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Blu-ray Review 42nd Street Blu-ray Review (1 Viewer)

Richard Gallagher

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42nd Street Blu-ray Review

42nd Street, the quintessential Depression-era Hollywood musical, is now available in a stunning Blu-ray release by the Warner Archive. Featuring catchy tunes and stunning choreography by Busby Berkeley, this release is essential to every fan of the film and will be a revelation to anyone who may be seeing it for the first time.



Studio: Warner Brothers

Distributed By: Warner Archive

Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1

Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA

Subtitles: English

Rating: Not Rated

Run Time: 1 Hr. 29.X Min.

Package Includes: Blu-ray

Standard Blu-ray Case

Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)

Region: A

Release Date: 04/21/2015

MSRP: $21.99




The Production Rating: 5/5

Come and meet those dancing feet,
On the avenue I'm taking you to,
Forty-Second Street.

When Warner Brothers decided to adapt the Bradford Ropes novel "42nd Street" into a musical, the United States was mired in the depths of the Great Depression. Another studio might have opted to set the film in the past or the future, but Warner Brothers wisely kept the contemporary setting of the Depression.

Julian Marsh (Warner Baxter) is a renowned director of Broadway shows who is down on his luck. He has suffered a nervous breakdown and his physician tells him that he is in danger of another. While speaking with producers about putting on a new musical, they express astonishment that Julian needs the money. "With all of the hits you've had," says one, "you ought to be worth plenty." With resignation Julian replies, "Yeah, I ought to be, but I'm not. Did you ever hear of Wall Street?"

Julian signs a contract to direct a new musical called "Pretty Lady." The star of the show will be Dorothy Brock (Bebe Daniels), and it will be financed by Abner Dillon (Guy Kibbee), a lecherous middle-aged businessman who has designs on Dorothy. She plays along with Abner because his money is vital to getting the show off the ground, but she manages to keep him at arm's length. Unbeknownst to Abner, Dorothy is really in love with her old partner, Pat Denning (George Brent), who is struggling to make a living on the vaudeville circuit. They have to keep their romance a secret because they know that Abner will pull the plug on the show if he learns that he has no chance with Dorothy.

Julian has a reputation as a hard-driving director, and he demonstrates his intensity at the casting call for members of the chorus. Most of the girls who show up to audition have experience on Broadway, such as Lorraine (Una Merkel), who is the girlfriend of Julian's assistant, and Annie (Ginger Rogers in her pre-Astaire days), who is nicknamed "Anytime Annie" ("She only said 'no' once, and then she didn't hear the question"). The last hopeful to show up is a novice, Peggy (Ruby Keeler), who is pranked by the other girls and walks into the dressing room of Billy Lawler (Dick Powell), a "Broadway juvenile" who will be appearing in the show. Billy likes Peggy and agrees to help her meet Julian. Peggy doesn't survive the final cut, but she gets a break when Julian discovers that the chorus if short one girl. The show is due to open in five weeks, and Julian proceeds to put the cast through a Broadway boot camp.

42nd Street is competently directed by the prolific Lloyd Bacon, but his work is overshadowed by the astonishingly original choreography by Busby Berkeley, who was given a free hand to stage the musical numbers. Among the songs by the hit songwriting team of Harry Warren and Al Dubin are "Shuffle Off to Buffalo," "Young and Healthy," and the title tune. The screenplay by Rian James and James Seymour includes some snappy dialogue, and those who complain about clichés in the plot should keep in mind that subsequent musicals frequently borrowed (stole?) ideas from 42nd Street.

Warner Baxter is excellent as the director who desperately needs another hit show. Bebe Daniels is lovely as Dorothy and she sings beautifully. By her own admission Ruby Keeler was neither a great singer nor a great dancer, but she gives a charming and vivacious performance as Peggy. Dick Powell was not yet a star (he is credited ninth in the cast), but his performance here demonstrates that his subsequent success was no fluke. Ginger Rogers and Una Merkel provide sassy comic relief, and Guy Kibbee is suitably smarmy as financier Abner.

42nd Street certainly provided escapism for movie audiences during the Great Depression, but is also offered a hopeful message that things would one day be better. More than eighty years later it has lost none of its charm, and its place in the history of Hollywood musicals will only be enhanced by this outstanding Blu-ray.



Video Rating: 5/5  3D Rating: NA

The 1.37:1 black & white image is shown in 1080p and is encoded with the AVC codec. The picture is lustrous, and it has been given such a wonderful restoration that it is almost unbelievable that this film dates back to near the dawn of sound motion pictures.

I could go on, but for more comments about how superb the Blu-ray of 42nd Street looks I encourage readers to take a look at the comments in A few words about...™ 42nd Street -- in Blu-ray by our resident expert, Robert A. Harris.



