Friday, July 27, 2007

"a husband is what's left of a sweetheart after the nerve has been killed."

Just wanted to stick my head in here real quick to suggest a movie. The line above comes from a great movie called "One Night in the Tropics". It was largely an Allan Jones/Nancy Kelly vehicle , but it survives today on DVD because it was the first big screen outing for the team of Abbott and Costello. It's available in The Best of Abbott and Costello Vol. 1. If you watch it hoping to see a standard A & C movie then you will be not get what you came for. The movie has some great scenes with the pair which include one liners like the above title as well as the first silver screen rendition of 'Who's on first?". Notwithstanding, they are merely co-stars in this film. Allan Jones had always been "the guy in a couple of Marx Bros. films to me until I watched this. Mr. Jones holds his own here and I was left wanting to find more of his films.

In "One Night in the Tropics", Jones plays an insurance salesman who has a skeptical view of love and sells his friend Steve (Robert Cummings) love insurance. If his friend's impending marriage to Cynthia (Nancy Kelly) goes off without a hitch, then all is well. If they don't say "I do." then Jim (Allan Jones) has to pay out a large sum. Jim gets a local night club owner/tough guy (William Frawley of 'I Love Lucy' fame) to back the policy and all is set. On his way to this 'sure thing', an old flame of Steve's enters the picture and throws a kink in the plans. Jim figures to solve this by escorting the happy couple to San Marcos, South America for a getaway before the wedding. Abbott and Costello are sent as well to make sure everything goes according to plan as they are employed by the night club owner. Those two in the roles of bumbling and good hearted tough guys was wonderful. Somehow Steve's old flame appears and causes more trouble, until Jim begins to fall in love with Cynthia which brings the real trouble.

It's a great comedy directed by A. Edward Sutherland who directed another great comedy team in 'The Flying Deuces'. Along the way, Jones sings a few songs which really get me curious about soundtrack possibilities (Sallie, if you're reading this you can consider this a request). Robert Cummings is very entertaining as the confused, accident prone friend to Jones' smooth, singing, unintentional ladies man. It's a shame that it goes largely unnoticed by film fans and hopefully more will discover it. I watched this again recently and remembered how truly enjoyable it is. Take my advice and do what you can to check out this great film. You'll thank me for it.

In America you can go on the air and kid the politicians, and the politicians can go on the air and kid the people.

Please feel free to comment if the need strikes you.

“Abbott: Put that out. There's no smoking in here.
Costello: What makes you think I'm smokin'?
Abbott: You've got a cigar in your mouth!
Costello: I've got shoes on... don't mean I'm walkin'. ”

Thursday, July 26, 2007

dvd news you can use

Shelfers, let me shout it from the rooftops! It's a great day for film fans! Let me hear you say Amen! Today we have some great DVD news from Warner Brothers and Fox!

Warner Brothers
(Hat tip to Warner Home Video and DVD Times for pix and info)
Barbara Stanwyck: Signature Collection
Street Date: October 30th, 2007 (not yet available for pre-order)
First let me just admit how ashamed I am that I neglected Barbara's 100th birthday last week. But never fear, the fabulous Siren at the Self-Styled Siren didn't forget Babs and posted a great article and her own list of favorite Barbara performance. It's a great article, so don't miss it.
Our good friend Laura scooped the low down on the new Barbara Stanwyck Signature collection yesterday- please visit her site for her great article. Meanwhile Laura is gradually coming to enjoy more of Bab's earlier work -- come over to the dark side, Laura! Yes! Feel the power of the dark side! * Ahem* Excuse me, now where were we? Oh yes, Barbara!
The films included in this set are : Annie Oakley, East Side, West Side, Executive Suite, My Reputation, To Please A Lady and Jeopardy. The extras will include a couple of commentaries, many shorts and cartoons and several radio adaptations of the films. This was rumored to be a 100th Anniversary set, similar to the Katharine Hepburn set, but instead it will be part of the signature collection series. By the way I like the new look of the signature series, one that started with this year's Errol Flynn Vol. 2. Visit DVD Times for more info.

Burt Lancaster: Signature Collection
Street Date: October 30th, 2007 (not yet available for pre-order)
I am not the world's biggest Burt Lancaster fan. I don't like some of his films, and I know this will get me tarred and feathered by some Shelfers, who I know love ol' Burt. But none of this is to say that I don't like all of his films. Some I do like very much (Vera Cruz, for example- or his performance in Field of Dreams), and there are some films that I haven't seen. With that in mind, it's good news that WHV is releasing this new Lancaster collection in October.
Titles include: Executive Action, The Flame and Arrow, His Majesty O’Keefe, South Sea Woman and Jim Thorpe - All American. Extras will include the usual bevy of shorts, cartoons and trailers. I am particularly interested to see the Jim Thorpe film- it's a title many film fans have requested. I am also interested to see The Flame and the Arrow, a lighthearted swashbuckler film also starring Virginia Mayo. Visit DVD Times for more info.

Blade Runner

Street Date: December 18th, 2007 (not yet available for pre-order)
Now, if you listened to Geekerati last week (and you really should have been listening- but don't fear- there are archives), you would know how much the panel was looking forward to the Blade Runner release info that was coming from WHV at Comic-Con in San Diego. Well, we've got the lowdown from WHV, and you didn't have to fly to San Diego to get it!
Shelfers know how much I love Sir Ridley Scott's work (he is one of my favorite modern directors) and he has been working to create the ultimate release of his iconic film on DVD. Blade Runner was a great film and a very important film in the modern Sci-Fi era. It brought a new edge to the science fiction genre. The 1982 film starred Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Daryl Hannah, Edward James Olmos and Sean Young, and was based on author Philip K. Dick's work, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? This new "Final Cut" version of the film will incorporate the best features and is the result of a dedication to bring the best version to DVD.

