myrna Loy take us on a wild raucous ride in this screwball comedy. This is exactly what we came for. This is one of my favorite non-Thin Man Powell and Loy films. It really allows for Powell to stretch his comedic talents and play someone who is generally the opposite of the usual urbane, erudite characters he ususally played. Even though Loy is the more unpleasant character in the story, she still manages to bring charm to the role, making her much more sympathetic. The final wedding scene is hilarious and several veteran vaudville comic, Edgar Kennedy and Bert Roach are wonderful as a couple gruffly hilarious denizens of Spike's. While this is a wonderful screwball comedy, it was filmed under some sad circumstances. William Powell's real life fiancee and Loy's good friend, actress Jean Harlow, died tragically and Powell went into mourning. Loy even stated at one time that she couldn't watch the film because it reminded her of that painfull time and the pain her good friend Powell suffered. Even though filming resumed sometime later, it is a testament to Powell's talent and professionalism that he was able to deliver such a delightful performance. Some critics pan the film, but I think it's a great flick and the last scene is such a big pay-off. I don't care what anyone says, Double Wedding is one of my favorites!

I Love You Again
Co-Stars: Frank McHugh, Edmund Lowe and Nella Walker
Straight laced, and community obsessed Larry Wilson recieves a blow to the head while saving a small time crook who had fallen overboard of their cruise ship. When he comes to, Larry Wilson realizes that he is really con man George Carey. Apparently. Carey has suffered a bout of amnesia for many years and had built a very boring and "square" life in a small town as Wilson. The crook whose life he saved is "Doc" Ryan, is grateful to him and offers to help Larry with whatever he wants to do. "Larry " discovers two things in short order: he is married to a beautiful woman, Kay who wants to divorce him- and that he possibly has access to quite a bit of money. Kay wants to divorce Larry, because he has seemingly abandoned her affections in favor of the acclaim of public service. Larry is smitten with her and decides to do everything he can to win her back,. even though he doesn't remember how he "got" her in the first place. In the meantime, Larry and Doc decide to pull a con to milk the town's residents of their cash. He continues to pretend to be Larry, even though Kay knows something is different. Eventually Larry's two most important goals, winning Kay and pulling the job will become impossible to reconcile.

Extras: Crime Doesn't Pay Series short: Jackpot, classic cartoon: Tom Turkey and His Harmonica Humdingers and the theatrical trailer.

I Love You Again is a very funny film; not quite as screwball as Double Wedding, but a wonderful romantic comedy. Powell seemed to excell at playing characters who had a little bit of the cad in them, but were still essentially good, smart, urbane and very charming and lovable. It can be a fine line sometimes that other actors can't really pull off, save perhaps Gable. The film has some really funny bits, including the scene where he has to lead the local scout troop on a hike - a scene that also features Our Gang vets Carl Switzer and Robert Blake. Frank McHugh is excellent and watching this film made me want to check out more of his films again. The interplay between McHugh and Powell is priceless and it's a wonder that the two never worked together again. You can catch McHugh in many a James Cagney film, but I recommend that you check him out in an underrated Humphrey Bogart comedy, All Through the Night.

Love Crazy
Co-Stars: Gail Patrick, Jack Carson, Florence Bates and Donald MacBride.
Married couple Steve and Susan Ireland (Powell and Loy, natch) are still very much in love four years later. They still re-enact their wedding night every anniversary. Things start to unravel on their fourth anniversary when Susan's mother (Bates) arrives. Things get further complicated when Steve runs into his old fiancee, Isobel (Patrick) in the elevator. Steve and Isobel talk about old times, and Susan's mother sees them assuming the worst. When she tells Susan, she intially trusts Steve, but later believes that he lied to her. When she files for divorce, Steve does his best to explain, but on the eve of their court date, discovers that the one thing he can do to delay the court proceedings is to pretend to have a nervous breakdown. Even though the court believes Steve's act, Susan isn't buying it. She pushes to have him go before a sanity hearing, thinking she's calling his bluff and they'll prove him sane. To her and Steve's surprise, the board think Steve is insane and have him committed. Somehow, Steve has got to prove he's not crazy and prove to Susan that he still loves her and they belong together.

