GLORIOUS TECHNICOLOR, BREATHTAKING CINEMASCOPE AND STEREOPHONIC SOUND!

HOLLYWOOD MUSICALS : 8  slimline DVDs in a box. 

The  eight 20th Century-Fox musicals in this set consist of: “DADDY LONGLEGS”, “IRVING BERLIN’S SECOND FIDDLE”, “SUN VALLEY SERENADE”, “ORCHESTRA WIVES”, “ON THE AVENUE” ,”THE DOLLY SISTERS”, “PIN-UP GIRL” and “THE GANG’S ALL HERE”. Extras are minimal, apart from “DADDY LONGLEGS”, which replicates the existing UK and Region 1 DVD content. Trailers are on most of the discs, apart from “PIN-UP GIRL” and “ON THE AVENUE”, but that’s your lot! Packaging is identical to the existing UK “Studio Classics” range, apart from the welcome addition of the new transparent slim-line cases, and indeed the DVDs have the SC banner at the top of all the covers, making me wonder if, at some point in the future, they will be available separately (at this point in time, the back covers of each DVD state boldly: “Not for individual sale”). Picture quality seems, at a first glance, to be up to usual Fox standards. Four are in black and white, with “DADDY LONGLEGS” (presented in anamorphic format), “PIN-UP GIRL”, “THE DOLLY SISTERS” and “THE GANG’ S ALL HERE” in Technicolor. But this is not just Technicolor, this is mind-blowing, extra vibrant, luscious, lip-smacking, all-the-colours-of-the-rainbow-and-then-some Twentieth Century-Fox Technicolor! And for escapist wartime musicals like “THE GANG’S ALL HERE” how it helps the picture! Just watch the “Polka Dot Ballet” at the end of this film to see why Fox seemed to get Technicolor used to its fullest – this Busby Berkeley extravaganza has to be seen to be believed! Indeed, this latter film is why I got hold of this set – it has long been on my “holy grail” list of ‘films I want on DVD’ Nice to see Fox stars Alice Faye and Sonja Henie getting a rare excursion on UK DVD at long last!

A SHOW THAT IS REALLY A SHOW…..

“That’s Entertainment! The Ultimate Anthology Of M-G-M Musicals” 6 CD set Turner/Rhino MovieMusic 8122-73192-2 (2006)

Quite simply THE CD set you have to have if you are at all interested in the history and sound of the classic Golden Age of the M-G-M film musical. 5 CDs of classic soundtrack songs and music, plus a sixth CD with many rarities. As many as possible of the original recordings here have been remastered since the first edition of this fine set appeared, using newly discovered source material. And it all sounds as good as it ever will be, given the rarity and scarcity of some of the original prerecordings, acetate and reference discs that were used in the production of this release.

Classic songs are included here from “Broadway Melody of 1929”, “Hollywood Revue of 1929”, “Going Hollywood”, “The Merry Widow” (1934), “Born To Dance”, “The Wizard Of Oz”, “Ziegfeld Girl:”, “Thousands Cheer”, “The Harvey Girls”, “On the Town” and of course that MGM marvel – “Singin’ In the Rain”! But it is the 6th CD that gives the most pleasure. Imagine hearing Joan Crawford trying (and, unfortunately failing) to sing “Follow Me” (from “Torch Song” (1953). It shows why she was dubbed in that film by India Adams. Or a rare Bing Crosby song “Poor Little G-String” that was meant for the unmade 1930 MGM film “The March Of Time”. Other scarce recordings include “You Won’t Forget Me” performed by Lena Horne (and cut from “Duchess Of Idaho” MGM 1950);a recently-discovered complete version of  “Buds Won’t Bud” as sung by Judy Garland but unused in the film “Andy Hardy Meets Debutante” (1940) and a demo of “Weekend At the Waldorf” performed sassily by the inimitable Kay Thompson from the film of the same name. Just to put the record straight and to show us that Miss Crawford could carry a tune when she tried – “Something’s Gotta Happen Soon” (cut from “Ice Follies of 1939” – our Joan as an ice-skater!) Still available (at the time of writing) from amazon.com in the USA at reasonable prices, this set really belongs on every film musical buff’s shelves.