Scott himself said of the DVD: "The Final Cut is the product of a process that began in early 2000 and continued off and on through seven years of intense research and meticulous restoration, technical challenges, amazing discoveries and new possibilities. I can now wholeheartedly say that Blade Runner: The Final Cut is my definitive director's cut of the film."
There will be three versions:
A two disc Special Edition
A four disc Collector's Edition
A five disc Ultimate Collector's Edition
The two disc SE will include the Final cut version of the film plus Dangerous Days - a brand new, three-and-a-half-hour documentary, the definative look at the film, its influence and legacy. The four disc CE will include the SE discs plus 2 more discs that will feature several other versions of the film: the Theatrical Cut, the international version and the 1992 Director's cut. Also, the fourth disc will feature the Enhancement Archive, a lengthy set of special features including: featurettes that go in depth into the making of the film, promos, interviews, features on author Philip K. Dick, interviews with the author, deleted & alternate scenes, concept artwork and much more. For anyone that has the other Director's Cut or Extended Versions of Scott's films- you know that the features on these editions are informative, authoritative and extensive. The five disc UCE will include everything from the CE plus a bonus fifth disc with the rare and rarely seen workprint version of the film. It will also be packaged in a interesting way: an individually numbered limited edition replica of Rick Deckard's briefcase. It will also include: a lenticular motion film clip from the original feature, miniature origami unicorn figurine, miniature replica spinner car, collector's photographs and a signed personal letter from Sir Ridley Scott. Wow! If you can't find anything to love about these Blade Runner choices coming in December, then you aren't looking hard enough.

There are several titles forthcoming from Fox that I am excited to see. First up:
The Day the Earth Stood Still Special Edition. This 1951 classic by director Robert Wise is an inconic film that has been previously released, with a good commentary track and documentary. A new special edition is welcome news. Special features are unknown at this time, but with Fox's recent track record they should be excellent.
Also coming soon are some other special editions:
An Affair to Remember 50th Anniversary Edition
The Robe Special Edition
The Lodger

Also coming soon are some more musicals: With a Song in My Heart, Bloodhounds of Broadway, and The Girl Next Door.
Film Noir titles coming soon: Daisy Kenyon, Dangerous Crossing and Black Widow. Also it appears Boomerang! is back on track for wide release. That's good news. I was afraid that the Fox Film Noir series was off track for a while, but it looks like the train is still running.
One other item mention as coming soon at Fox is a box set: Ford at Fox. No titles have been mentioned yet. Could we see Tobacco Road, Submarine Patrol or The Prisoner of Shark Island? As always, when we know, we'll pass it on to you.

Also from MGM a box set due October 16, 2007: The MGM Holiday Classics Collection. The set includes: The Bishop's Wife, March of the Wooden Soldiers, and Pocketful of Miracles. Hopefully The Bishop's Wife will be remastered or at least transferred from a different print.

That's quite a bit of new for today. Stay tuned for more info and reviews as we get them. Coming soon will be this week's roundup, another review and a great article from Wolf. Same Shelf time, same Shelf channel.

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'm a tough old broad from Brooklyn. I intend to go on acting until I'm ninety and they won't need to paste my face with make-up.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

dvd review: classic musicals, vol. 2

I was a theater kid for many years. And as such, I was in several musicals, none of which were my favorites. I never got a chance to play in any of my favorite musicals growing up, but instead often had roles in dramas and comedies. But musicals were the thing to me, the type of play I wanted to really be in. The funny thing was that I only had a passable voice (which would have worked in some shows) and about zero dancing ability. So trust me when I tell you that my move from the stage to other things is no great loss to anyone. And as any other former "theater kid" will tell you, that longing to be on stage never really leaves you, and that never feels stronger than when you see musicals.

Last year, Warner Home Video released a box set of MGM musicals entitled, Classic Musicals from the Dream Factory. The films included in the set are true classics and belong on the shelf of any musical or classic film fan. In truth, there have been many musicals released on DVD in the last 10 years; the quality of the DVD and /or musical often depending on the film and company. There should be a great many classic musicals in your film collection, and while it may seem a lot, there are still many unreleased or released only on a poor quality print that could use a makeover. This week, WHV releases volume II of their Classic Musicals line and included are a set of films that are either making their debut on DVD or are finally receiving a quality release. Should you go out and purchase the set for your collection? Is it worth your hard earned dollars? Is the set a Shelf Classic? Find out in the Shelf's review of Classic Musicals from the Dream Factory, Volume II.

The Hard Facts:
Classic Musicals from the Dream Factory, Vol. II
Seven Discs in five slimline cases
Studio: Warner Home Video
Color (Technicolor)
Original Studio: MGM
Release Date: June 24, 2007
Rated: NR for All Films
Stars: Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, Gene Kelley, Mario Lanza, Kathryn Grayson, June Powell, Vera-Ellen.

MGM studios has often been called "the dream factory", and with good reason. Studio Chief, Louis B. Meyer invested in stars and people who could create dreams on celluloid. Ray Bolger sums it up when he states in the documentary, That's Dancing, "MGM had assembled more creative musical artist at its studio than any where else at any other time. The top musical directors, producers, writers, composers, choreographers, conductors, arrangers, designers...the list was endless. You could dive into that pool of talent and never hit bottom." The best. MGM certainly was the studio to look to for great musicals in their golden age in the 40s and 50s. With an array of acting, directing, and musical and dancing talent and an astonishingly strong producing arm, MGM poured out the musicals into the theaters as if they were made of liquid gold. While things were tough and often hard wrought behind the scenes, audiences saw an effortless dream world on the screen. Careers were made and revived, stars were discovered and reborn through MGM musicals. Perhaps the greatest asset that MGM had during that time was the willingness to innovate and invest, but also the ability to strategically cut corners when necessary.

