This series is aimed at putting out serviceable but not particularly well-known MGM musicals in remastered formats and attractive box sets. The latest volume, number three, will be available on Tuesday, April 8.
I haven’t seen the previous two in person. Volume 1 contains
- It’s Always Fair Weather
- Ziegfeld Follies
- Till the Clouds Roll By
- Three Little Words
- Summer Stock
There’s a couple of Judy Garland appearances (Summer Stock, Till the Clouds Roll By) and another couple of revue films, where a string of the era’s talents each do a number with little reference to plot. Even the best-known of this set (the first and last of that list, both with Gene Kelly) don’t do much for me.
Volume 2 is similar, containing
- The Pirate
- Words and Music
- That’s Dancing!
- That Midnight Kiss/The Toast of New Orleans
- Royal Wedding/The Belle of New York
More Gene Kelly and Judy Garland, a compilation from the 80s, two Fred Astaire, and the film debut of Mario Lanza, the tragic singer.
Volume 3’s Contents
The design of volume three is much more refined than the previous two, black and silver with an elegant cover lineup (both the image and the title listing), instead of the “drop the movie posters on” approach of the earlier sets. It contains six items: three two-disc sets and three single discs, all new to DVD.
- Hit the Deck
- Deep in My Heart
- Nancy Goes to Rio/Two Weeks With Love
- Broadway Melody of 1936/Broadway Melody of 1938
- Born to Dance/Lady Be Good
The single discs are in color, and the movies originally date from 1954-1955. The first double disc has two Jane Powell films from 1950 (in color). Two Weeks With Love is memorable to me because it’s a very early Debbie Reynolds piece where she sings “Aba Daba Honeymoon” (“… said the monkey to the chimp”) and “Row, Row, Row” with Carleton Carpenter. Both tickle me. This disc is also one of the few with a featurette extra, an episode of Private Screenings where Robert Osborne talks to Jane Powell.
The last double disc is an Eleanor Powell focus. I’m not a huge fan (about which more below), but I’m curious about the 1936 Born to Dance because it co-stars Jimmy Stewart with Cole Porter songs.
I started watching with the film I knew best, Broadway Melody of 1936. I love the number that gorgeous Robert Taylor does with June Knight, “I’ve Got a Feelin’ You’re Foolin”. (It’s the only time the heartthrob sung on film, and he does a good job.) There’s weirdness when furniture starts popping out of the floor, and some camera trickery where the chorus girls switch between black and white outfits during the number. Very deco. And it’s all supposedly taking place at an apartment party, only it’s a pad with a balcony large enough for a stage and a 25-person dance number.
The movie is very old-fashioned, of course; it’s of its time. It starts right off with musical performances, simply people standing in front of microphones singing “Broadway Melody”, followed by “You Are My Lucky Star” (which later returns as the song in a glittery fantasy production number). It’s a radio show, and Jack Benny is the Broadway gossip columnist. His boss is upset that all he talks about is who’s going to have a baby; the boss wants “hot news”, as shown here.
Taylor is a show producer looking for funding, and Benny wants the scoop. Eleanor Powell is an old school friend and aspiring dancer (of course). She’s nice enough, and she plays the friendly girl next door well, but I find her dancing an acquired taste. It’s energetic and athletic, but I think she lacks a certain grace. Some of her numbers, she reminds me of a string puppet. She does a nifty Hepburn impersonation, though, and pretends to be a famous Frenchwoman, although she doesn’t do her own singing in any of these movies.
I’m no expert, but the reproduction is excellent, crisp and unmarred, and the sound is clean and not scratchy. And although I hate the guy with the different varieties of snoring, I’d forgotten how much I loved seeing Buddy Ebsen (wearing a Micky Mouse sweater!) do “Sing Before Breakfast” with his sister Vilma as they tap through preparing a rooftop meal.
The other disc in the set, Broadway Melody of 1938, re-teams Powell, Ebsen (as the world’s tallest jockey), and Taylor and adds George Murphy and a very young Judy Garland. The snoring guy is back with sneezes this time, and the plot revolves around horse racing. I admit, watching both these movies back-to-back was too much for me, so I started noticing things like scratches in the print in this one. And I didn’t like the songs as much, with the best being Garland’s numbers: “Everybody Sing” and then “You Made Me Love You (I Didn’t Want to Do It)” with the “Dear Mr. Gable” opening.
I wondered why the 1940 entry in the series wasn’t in this set as well, but it’s already been released as part of the Cole Porter Gift Set.
The DVD format makes it easy to revisit my favorite scenes and skip the snoozers, with the musical numbers called out on the menu. Extras for each film include a contemporaneous short feature and MGM cartoon and the theatrical trailer plus audio outtakes and radio promotions. They’re not essential viewing, but they give a picture of the entertainment of the time. The quality of the film remasterings can really be seen when comparing them to the trailers.
There’s so much here to savor that that’s all I’ll cover for now. I don’t want to rush through the other movies, most of which are new to me. If I do, I’ll quickly tire of them.
This is definitely a product for the dedicated, many of whom already have their own opinions about the films. Me, I just find it terrific that such sets exist. If you’re interested in more than half of the contents, buying the set is a great deal. It will be available on Tuesday, April 8. The official site is www.whvdvdcollections.com.