Extras: Classic cartoon: The Alley Cat, Screen Directors Guild Playhouse radio adaptation of Love Crazy and the theatrical trailer .

Love Crazy is a Powell/ Loy fan favorite, and rightly so. It's a great ride and you can tell the two have this thing down pat. They are so much at ease with each other that it allows them both to shine. Powell particularly has a great deal of physical comedy in the film, and perhaps the best routine is when he dresses in drag, pretending to be his sister, to avoid the police. Loy is very funny in her charming way when she attempts to make Steve jealous, and later when she's trying to help Steve maintain his "disguise". Shelf favorite character actor, Donald MacBride, has a great turn as Isobel's gruff and childish husband, Pinky. You might remember him from dozens of films. My favorite is his bit as the hotel manager in the Marx Brothers' Room Service. Jumping Butterballs!

The transfers of the films are fantastic; crisp black and white and very clean. The audio was just as good. The only problem that I had were some jarring cuts in Evelyn Prentice, but that may be more because of the print that WHV used. I'm not entirely sure, and hopefully some knowledgable Shelfer will be able to let me know, but I believe a few scenes are missing from the film, that I saw in the trailer. It's not uncommon for scenes in the trailer to be cut from the final print before it hits the theater. However the scenes seem so instrumental to the story of Evelyn Prentice that it seems funny that they would be cut.

The Bottom Line:
Fans- this is the one you've been waiting for. Classic film fans who aren't familiar with these films will be pleasantly surprised, and for those who aren't familiar with Powell or Loy altogether- you are in for a treat. I had some very minor issues here and there, but I love the work of these actors so much, it's hard to know if they were all that minor, or if I'm overlooking some things. However, I still found so much of what made me love The Thin Man in these films, and that really demonstrated to me that the films rise way above any weaknesses. The extras weren't fantastic, but they were enjoyable nonetheless. The do feel more like filler here than the features in WHV previous sets. I realize that the Thin Man set had the extra disc with the bio-docs of the stars, but I would've enjoyed a commentary or two of these fan favorite actors and films. Despite this, my minor griping, TCM and WHV hit this one out of the park, and I would not be surprised if this is another bestseller for them.

Review Rating:
Individually grading the films, they would earn the following:
Manhattan Melodrama: A-
Evelyn Prentice: B+
Double Wedding : A+
I Love You Again: A+
Love Crazy : A+

Overall rating: 5 stars (Groucho Glasses)

Obviously, this is the first 5 groucho glasses rating that I've given. It's no wonder- to me this is a set that I'll watch again and again; just like my Thin Man DVDs. The TCM Spotlight Collection line is shaping up to be a fantastic series. I hope TCM and WHV continue this line. The best way to ensure that is to take a lesson from when The Thin Man set was released: buy it. Go out and buy it and encourage your friends to buy it. They'll love the films- you'll love the films, and our numbers will encourage even more great classic films to emerge from the vault.
The Myrna Loy and William Powell Collection is a Shelf Classic!

Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

I often wished I could turn your head - on a spit, over a slow fire.


Stacy said...

This sounds great! I've been looking forward to this for a while and i am definitely getting this set! Best Buy says they have a few so I am headed there and then tonight a double feature of two of my favorite Myrna and Bill movies: Double Wedding and Love Crazy! There is joy in Mudville tonight!

pam said...

I've also been looking forward to this for a long time. Now if they will just release The Senator Was Indiscreet, we'll have all of the Powell and Loy movies. Yes- I know Myrna Loy just had a cameo in that film, but William Powell is hilarious in it. They should still release it on DVD.

Laura said...

My set arrived in the mail earlier this week -- looking forward to it! Thanks for the great write-up.

Best wishes,


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