But even with all of this, MGM was a studio, and a large part of the studio system. It can be debated as to whether or not the demise of the studio system was ultimately for the best; many believe it was. But the golden age of the musicals was on the wane and ultimately ended when the studio system ended. Some stars have complained about the controlling manner of Louis B. Meyer, while others left MGM when Meyer left; especially when they discovered that Dore Schary was not the type of guiding figure to which they had become accustomed. Some things are gained, but some things were also lost. Fortunately we have preserved on film, many great performances. As we saw with last weeks review of the Esther Williams set, MGM did a variety of musical films: the aqua musical, the operetta, the "let's put on a show" variety, the biopic, the Broadway show, and so on. So, even with all the musicals out on DVD, there are still more to discover and rediscover.

The Films:
The seven films included in this set are Royal Wedding, The Belle of New York, The Pirate, Words and Music, That Midnight Kiss, The Toast of New Orleans, and the 1985 documentary, That's Dancing! We'll look at some in brief and discuss others at length and list the extras included on each disc. The films are on separate discs in slimline cases, and both Mario Lanza films and Fred Astaire Films are in two sided "Double Feature" slimline cases.

Royal Wedding
Stars: Fred Astaire, Jane Powell, Peter Lawford, Keenan Wynn and Sarah Churchill.
Director: Stanley Donen

Made in 1951, Royal Wedding takes many of it's plot points from Fred Astaire's real life, in which he had a successful act with his sister who also married a member of British royalty. Brother and sister dance team, Tom and Ellen Bowen (Fred Astaire and Jane Powell) have taken New York by storm , and have been asked to bring their hit show to London. Their agent, Irving Klinger, has everything set and his brother Edgar (Kennan Wynn in a dual role) looks after Tom and Ellen while in London. Tom is a confirmed bachelor, a result of having been jilted by a fiance. Ellen has no problem finding boyfriends, but all of them (and several at a time) are of the "not so serious" variety. On the way to London, Ellen meets a someone of a similar temperament, John Brindale (Peter Lawford). Ellen is soon falling in love, but somethings are fairly complicated- John is an English Lord, and Ellen is also concerned about what would happen to her brother and the act. Once in London, Tom and Ellen begin working on the show in earnest, while John and Ellen are earnestly pursuing their romance. While it seems Tom is left holding the bag, he meets a girl auditioning for their show, Anne Ashmond (Sarah Churchill). It isn't long before all four are falling in love and singing and dancing their way through the show and through romance, all set against the background of the Royal Wedding of the soon to be Queen of England.

This is a great Fred Astaire musical, and I'm not afraid to say, one of my favorites (it's one of Wolf's favorites also). The film includes some of Fred's most iconic work: the spinning room solo dance number, the hat rack dance number and the vaudeville number. Jane Powell is stunning and at her perky best. Her voice is fantastic and the film really gives her a chance to show her many talents. Perhaps one of my favorite numbers is the vaudeville number, "How Could You Believe Me When I Said I Love You, When You Know I've Been a Liar All My Life?" (The longest song title on record as of filming). And this is as close as you'll get to a special edition, folks. It's not just eye-poppingly beautiful, but it includes outtakes, radio interviews and background documentaries. I wouldn't be surprised if Warner's repackages this as a solo special edition disc somewhere down the line. This is the centerpiece of the set as far as I'm concerned, and many have looked forward to a great edition of this classic musical. For years Royal Wedding has languished in public domain hell, showing up on cheap discs with terrible prints. The difference is outstanding. The new print is nothing short of beautiful. Some have initially thought of this as a lightweight, but over the years it has come in for a re-assessment. I think it's a great film which features Fred and Jane at their best. Jane Powell could smile the apples right off the tree. As of this writing, I've watched this disc at least three time and am watching for the fourth while I'm typing. It's just great.

Extras: The extras are also great. It includes the episode of TCM's Private Screenings with Stanley Donen (which we reviewed here). Also included is a "making of" documentary, theatrical trailer, song outtake, radio interview with Jane Powell and Fred Astaire, and a classic MGM cartoons, Car of Tomorrow and Droopy's Double Trouble.

The Belle of New York:
Stars: Fred Astaire, Vera-Ellen, Marjorie Main and Keenan Wynn
Director: Charles Walters

Made the year following Royal Wedding, The Belle of New York is a more simple romantic musical of a rich bon vivant, Charlie Hill (Astaire again), who always seems to fall in love just as fast as he bores of it. His aunt, Mrs. Phineas Hill(Main), holds Charlie's purse strings and wants him to reform. Mrs. Hill also works with a local reform group the Daughters of Right (similar to the Salvation Army). In this group is also a young serious minded woman, Angela Bonfils, who also happens to be very beautiful and much admired. When Charlie happens to meet Angela, he is smitten and literally dances on air. Will Charlie be able to reform and convince Angela to marry him?

This was a very enjoyable musical, but is a bit more lightweight when compared to Astaire's previous work. It all seems a bit formulaic, but is fun nonetheless. There are some memorable numbers, but Vera-Ellen's considerable talents are vastly underused. She should have had some more dancing numbers at least. Fred plays a character that is a bit of a unsavory wolf in the beginning, which is something audiences weren't used to seeing in 1952 (or today).

Extras: Includes Musiquiz, a 1952 MGM Pete Smith short, the 1952 MGM Tex Avery cartoon:Magical Maestro, the unused alternate take of I Wanna Be a Dancin' Man, and the theatrical trailer

The Pirate
Stars: Gene Kelly, Judy Garland, Gladys Cooper and Walter Slezak
Director: Vincente Minnelli

In the 18th century Caribbean, Manuela (Garland)is a young orphaned women about to be betrothed to the local mayor, Don Pedro Vargas (Slezak) by her aunt (Cooper). Even though Manuela is promised to another, she dreams of being swept off her feet by the legendary pirate Macoco. Mauela, full of romantic dreams, longs to see the sea, and she and her aunt travel to the port city to see her gown off the boat. While there she runs into travelling performer, Serafin. He falls for her, and once he discovers her secret passion for the pirate, Serafin pretends to be Serafin. This sets into motion a series of events that will provide comic problems, the revelation of true identities and ultimately, romance.

