Release Date: AVAILABLE NOW
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My television is tuned to TCM daily whether it’s to watch a favourite film or a classic I’ve never seen before or catching a short documentary between films. So what I was looking for in this collection was something along the lines of what the TCM hosts offer: giving insight into the films through the special feature section. I find it a real treat to learn something about my favourite classic films. These films were made at a time where extra footage or deleted scenes were not saved (in most cases). There are no gag reels or interviews with the cast on the making of the film. So I was interested to see what I was getting with this collection.
The films in this collection are feature-stripped of what appeared on the 2-disc special editions released in 2004 and 2005. If you want to view all of the features collected by Warner Bros. for each film, you’ll have to seek out the 2-disc release. To keep the set compact and the price low, Warner Bros. has put what would have been included on “Disc 1” of the 2-disc release of each film on it’s own side of a DVD in this set (a A-B flipper). They did not choose to go the route that Fox went with their Rodgers & Hammerstein Collection, where each film that was previously released as a 2-disc special edition was repackaged in slimcases with both discs intact and put in a box set of six films. So, Warner Bros. appears to have had this set targeted to those who love musicals but not necessarily features, and offers the latest audio and video transfer. This is very valuable indeed if you just care about watching the film and worth the upgrade if you have a movie-only edition released in early days of DVD.
Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
Musicals don’t get better than this. The film takes place during a critical period of Hollywood: the transition between silent films and talkies. A leading screen couple (played by Gene Kelly and Jean Hagan) struggle with the challenges of talking pictures with great laughs for the audience. The special features included an audio commentary by many persons included in the making of this film: Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor, Stanley Donen, Cyd Charisse, Kathleen Freeman, co-director Stanley Donen, screenwriters Betty Comden and Adolph Green, filmmaker Baz Luhrmann, and audio/film historian Rudy Behlmer (wow!). It was interesting to learn that the songs for this film were selected and the writers had to construct a story around the songs. My favourite scene in this film is Donald O’Connor’s “Make 'em laugh” song/dance. Donald was known for being able to run up the side of a wall and summersault from it. When he did the Make ‘em Laugh routine, Gene Kelly asked “Do you think you can?” and his reply was, “I don’t know.” The commentary also gives insight as to how they shot the Gene’s famous dance in the rain: it was filmed during the day, pipes overhanging MGM lot #2, deliberate holes in the ground to accumulate puddles and the scene was originally intended Gene, Debbie and Donald, not a solo. The DVD also include a brief feature called Reel Sound about transition to talkies in Hollywood, as well as the original trailer, and specs on cast & crew. This release includes the 2002 audio/video transfer of the film.
The Band Wagon (1953)
I’ve never seen “The Band Wagon” before. What I was amazed to discover is that the now-classic showbiz song “That’s Entertainment” was written specifically for this film. Actually, according to the audio track, it was the only original song included in the film. This song has become an anthem for the American musical (yes, it spawned three musical collections under this title). But, it was great to see it performed in its original context (and looking back on the film as a whole I wonder why they didn’t call this film “That’s Entertainment”?). The film is about a retired movie actor, played by Fred Astaire. His colleagues are writing a Broadway show and they want him to star it in. He’s leading lady is the wonderful Cyd Charisse. The film highlights the mishaps between the two leading stars as they struggle with a terrible script, her fame (and his lack thereof), etc.
The special features include an audio commentary by the director’s daughter, Liza Minnelli. She cites this as her favourite musical and she offers a ton of tidbits about her father, director Vincente Minnelli. Liza frequented the set at the age of six and draws on her experiences with the cast, the set construction and the beautiful costumes. Liza mentions a scene called “Two-Faced Woman” that was cut from the film and it featured Cyd Charisse dancing and singing. Since Cyd didn’t actually “sing” (her voice was always dubbed), the scene was tough for her to complete and her struggle was evident in the print. It was noted that years later, Cyd asked that this scene not be shown as bonus material. It was not included on the DVD and as curious as I am, I’m not disappointed with its exclusion. Rounding out the special features are a Fred Astaire trailer gallery. The film includes its original mono track and 5.1 remix, and it's video is sources from the 2005 image transfer.
Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
What I enjoyed most about this DVD was the film’s introduction by Liza Minnelli. Liza not only speaks about the film but she recounts her mother’s (Judy Garland) relationship with the film’s director, Vincente Minnelli. This film works on so many levels. Many consider it a holiday favourite. The film is divided into 4 parts: summer, spring, fall and winter as a family prepares for the coming of the World’s Fair to their home town of St. Louis. Although we anticipate the arrival of the fair, the film focuses on the relationships of Smith family. We hear favourite numbers like the title track, “The Trolley Song”, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, etc. The entire cast is amazing to watch as well. The DVD features a rare ‘music only’ version of the film where all lyrics and dialogue is cut. There is also an audio commentary by several persons involved in the making of the film, including Margaret O’Brien. Within the audio commentary, there is mention of a documentary about the making of this film, not included in this single-sided release. that it’s included on the disc but it wasn’t. It leads me to believe that the commentary was done for a previous release where the documentary was included. I would have liked to have seen it included here as well. The transfer is the 60th anniversary ultra-resolution transfer with 5.1 audio all from restored elements.
Easter Parade (1949)
The final feature included in the collection is the only time Fred Astaire & Judy Garland worked together. The audio commentary by Fred’s daughter, Ava Astaire was full of interesting tidbits. The movie was originally intended for Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse with Frank Sinatra in the supporting role. However, due to injuries the film had to be re-cast. I’m always fascinated by casting changes. The movie appears to have everything working in its favour: a great cast, the songs of Irving Berlin and fantastic choreography. But essentially, the formula is old: Guy loses girl, finds new partner in hopes of creating jealously but ends up falling in love with his new partner. There was nothing glamorous about it, not even the finale. Granted the restoration was great. The colour was so great that it was evident that Ann Miller’s hairpiece didn’t match her actual hair. The best scene comes at the end of Ch. 10 when Fred encourages the frumpy Judy to attract the attention of male passer-bys. As for special features, in addition to the audio commentary, there is a Judy Garland trailer gallery.
IN THE END...
I was particularly attracted to this collection because it was produced by TCM. Overall, I was pleased with the films included in this DVD set. It allowed me to replace my VHS copies of Singin’ in the Rain and Meet Me in St. Louis. It also enhanced my DVD collection with The Band Wagon.
June 16, 2009.
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