Friday, September 26, 2008

dvd review: busby berkeley collection, vol. 2

Politics got you down? Economic woes staring you right in the old eyeball? Tired of the same old, same old? I know. It's tough out there. I don't have much to offer in the way of a solution, but I have plenty to offer in the way of distraction! Take a break from election year politics and tired arguments and read a review of a DVD release of classic films. Now I know I have a set here somewhere... let's see...hmmm.... Ah ha- perfect. It's the recent DVD set from Warner Brothers: The Busby Berkeley Collection, Vol. 2. Yep, musical numbers, dancing girls, comedy, romance- it's all here. So let's take a look shall we? Check out The Shelf's review of The Busby Berkeley Collection, Vol. 2

The Hard Facts:
The Busby Berkeley Collection, Vol. 2
4 Discs in 5 keepcases
Studio: Warner Brothers
Black and White/Color (some extra features)
Full Screen
Original Studio: Warners
Release Date: 9/16/2008
Rated: NR
Stars: Dick Powell, Rosemary Lane, Ted Healy, Joan Blondell and others Directors: Busby Berkeley

Many of us are scratching our heads, worried about the financial crisis, and not quite sure what it is we are exactly worried about. I think many Americans are trying to work, pay their bills, keep their own expenses down, as much as possible with gas and groceries in the Rockefeller range. I think most people are paying attention, not completely sure what's going on, sure we are never going to get the whole story, and at the same time, eager for some "downtime" to try and get our heads clear and our spirits up again. Any wonder why radio and film was so popular during the 30s and the WWII years of the 40s. Ever wonder why people in the midst of the depression want to see gangsters, or lavish musicals or screwball comedies? Why would someone not sure about their financial future want to watch a film that shows lots of glittering ladies dancing in tempo, with a backdrop of glamour, glitz and wealth? Escapism. Pure escapism.
That's something that the musical films of Busby Berkely offered- in spades. They may have been light on plot and structure- but that wasn't really the point. Almost an ancestor of the variety shows of the golden television era, the films offered a bedazzling spectacle of glitz and glamour and showstopping numbers.

The Films:
Gold Diggers of 1937:
Dick Powell is an insurance agent who isn't exactly the "top man" at the agency. Things seem to pick up when he meets, and falls in love with, showgirl Joan Blondell. He's got a girl, who becomes his secretary, then he soon gets a million dollar client played by Victor Moore, who doesn't seem long for this world. Somehow the agent, the girl, the show and the money all get together admist big numbers like : With Plenty of Money and You, Speaking of the Weather and All's Fair in Love and War. The patter is fun, and Dick Powell and Joan Blondell are always a plus in any film, but the numbers are uneven. It seems for every great one (With Plenty of Money and You) there is one that kind of falls short (All's Fair). It's an Ok film, but the series is beginning to wear thin with this one.
Extras include: Two clips from the lost film Gold Diggers of Broadway (filmed in two strip color process), two cartoons based on two of the numbers for the film, trailers and the 1997 documentary Busby Berkeley: Going Through the Roof.

Gold Diggers in Paris:
The swan song of the Gold Diggers series, this time the girls and the numbers are in the city of lights. The Club Balle is mistaken for the American Ballet Company by a frenchman, Maurice Giraud (Hugh Herbert), looking to book the important company to dance at the Paris Exposition. The girls and guys of Club Balle aren't ones to look a gift horse in the mouth, and proceed to turn Paris on it's ear with great numbers. Unfortunately the real American Ballet Company has found out the mistake and are fast on their heels to make sure they are the featured performance. Featuring great vocals by Rudy Vallee and the lovely Rosemary Lane, Gold Diggers in Paris is fun, but perhaps the weakest of the series in terms of plot and interest.
Extras include: two Broadway Brevities musical shorts, the classic cartoon Love and Curses and the theatrical trailer.