This is a musical that is both controversial and historic. The Cole Porter score is excellent, but it gives us the first appearance of the standard, Be A Clown. This is also the film that gave producers and others their first glimpse at Judy's true problems and meltdowns. She was often late for rehearsal and sometimes had to piece filmed sequences together in order to get a complete performance. Audiences didn't appreciate the film at first, and even though it did fairly well, Minnelli's budget still ended up being over. However, it's reputation has grown over the years and it has gained a larger audience. Included is an excellent making of documentary that really gets into the nooks and crannies of The Pirate.

Extras: Include Commentary by historian John Fricke, a new making-of featurette, a Pete Smith comedy short: You Can't Win, classic Tom and Jerry cartoon: Cat Fishing, "Mack the Black" stereo remix version, song outtakes, Roger Edens guide track versions, promotional radio interviews with Gene Kelly and Judy Garland and the theatrical trailer.

Words and Music:
Stars: Mickey Rooney, Tom Drake, and a bevy of MGM stars
Director: Norman Taurog

This 1948 musical biopic is the highly fictionalized account of the teaming of of real life songwriting duo Lorenz Hart (Rooney) and Richard Rogers (Drake). It is a loose telling of their story, structured around performances of their songs by a constellation of MGM stars.

The film is good viewing for the musical numbers, but not necessarily for the story. One of the more notable numbers is Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland reprising some of the Rogers and Hart numbers from their films. It's notable for the fact that it is the last big screen performance of Rooney and Garland. A lot of great numbers, but considering Rogers and Harts considerable contribution to America's songbook, a better film is deserved. In the interesting documentary about the reality behind their story, the commentator notes that Hollywood could not have really told the truth about Lorenz Hart's troubles and death at a young age. So the documentary and others about the duo are the next best thing to really understand the tragic story of a very gifted man.

Extras: Commentary by historian Richard Barrios focusing on Rodgers and Hart, a new featurette: A Life in Words and Music, the Theatre of Life 1948: Going to Blazes!, classic Tex Avery cartoon: The Cat That Hated People, Outtakes of the numbers: Lover, You're Nearer, Falling in Love with Love, I Feel at Home with You, Manhattan, My Funny Valentine, My Heart Stood Still, On Your Toes and Way Out West on West End Avenue, and the theatrical trailer.

That Midnight Kiss/ The Toast of New Orleans
Stars: Katherine Grayson and Mario Lanza
Director: Norman Taurog (both films)

That Midnight Kiss and The Toast of New Orleans both are about a young undiscovered, yet very talented singer played by Mario Lanza. He is partnered with a more experienced singer played by Kathryn Grayson. The professional and personal relationship between the two grows, but not with out ups and downs.

That Midnight Kiss was singing sensation Mario Lanza's debut film, with The Toast of New Orleans coming right after. I never knew much about Mario Lanza, so both of these films were a bit of a hidden gem. Lanza fans have probably committed both films to memory, and with good reason: Mario has a fantastic voice and his singing performances are hypnotizing. While the stories were on the formula side and the acting somewhat stiff at times, the music was incredible. I preferred The Toast of New Orleans to the former, because Lanza seems to be more at ease and because of J. Carroll Nash's hilarious performance as Mario's uncle. Don't miss the new documentary on Mario Lanza's short tragic life and career. It was an excellent portrait of a talented man and a sad life.

Extras: The extras on That Midnight Kiss: Pete Smith Short: Sports Oddities, classic cartoon: Senor Droopy, theatrical trailer and outtake of One Love of Mine. The Toast of New Orleans extras: Fitzpatrick Traveltalk Shorts, Modern New Orleans and Old New Orleans, theatrical trailer and the new documentary profile of Lanza: Mario Lanza- Singing to the Gods.

That's Dancing!
Stars: Gene Kelly, Sammy Davis, Jr., Ray Bolger and a host of stars.
Director: Jack Haley, Jr.

This is the 1985 feature length documentary that was made in the vein of the highly successful, That's Entertainment, but focusing primarily on dancing.

It's an interesting look at dancing on film, and the particular sequence with Ray Bolger was particularly enjoyable. Re-watchablity is fairly low on this film. It feels dated and, as the producers themselves admit, it overlooks quite a few dancers, movies and stars.

Extras: Theatrical trailer, introduction by Gene Kelly and Jack Haley Jr. and a series of making of featurettes.

The Video is fantastic and the audio is superb. When comparing the old prints of Royal Wedding to the new print, the difference is plain to see: sharper image, cleaner and clearer picture and vivid colors. Just see for yourself in the two images below, the first from the public domain print and the second from the new.

If you'll look at just the color of the costumes, you can see the difference. It's even more apparent onscreen. The video and audio used for the prints are striking in vivd color and detail. Especially in Royal Wedding, during the "I Left my Hat in Haiti" number, which has lots of rich and vibrant colors.

The Bottom Line:
There are some great musicals in the set making it a no-brainer for musical fans. Classic film fans will also find much to be pleased with in the set, especially with a great amount of behind the scenes and making of documentaries. You may think that studios are starting to scrape the bottom of the barrel, but there are many film musicals to yet get their due on DVD. And there are still more great or just plain entertaining musicals I'd love to see: I Dood It (Red Skelton), Two Girls and A Sailor, Million Dollar Mermaid (Esther Williams) Yolanda and the Thief (Fred Astaire), Grounds for Marriage and It Happened in Brooklyn (Kathryn Grayson) and the list goes on. I'm sure many of you have your own lists.