SING, JOHNNIE

“Johnnie Johnston” “The Song Is You” Flare ROYCD 255 (2007)

Not well-known at all, Johnnie Johnston had a brief career as a vocalist in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Possibly best-known as the husband of Kathryn Grayson, he featured in “Till the Clouds Roll By” in a couple of duets with Miss Grayson, until they were cut from the finished movie. Flare, a small UK records label, has given us here 24 selections from Johnnie’s catalogue of recordings. Classic songs like “Spring Will Be a Little Late This This Year”, “Lazy Countryside” and “Laura” are included, as well as lesser gems like “Autumn Serenade”, “If Winter Comes”, “Melancholy Rhapsody” and “I’ll Buy You a Star”. One of the cut medleys from “Till the Clouds Roll By” – a duet with Kathryn Grayson is also here: “I’ve Told Ev’ry Little Star”/”The Song Is You”. And there are 2 duets with Kathryn to end the CD: “So In Love” and “Wunderbar”, both recorded in 1958, long after the couple had divorced.

KA-POW-ELL!

“Dick Powell In Hollywood” (Art Deco series) Columbia/Legacy CK 66978 (1995)

Not a new release, but any Dick Powell recordings (sez I) are well worth seeking out! The Columbia “Art Deco” series of CDs in the US gave us many excellent stars and discs, and this set by Mr Powell is no exception.”20 show-stopping tunes” in the words of the sticker on the front of this CD for once is no publicity gimmick. From “We’re In the Money”, “Pettin’ In the Park”, “Shadow Waltz” and “I’ve Got To Sing a Torch Song” (all from Warners “Golddiggers Of 1933”), “By a Waterfall” and “Honeymoon Hotel” (“Footlight Parade” Warners 1933), “I’ll String Along With You” (20 Million Sweethearts” First National 1934), “Flirtation Walk” (First National 1934) right up to “The Lullaby Of Broadway” (First National 1935), Dick’s sweet vocals are so representative of that 1930’s era. Simply sensational. All the above are commercial studio recordings for the Brunswick record label, beautifully transferred to the digital medium.

FOLLOW THE FEET

“Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers At RKO” (Sony Classical 2CD set ASIN: B003VKW0X6)

Hot on the heels of the previous Astaire set, here we have another 2CD offering now issued here in the UK. This time Mr Astaire is coupled in song with his long-time partner Ginger Rogers, and don’t they sound swell! Highlights from 8 of their RKO films together are featured here, as well as a solo of Fred’s from “The Sky’s the Limit” (RKO 1943: “One For My Baby”) and 4 songs from “A Damsel In Distress” (1937). All-time favourite Astaire/Rogers songs and dances like “Top Hat, White Tie and Tails” (“Top Hat” 1935), “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” (“Follow the Fleet 1936), “The Way You Look Tonight” (“Swing Time” 1936) and “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” (“Shall We Dance” 1937) are included in this well annotated and designed release. Put a spring in your step with this mighty fine set!

A CLASS ACT

“Fred Astaire At M-G-M” (Sony Classical 2 CD set: ASIN: B00000342K)

Now available in the UK, this stonking set of Mr Astaire’s MGM vocals is simply class, like the man himself! 39 selections from many of Fred’s MGM movies, including “This Heart Of Mine” (“Ziegfeld Follies” 1946), “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” (“The Barkleys Of Broadway” 1949), “Easter Parade” (1948), I Left My Hat In Haiti” (“Royal Wedding” 1951) and “I Wanna Be a Dancin’ Man” (“The Belle Of New York” 1952). Ending with songs from Cole Porter’s “Silk Stockings” (1957): “Paris Loves Lovers”, “All Of You” and “Fated To Be Mated”, what could be more entrancing than Fred singing and dancing his classic hits!