Varsity Show:
Dick Powell returns, this time as a Broadway impresario Chuck Daly whose is roped into helping the kids at his Alma Matter, Winfield College, put on a show. Their theater director wants nothing to do with high kicks or hijinks, but instead would rather put on a straight-forward, serious piece. Thinking Daly is the ultimate big shot, the kids offer him what they think is a paltry sum. But Daly has fallen on hard times and agrees to do the show. It sounds easy at first, but the faculty at the school aren't amused by Daly, and things get complicated when Daly falls for Babs Steward (Rosemary lane). This film is the debut of the Lane sisters, Rosemary and Priscilla, and their vocals and talents are a welcome treat. Powell is fun as always and Ted Healy and Sterling Holloway bring the comedy. An agreeable diversion, Varsity Show is fun and packed with musical numbers that you will enjoy.
Extras Include: Musical short Flowers from the Sky,an Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy comedy short A Neckin' Party, WB classic cartoon Have You Got Any Castles and the theatrical trailer .

Hollywood Hotel:
Erstewhile Berkeley leading man, Dick Powell is back and this time he's radio and Big Band saxaphone player and crooner, Ronnie Bowers. He gets his big chance at Hollywood Stardom when he wins a short term contract. But Hollywood isn't all it's cracked up to be and about the only screen time he gets is to escort spoiled star Mona Marshall (other Lane sister, Lola). Mona is pouting and refusing to go to her premeire, so the studio panics and sets up a look-a-like to go with Bowers, who is unaware of the switch. While the pretend Mona is played by waitress Virginia Stanton (Rosemary Lane), Bowers falls in love with someone who is nothing like Marshall- that is down to earth, kind and lovable. When Marshall discovers the subterfuge, she has Bowers fired and Ronnie is reduced to sling sodas at a car hop. When he discovers the case of mistaken identity, Bowers realizes the girl he wants is really Virginia and the two come together and find a way to get Ronnie another chance at stardom. The title is taken from Louella Parson's famous radio show of the era, and she appears as herself in the film.
I truly enjoyed this film, and consider it the best of the set. It's a lot of fun, and it definitely skewers Hollywood a bit and has some really great numbers in it. Ted Healy is back, along with Hugh Herbert, Edgar Kennedy, the always lovely and talented Frances Langford, Glenda Farrell and Benny Goodman and his Orchestra. The highlight of the film for me is a great number that Berkeley cleverly choreographed at a car hop, Let That Be a Lesson To You. Other great numbers: I'm Like a Fish Out of Water, I've Hitched My Wagon to a Star, and of course Hooray for Hollywood.
Extras Include: Technicolor historical short The Romance of Robert Burns, an Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy comedy short Double Talk, WB classic cartoon, Porky's Five & Ten and the theatrical trailer.

Lovely and crisp Black and White video is found on all discs and the audio is great. It's important for films that heavily favor musical numbers and, in particular, the lavish big numbers that Berkeley was known for.

The Bottom Line:
While these aren't the quintessential classic films, or even musical films, by any means, they are enjoyable entertainment- which is what was intended. Berkeley is famous for lavish numbers featuring scads of girls, but films like Hollywood Hotel show his innovative and whimsical side. If you are new to Berkeley- you really want to get Vol.1 where the best of Busby's musical films are. Still if you are a fan and like classic Hollywood, you wont' go wrong here. Again, while the Gold Digger films are somewhat lackluster in this set, you will enjoy Varsity Show, and you really want to check out Hollywood Hotel.

Review Rating:
Individually rating the films and the features, the The Busby Berkeley Collection Vol. 2 would earn the following:
Gold Diggers of 1937: C+
Gold Diggers of Paris: C+
Varsity Show: B+
Hollywood Hotel: A
Bonus Features: A

Overall Rating:
We give The Busby Berkeley Collection Vol. 2: 3 1/2 stars (Groucho glasses). It's a good buy for the Classic film fan, or anyone who loves Busby Berkeley. For those new to the director, or even his style, might want to start with the stronger films in the series in The Busby Berkeley Collection Vol. 1

Stay tuned- more reviews and stuff on the way!

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.

Hooray for Hollywood!


Stacy said...

Well, I've got Vol. 1 - so I have to pick up Vol 2. I am glad and excited to see they included Hollywood Hotel! I hadn't seen it in years!

Pdf Editor said...

I think that all the old movies are great. They have this interesting and unique atmosphere of glamour and I just can't resists. Anyway thanks a bunch for this post, it was very interesting to read it!


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