Royal Wedding is an absolute must in this set and most of the other films are very entertaining and rewatchable (except for That's Dancing and perhaps Words and Music unless you skip to the music). And the musical numbers are first rate. And I can't say enough about the vibrant prints and crisp audio tracks. Musical fans should consider this set a priority when making their DVD purchases.

Review Rating:
Individually grading the films, they would earn the following:
Royal Wedding: A+
The Belle of New York: B
The Pirate : B
The Toast of New Orleans: B+
That Midnight Kiss: B
Words and Music: C
That's Dancing: C
Overall rating: 4 stars (Groucho Glasses)

Royal Wedding is most definately a SHELF CLASSIC. The rest of the films are great, and a few, like The Toast of New Orleans and The Pirate, are must haves. That combined with some great extras, especially the documentaries and the biographical film on Mario Lanza make for a strong set in this line. One hopes that Volume III will be forthcoming next year with even more great musicals that haven't yet been released on DVD. Classic Musicals from the Dream Factory, Vol. II is a Must Have set.

Thursday Update!
If you love these films then you'll want to visit our friend Sallie at The Vintage Place who has posted about music from The Pirate and Royal Wedding in conjuction with this review! And tell her Loophole sent ya'!

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.

Didn't your mother never teach you no manners?
I never had no mother. We was too poor.!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

pardon me for butting in.....

Most of you are here to check out the wonderful review of the Esther Williams DVD collection posted by the ever-so-eloquent J.C. Loophole. Don't let me stop you, but allow me to butt-in for a moment. In case you haven't noticed, we've added a new link to the blogroll. Sippican Cottage is a great page who's author reflects on life, memories and humor. It's become a daily read for me. The old time pictures he places at the head of his posts is what lured me there and his magnificent writing is what keeps me coming back. When you're finished reading this little blurb, scroll down and look to the right for the link. Next, click on it and check out the cartoon he posted today as "Saturday Morning Funnies". It's a classic Merry Melodies short and it has set my meter for 'Good Mood' this morning. Join us in supporting this wonderful site. Enjoy.

In America you can go on the air and kid the politicians, and the politicians can go on the air and kid the people.

Please feel free to comment if the need strikes you.

“Once I'm in a good mood I don't need anything to make me enjoy myself. I'm a nutter, naturally, by itself. I can be the life and soul.”

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

dvd review: esther williams collection, vol.1

When I was a kid I always heard about Esther Williams and Ethel Merman. I'm pretty sure I saw a musical aqua number on television once or twice. Two different names, two different people, right? Well, not in my addled kid-ville brain. I thought they were one and the same...perhaps because Merman reminded me of mermaid, which reminded me of water... and so on. Later on, of course, I learned the difference, but still lingering is the mental/verbal name switch-up. I've got Esther down, but occasionally Merman will sneak in. No disrespect to either lady.

Now, I've had a chance to make a life long correction to this problem that I've had and see so much more of Esther Williams' work. It's been a great opportunity to see some fun, entertaining films, and gain a new respect for the beauty, the talent, the dedication, and the sheer athleticism of a charming lady. How, you might ask? Well, by reviewing the subject of the new TCM Spotlight Collection that comes out today. But we know what you are asking: How was it? Is it worth my hard earned cash? Is it a Shelf Classic, or should I even bother? Find out in today's Shelf DVD review of The Esther Williams Collection, Volume 1.

The Hard Facts:
TCM Spotlight: The Esther Williams Collection, Vol.1
Five Discs in a digi-pak folding case
Studio: Warner Home Video
Color (Technicolor)
Original Studio: MGM
Release Date: June 19, 2007
Rated: NR for All Films
Star: Esther Williams

Let me start this review by giving a piece of viewing advice that I don't normally give. Take out Disc 1 and watch the episode of TCM: Private Screenings located in the Special Features section. It's a great interview of Esther Williams by Robert Osborne. It's an excellent introduction to Esther Williams and these films, especially for someone not familiar with her work. I found her to be very charming, affable and honest and down to earth about her career.

Esther started out as a young swimming champion who had her sights on the Olympics. World War II broke out and US competitors were unable to go to the Olympics, and Esther's life changed. Her plans then changed. She decided the best thing she could do would be to find stable employment; which she did at a department store. Some time later she got a call from a representative helping put together a water show on behalf of showman Billy Rose. It was her performance in that show which caught the eye of MGM. They approached her about signing a contract with MGM to appear in their newest film concept: Aqua-musicals. Esther actually turned them down. Several times. It wasn't until MGM convinced her that this was no fly by night offer, and that this was completely different from the variety of problems she encountered on the Billy Rose roadshow.

Esther premiered in an Andy Hardy movie: Andy Hardy's Double Life. Esther commented on her big screen debut, "The popular "Andy Hardy" series movies were MGM's tests for its promising stars such as Judy Garland, Lana Turner and Donna Reed. If you didn't make it in those pictures, you were never heard from again". Well, Esther made it. It wasn't long until she was a featured player in the new musicals featuring Esther and aqua ballet. Her first was Bathing Beauty, co-starring Red Skelton. Esther was a hit. She starred mainly in lighter fare: musicals and romantic comedies usually featuring Esther doing her thing in the water at one point or another. Eventually, audiences tired of the "aqua-musical" and it's popularity declined. Esther tried her hand at more dramatic parts but didn't enjoy the same success.