LULLABY OF BERKELEY

“Lullaby Of Broadway: The Best Of Busby Berkeley At Warner Bros.” Turner/Rhino R2 72169 (1995)

Although released back in 1995, this marvellous 2 CD set is now available here in the UK on the Sony label (Sony Classical ASIN: B003VKW0XG). All your Buzz Berkeley musical favourites are here, including the stupendous “Lullaby Of Broadway”, “Young and Healthy” and “Shuffle Off To Buffalo” (from “42nd Street” 1933), “I Only Have Eyes For You” (“Dames” 1934), “Hooray For Hollywood” (“Hollywood Hotel” 1937) and “By a Waterfall” and “Shanghai Lil” (Footlight Parade” 1933). Vocalists Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler, Joan Blondell, Wini Shaw and hoofer James Cagney are all included in this block-busting set. Highlight for me is the more than rare prerecording of Ginger Rogers singing “I’ve Got To Sing a Torch Song” (from “42nd Street”) which she never got to perform in the finished movie.

YEE-HAH!

“The Westerns: Music and Songs From Classic Westerns” Jasmine JASMCD 3600/1 (2010)

Jasmine, an independent British CD label, has been quietly issuing some excellent film-related items over the past few years, and one of the latest releases is a 2 CD set featuring songs and music from Hollywood Westerns. Starting with “The Big Country” (Jerome Moross) and ending with “Stagecoach”, there is something here to please every gun-toting, chaps-wearing, dyed-in-the-wool Western fan. Other film scores and songs here are “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon”, “The Horse Soldiers”, “Destry Rides Again”, “Saddle the Wind”, “Rachel and the Stranger” (a chance to hear Robert Mitchum singing!), “The Tall Men”, “Man Without a Star”, “Timberjack, “My Darling Clementine”, Rawhide”, “Rio Grande”, “Rio Bravo”, “Bend Of the River”, “The Kentuckian” and others.

If Westerns are your “thang” – mosey on down to the CD store and git yer copy now, folks!

ALICE AND AL

“Rose Of Washington Square” Fox Classics Varese Sarabande VSD 6989 (1999)

Sadly, this series of excellent CD issues of classic Twentieth-Century Fox musical soundtracks seems to have fizzled out, but at least we have here one of their mainstay productions, given the deluxe treatment. Producer Nick Redman, better-known for his work in reissuing film score soundtracks, has concentrated here on one of Fox’s classic 1930’s musicals: “Rose Of Washington Square”. 25 tracks, including all the main songs and some underscore, as well as outtakes and alternate versions, make this an irresistible “must-have” CD. Alice Faye and Al Jolson sing most of the songs here  and Alice’s deep-throated vocals tug at our heart strings (as usual!). Causing a lot of controversy at the time, the main protagonists were believed to be based on Fanny Brice and Nick Arnstein, (played in the film by Tyrone Power.) But listen to these songs – “I Never Knew Heaven Could Speak”, ” My Man”, and “I’ll See You In My Dreams”are all given the Faye treatment here. Jolson gets to sing many of his signature songs, including versions of “Toot Toot Tootsie’, “California, Here I Come”, My Mammy” and “Rockabye Your Baby With a Dixie Melody”. He never sounded better!

YOU CAN TAKE THE GIRL OUT OF THE CITY……..

CITY GIRL Blu-Ray : Eureka Masters Of Cinema EKA 70014

F W Murnau is probably best-known today for his masterpiece “Sunrise“, but his 1930 Fox silent film “City Girl” is arguably his other classic. Starring Charles Farrell, Mary Duncan, David Torrence and Edith Yorke, this (to quote the sleeve notes) “vivid, painterly study of an impulsive and fragile marriage among the wheatfields of Minnesota“, dazzles with camerawork and performances, particularly Farrell as a country boy, sent to the city to get the best price for his father’s wheat crop. Along the way, he meets (and marries!) city girl Mary Duncan, a waitress in a fast-food restaurant and takes her back with him to the farm. This all sounds very stereotypical, but Murnau gives a trite subject gorgeous visuals and exquisite direction. This Blu-ray release is like looking at a pristine nitrate print, with excellent contrast and a fine sense of film grain. A new score by Christopher Caliendo augments this bravura film release.