My local Costco had a large batch of the Universal Cinema Classics DVD line available at $6.99 each recently. Titles in this series of films from the 1930s and 1940s include the original Scarface, All Quiet on the Western Front, the Mae West/Cary Grant She Done Him Wrong, and the Bing Crosby Oscar-winner Going My Way.
I already owned my favorite, The Major and the Minor, so I picked up two lesser-known screwball films. Midnight stars Claudette Colbert as a showgirl marooned in Paris. Cabbie Don Ameche drives her around to look for a nightclub job, but she winds up impersonating a countess in order to snare the gigolo who’s squiring John Barrymore’s wife. When it comes to love, will she choose one of her rich new acquaintances or loyal everyman Ameche?
It’s co-written by Billy Wilder and, if I’m remembering my previous viewing of it correctly, quite funny and pointed. Both this and the next film were directed by Mitchell Leisen, whom I’d never known of before, who also helmed the original Death Takes a Holiday. The other movie I got is Easy Living, starring the underrated Jean Arthur. (You know, I just realized that that’s one of the reasons I so enjoy classic 30s and 40s cinema — the women were top-billed.)
In that one, written by Preston Sturges, a rich guy, fed up with his family’s spending, tosses a fur coat out the window, where it lands on Arthur’s working girl (not like THAT, although that’s what his family thinks). Romantic comedy ensues. Ray Milland is the love interest, which brings us back to The Major and the Minor.
I previously briefly talked about these three films in April 2008, when the DVDs were released. If you’re a Claudette Colbert fan, you may also want to look for So Proudly We Hail, a drama about the struggles of nurses in World War II that has a shocking sequence with Veronica Lake and co-stars George Reeves.
The only extra on most of these discs is a short filmed introduction by Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne. He usually explains the historical significance of the particular movie, key people who worked on the film, and any interesting facts about it. For instance, with Midnight, he mentions Colbert’s insistence on only being shot from one side, and why, plus John Barrymore’s reliance on cue cards and how well it works. Sometimes there’s also the theatrical trailer.
At the price of what used to be a rental, how can you pass up good films, regardless of the era?