When Dore Schary took over the reigns at MGM, many of the stars and directors found that the new chief wasn't anything like Louis B. Meyer, and perhaps for the worst. Esther was certainly one of them. She came up with an idea for a film that she called Athena, that was to be about several Greek Goddesses living on modern day earth. A script was written, but things were put on hold when she left for maternity leave. When she returned, she found out Schary had taken the script, removed all the water numbers and cast Jane Powell in Esther's part and gave the go ahead. When Esther confronted Schary about this all, he just simply replied, "I've got a studio to run." Schary continued to try and cast her in parts that Esther knew wouldn't work. Shortly after their confrontation, Esther Williams decided to leave MGM. She quietly packed her things, and without fanfare or goodbyes to anyone but the security guard, Esther Williams left the studios behind. Only Gable before her had left in the same way. On their own terms. Some may think that this was a stupid move career-wise, but in the minds of audiences and film fans everywhere, Esther Williams remained forever Esther Williams. An image and a career that she could be proud of, and one that has remained a part of film history.

The Films:
The Esther Williams Collection Volume 1 contains five films: Bathing Beauty, Easy To Wed, On an Island with You, Neptune's Daughter and Dangerous When Wet. Latin music and themes were popular with the public and Hollywood during this time, so many of the music numbers have a Latin Influence or are popular Spanish language songs. In fact in four of the films, Xavier Cugat and his Orchestra appear and play many of the numbers and Ricardo Montalbán and Fernando Lamas are co-stars. While you might consider these films to be musicals, some aren't in the truest sense, but music, water and comedy are all very much a part of each films. Also in these films are frequent Esther Williams co-stars Van Johnson, Keenan Wynn, Red Skelton and Cyd Charisse.

Bathing Beauty
Co-Stars: Red Skelton, Basil Rathbone, Harry James and Nana Bryant
Director: George Sidney

Steve Elliott (Skelton) and Caroline Brooks (Williams) are about to marry and embark on a new life away from their respective careers as song writer and swimming coach. Steve's boss, showman George Adams, is more concerned about getting that music Steve is supposed to have been working on, so he pays an actress to pretend to be Steve's "wife" and disrupt the wedding. It works, and Caroline leaves him, going back to her old job as the swimming coach at all girl's college, Victoria College. When Steve finds out she's gone, he immediately sets out to win her back, eventually finding a loophole in the school's charter that allows him to enroll as the first and only male student. The college is unable to prevent him from enrolling, but the faculty and the Dean decide to push hard and give Steve as many demerits as possible with an eye to expelling him before parents and boosters find out. Caroline goes right along with the idea, still fuming and believing Steve has a wife. The girls at the school take to Steve and help him when they can, and Steve also enlists the aid of some musical cronies like Xavier Cugat and Harry James to help him in his cause.

Red Skelton is very funny in this film and has some great sequences. Organist Ethel Smith has a bit part as an Assistant Music Professor and gets a chance to play her popular tune "Tico Tico". It's also neat to see Radio Actor/Announcer Bill Goodwin (from The Burns and Allen Show) as a professor who has a keen interest in Caroline himself. Frequent Marx Brothers foil Margaret Dumont also has a brief role in the film. The music is provided by Harry James and his Music Makers and Xavier Cugat and his Orchestra, and of course, Ethel Smith. One of the highlights is the number "I'll Take the High Note".

Extras: TCM Private Screenings with Esther Williams is, as previously mentioned, a must-see. I highly recommend watching this before the rest of the films, especially if you are not as familiar with Esther Williams' career. Also included are the theatrical trailer, wartime short Main Street Today and the MGM Tom and Jerry Short, Mouse Trouble.

Easy to Wed
Co-Stars: Van Johnson, Lucille Ball and Keenan Wynn
Director: Edward Buzzell

Newspaper man Warren Haggerty (Wynn) is called back to work from his wedding to Gladys Benton (Ball). It seems the paper printed a story about heiress Connie Allenbury (Williams) that wasn't true and is being sued. Haggery's job is to prevent the suit at all costs. He calls in old rival Bill Chandler (Johnson) to wine and dine Connie to put her in a compromising situation where she will be forced to drop the lawsuit. What Chadler doesn't count on is that Connie is no pushover. What Haggerty doesn't count on is Chandler falling for Connie, and his own fiance Gladys falling for Chandler.

If you've seen the screwball comedy (and Shelf Classic) Libeled Lady- then you already know what you are in for with this film. It is a remake of that 1936 classic. That's not to complete rule it out however, as it is charming enough. But 1946 audiences couldn't be completely in the fog and not be comparing this to it's ten year old predecessor. I did, and perhaps it is unfair. Essentially you take the story and most of the dialogue of Libeled Lady, change Fly Fishing to Duck Hunting and add Latin flavored music and you have Easy To Wed. Esther Williams and Keenen Wynn do a good job with their roles and Lucille Ball practically steals the movie from her costars. It is watching Van Johnson that makes you long to see William Powell again. Johnson is an excellent actor, but this role seems more miscast for him than any of the other actors. Powell owns this role, and while Myrna Loy, Jean Harlow and Spencer Tracy are unforgettable in their roles, the new cast doesn't try to reinvent the wheel. Johnson just can't bring the same charm and comedy to the role that William Powell did so effortlessly. That being said, it's worth watching, especially for Lucille Ball. Her performance almost channels the comedy and role of Lucy Ricardo 6 years too early. It's easy to see that Edward Buzzell knows what he has with Ball, as he keeps throwing scenes her way.

Extras: Theatrical trailers of both this film and Libeled Lady (not sure why - seems to be a bit on the insult to injury side). Pete Smith Specialty short, Sure Cures and MGM classic Barney Bear cartoon, Unwelcome Guest.

On an Island With You
Co-Stars: Ricardo Montalbán, Peter Lawford, Jimmy Durante and Cyd Charisse
Director: Richard Thorpe

Movie star Rosalind Reynolds (Williams) is on a Pacific Island filming a romance with her costar and fiance, Ricardo Montez (Montalbán). Since Montez is playing a Navy Lieutenant, Assistant Director Jimmy Buckley (Durante) has hired a Navy Consultant, Lt. Larry Kingslee (Lawford) to make sure things go right. When Lt. Kingslee arrives on set he finds out the leading lady is the movie star that he danced with 3 years ago at a USO function. He fell in love with her that night, and assumed that she felt the same way. When he realizes that Roz doesn't recognize him, Lt. Kingslee kidnaps her and flies her to the island where they met, hoping she'll remember him. When she remembers, she tells him that she didn't fall in love with him, but that she spent time with him and all the troops as a way to boost morale. Crestfallen, Kingslee attempts to take her back, but the plane has been vandalized. The Navy finds them and a series of events and romantic complications will eventually result in a Hollywood happy ending.

This was the hidden little gem in the set for me, although it is a favorite for many Williams fans. I had never seen it and while the plot was very contrived, the film and cast had plenty of charm. The only one kind of out of place was Peter Lawford. This seems to have been more of a role for Van Johnson. Oh, well. Esther Williams really shines in this film, she seems to be comfortable with herself and with her role. I was constantly impressed not just with her talent and beauty (she is ravishing in this picture) but just how hard she had to work with the swimming scenes. She was very talented. The one who steals the show is Jimmy Durante. The big shnozz breaks up 'da joint.

Extras: Vintage Romance of Celluloid Series Short: Personalities; Classic MGM Barney Bear Cartoon, The Bear and the Hare and the theatrical trailer.

Neptune's Daughter
Co-Stars: Red Skelton, Keenan Wynn, Ricardo Montalbán, Betty Garrett and Mel Blanc
Directed By: Edward Buzzell

Esther Williams plays a role closer to her real life story than either of her movies. Eve Barrett (Williams) is a champion swimmer spotted by Joe Backett (Wynn) talks her into starting a swimsuit business. They become very successful. Her sister, Betty bemoans her lack of success with men. When a South American polo team comes into town for a competition, Betty (Garrett) mistakes masseur Jack Spratt (Skelton) for Jose O'Rourke (Montalbán), the team captain. Eve is suspicious of Betty's new beau and decides that she doesn't know what she is getting into. She asks to meet O'Rourke to dissuade him from dating her sister. However she meets the real O'Rourke and he is so smitten with Eve he continues to pursue her. It's a case of mistaken identities and romance with a hilarious conclusion thanks to Red Skelton.

This was perhaps my favorite of the set for two reasons: Red Skelton and Mel Blanc. Red is at his best in this film and the polo match scene is great. Mel Blanc plays a variation on his Mexican character that he frequently did on The Jack Benny Show and eventually parlayed into Speedy Gonzales and his cousin Slowpoke. The funny bits are fantastic and the light romantic comedy is very good. It may seem a bit formulaic to some, with a little justification. Nonetheless it is lighthearted fare and the music is great and the cast is wonderful.

Extras: There is an outtake musical number with Betty Garrett, "I Want My Money Back", an Esther Williams Sequence From 1951's Callaway Went Thatway, A Pete Smith Specialty Comedy Short: Water Trix; The Oscar nominated cartoon Hatch Up Your Troubles; Promotional Radio Interviews and theatrical trailers of Neptune's Daughter and Take Me Out to the Ball Game.

Dangerous When Wet
Co-Stars: Jack Carson, Fernando Lamas and William Demarest
Director: Charles Walters

The Higgins family is a farming, health conscience clan who start every morning with a swim and calisthenics. When an out of town huckster, Windy Weebe (Carson), arrives hawking a health tonic, he becomes enchanted with the oldest Higgins daughter, Katie (Williams). Windy comes up with an idea for the whole Higgins family to swim the English Channel, sponsored by his product. Katie and her family agrees, in order to win money to fix up the farm and buy a new bull. Once in England, Katie begins to train in earnest. One foggy day, she get separated from Windy who is coaching from his rowboat, and swims right into Frenchman André Lanet (Lamas) who scoops her up in his boat. Lanet attempts to sweep Katie off her feet, Windy attempts to keep her in the water, and her family tries to keep her healthy. A change in the rules only allows Katie to swim on the day of the contest, so she is swimming for herself and her family.

This is the film that contains the famous sequence where Esther swims with an animated Tom and Jerry. It's a dream sequence that is very charming and entertaining. Three of MGM's biggest stars of the time all in one scene! Demarest, who plays Pa Higgins, isn't really given enough to do in the film. Overall, it's an enjoyable film, with some great sequences, but doesn't reach the level of the previous films.

Extras: An outtake musical number "C'est La Guerre", Johnny Mercer Demo Recordings of: "Fifi", "I Got Out of Bed on the Right Side" and "I Like Men", Promotional Radio Interview With Esther Williams, Pete Smith Specialty Comedy Short: This is A Living?; Tom and Jerry cartoon The Cat and the Mermouse and Esther Williams Musicals Trailer Gallery

Video/ Audio:
The Technicolor Prints are excellent and very vivid. In fact, in one scene in Easy to Wed, Lucille Ball's hair is up and it almost looked like you could see blond roots under the red. The audio is excellent as well, with great music tracks. Warner's used fantastic prints and audio tracks for transfer. If you are a 50's Latin music devotee, you might be interested in this link from The Vintage Place.

The Bottom Line:
TCM and Warner Home Video do it again with an excellent box set. This one is perfect for release during the summer as well. Esther Williams deserved a great set and this first Volume of what will hopefully be a multi-volume series really shows off Esther and MGM at their best. The famous aqua ballets and swimming numbers that pretty much became synamous with Esther are wonderfully done, and quite frankly not so numerous as you would think. The Extras are also wonderful in the set. I love MGM cartoons and especially Tex Avery or Barney Bear cartoons, so these and the always humorous Pete Smith Shorts much appreciated. The Main Street short on Bathing Beauty is clearly a World War II era short that was worth viewing, but may even strike a chord today. The best extra by far is the episode of TCM Private Screenings with Esther Williams. The TCM sets are always excellent when these Private Screenings or other interviews and documentaries are included for context. Robert Osborne never fails to disappoint.

Esther was in great physical shape, and one of the hardest workers on the lot. After you watch the aqua sequences, you'll see what I mean. You definitely don't want to miss Red Skelton and Esther in Bathing Beauty and Neptune's Daughter, and some great comedy from Red and Mel Blanc. On an Island with You is great film to catch and a great find if you've never seen it. Dangerous When Wet is pleasant viewing (and you have to see the iconic animated scene), and if you can get past Libeled Lady, you'll enjoy Easy To Wed at least once, especiallly for Lucille Ball's performance. The Esther Williams Collection, Vol. 1 is a hit out of the park for classic film fans.

Review Rating:
Individually grading the films, they would earn the following:
Bathing Beauty: A
Neptune's Daughter: A
On an Island With You: A
Dangerous When Wet: B
Easy To Wed: C
Overall rating: 4 stars (Groucho Glasses)

Neptune's Daughter and Bathing Beauty are SHELF CLASSICS. That combined with the rest of the films and some great extras, especially The TCM Private Screenings interview with Esther Williams, makes The TCM Spotlight Collection: The Esther Williams Collection, Vol. 1 overall a Must Have set.

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.

Don't tell me it's a woman - he'd never fall for a bathing suit.
Wait till you see what's in it!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

roundup confidential

It's time for the roundup, see. Yeah. See? So I'm gonna give it to ya straight, see? Yeah, straight. See? So let's get to it, see? Yeah. See? And you're gonna forget that I actually tried to imitate Edward G. Robinson, see? Yeah.

Top Shelf Pick of the Month!
MGM Film Noir
It seems with the success of the Warner's Film Noir Collections and the Fox Film Noir releases, more studios are digging into their vaults for Noir films. In some cases, that definition is stretched a bit to cover a release or two. We're not going to get into that argument here, but I will say that the new MGM Film Noir releases are fairly safe with the Noir genre. In fact, with a guy like Edward G. Robinson in the top bill, you can be assured something mysterious or nefarious is up. That's right, old Eddie G. is headlining three out of the four films here.

Unfortunately these appear to be bare bones releases, but the quality has been upped quite a bit. The Stranger was previously released several times on public domain DVD releases with a shoddy print. Kansas City Confidential wasn't faring too well, either. And great prints of those two films with solid releases of A Bullet for Joey and The Woman in the Window and you've got some great Noir going on. I am especially looking forward to a great print of The Stranger and George Raft and Eddie G. in A Bullet for Joey. See?

MGM Movie Legends Collection:
Frankie and Annette
Joan Collins Cinema Classics Collection
Kudos to MGM for the effort in rolling out the classics in their collections. The Frankie and Annette films are not exactly top tier in my book, but their is no denying that they have many fans and they are definitely entertaining and a product of their time. This set includes the films: Beach Blanket Bingo,How to Stuff a Wild Bikini, Beach Party, Bikini Beach, Fireball 500, Thunder Alley, Muscle Beach Party, and Ski Party. That's 8 films on four flipper discs. No extras as far as I can tell.
The Joan Collins set includes five films: The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing, Rally 'round the Flag, Boys!, Sea Wife, Seven Thieves, and Stopover Tokyo. Commentary and trailers are included. I haven't seen any of these films, but I am looking forward to the biopic The Girl in the Red Swing and Seven Thieves Why? Cause I read the DVD Savant's awesome review. You can too, check it out.

We usually feature DVD news in our Passing Parade or our Preview posts, but I was pretty excited by this news so I had to share. Besides, our pal Sallie at The Vintage Place wouldn't want me holding out on her.

Coming from Paramount:
Funny Face, 50th Anniversary Edition
Yes, Sallie- this is what you've hoped for- an excellent print and special edition of Funny Face. If you are a fan of the film, you'll want to visit The Vintage Place for music from the film.
The 50th Anniversary Edition is available for preorder at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
Here are the particulars:
Several documentaries including:
The Fashion Designer and His Muse
Parisian Dreams

Paramount in the 50's
Also included are a Photo Gallery and the Theatrical Trailer.
The DVD will be released October 2nd, 2007.

Coming from Warner Brothers:
The Jazz Singer: 80th Anniversary 3-Disc Deluxe Edition
"Wait a minute, wait a minute, you ain't heard nothin' yet! Wait a minute, I tell ya! You ain't heard nothin'!"
That's right, Shelfers. Finally, one of the most historically important pictures in Hollywood history is finally coming to DVD, just in time for it's 80th Anniversary. And not only that, Warner's is doing it right with a 3 disc deluxe edition. The film has been remastered from nitrate prints and quality sound recordings. But it doesn't stop there, for a boat load of special features including:
Documentaries, especially a feature length documentary on the creation of sound in pictures entitled: The Dawn of Sound
Radio Adaptations, Commentary, Vintage Shorts, and a 3rd disc of over three hours of Vitaphone shorts featuring many great acts of the era including Burns and Allen and Weber and Fields. And as with all of Warner's Deluxe and Ultimate Editions, this will also include reproductions of Lobby cards, photos, souvenir programs, and the telegram Al Jolson sent to Jack Warner after the debut of the film. This looks to be one of the most important DVD releases of the year. It's available for pre-order from Amazon. It will be released October 16th, 2007.

What a great bunch of releases for the roundup and some happy news on the DVD front. I'm very much looking forward to The Jazz Singer. Yes, it might be dated, but any serious student of films and film history should put it on their shelves. We most certainly will.

Stay tuned Shelfers, we have a DVD review coming up next.

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.

They searched the woods. I watched them, here like God, looking at little ants.


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