Audio Rating: 4.5/5

The English 2.0 DTS HD-MA mono soundtrack is as good as it could possibly be, held back only by the inherent limitations of the source material. Every word of dialogue is clear, noise and excessive hiss are nowhere to be found, and the brilliant musical numbers sound terrific. English subtitles are available.



Special Features Rating: 4/5

This Warner Archive Blu-ray contains an impressive array of extras.

"From Book to Screen to Stage" discussed how 42nd Street made the transition from a gritty novel to a bouncy film musical to a successful Broadway musical, in that order.

"Hollywood Newsreel" is a short about how the Columbia University football team was invited to visit the Warner Brothers studio after winning the 1934 Rose Bowl. After a detour to see Dick Powell, Margaret Lindsay and Guy Kibbe supposedly panning for gold at a California mine, Joan Blondell makes a brief appearance to announce that she has recovered from a recent illness. You may not have heard of Hal Le Roy, a 21-year-old dancer who had made a name for himself on Broadway. Here he is getting ready to film Harold Teen, a now largely forgotten film, for Warner Brothers. Songwriters Irving Kahal and Sammy Cain appear and play a couple of tunes which they composed for Harold Teen, and Hal Le Roy shows off his tap dancing skills.

"A Trip Thru a Hollywood Studio" starts out like a Hollywood studio travelogue, with brief shots of the Fox, RKO, Warner, Paramount, MGM, and Universal studios, but then it turns into a promotional short for Warner Brothers, with brief looks at actors such as James Cagney, Rudy Valee, Dolores del Rio, and others.

"Harry Warren: America's Foremost Composer" is a short which shows the songwriter playing tunes at a party, accompanied by singers such as Gladys Brittain and Marjorie Hines (the latter is best known as the voice of Betty Boop and Olive Oyl).

"The 42nd Street Special" is a newsreel-like short which shows a train commissioned by Warner Brothers and sponsored by General Electric as it leaves Denver enroute to the inauguration of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933. The train also promotes the film 42nd Street, of course, and many Warner Brothers stars, including Bette Davis, were aboard for the cross-country trip.

Also included are two Merrie Melodies cartoons which were inspired by two of the songs in 42nd Street. "Shuffle Off to Buffalo" is in high definition and looks and sound terrific. Viewers should be warned that it contains racial stereotypes which may offend Eskimos, blacks, Jews, Asians, etc., but in my opinion Warners is to be commended for making it available. As the disclaimer before the cartoon states, "some of these cartoons are being presented as they were originally created, because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed." The second cartoon is "Young and Healthy." It is shown in standard definition and shows its age a bit.

Finally, we have the theatrical trailer for 42nd Street, which is in good but not great shape.

The Blu-ray disc's menu allows the viewer to jump to any of ten different musical numbers in the film.



Overall Rating: 5/5

42nd Street is a delightful and important Hollywood musical, and the Warner Archive Blu-ray is positively stunning. It will be remembered as one of the best Blu-ray releases of the year. 42nd Street can be purchased directly at the Warner Archive website.


Reviewed By: Richard Gallagher


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Paul Penna

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The bonus "The 42nd Street Special" is also in hi-def, looking to be from an original 35mm element, and looks great. Interesting to see Hollywood notables and semi-notables being themselves, or at any rate, being themselves when shoved in front of a mic, camera and crowd and having to ad lib how enthused they are. Having the boss there probably helped motivate them. Or having flasks handy. Quality really helps convey the you-are-there, time machine feeling.
 

Ronald Epstein

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Just finished watching this film.


Didn't love it. Didn't hate it. Thought it started out quite well, dragged severely through its middle, but rewarded itself with its closing Busby Berkeley numbers.


One thing I think we can all agree on is that the transfer is spectacular. Thank God we have studios like Warner still churning out classics like these.
 

Nick*Z

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42nd Street is the template for a certain type of 30's musical comedy that became all the rage at Warner Bros under Busby Berkeley's creative tutelage. It isn't the best of his movies, but it is the first and one can sincerely hope we'll have Gold Diggers of 1933 and Footlight Parade on Blu-ray before long; each a superior example of what Berkeley in his prime was capable of delivering.


When people say stuff like "I didn't love it...I didn't hate it" my ears perk up. I've never been one to flat line an opinion on any movie. Either there's enough in it to warrant an appreciation or not enough to make it click for you. Either way, it's a subjective judgment call in the eye of the beholder. But you can't say Berkeley's choreography does nothing for you.


Personally, I've always felt Berkeley's style was better suited for a retrospective documentary of his numbers. They don't really fit in with the rest of the movie's style and the principles (apart from Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler) are rarely featured as prominently during the dramatic portions of the story. It's this disconnect I find disheartening when watching 42nd Street; desperately wanting to like the comedy that leads us into the 3 number finale but finding myself toggling on the remote to replay the songs without the story. Berkeley's talents would have been much more suited to a musical revue. But we have what we have.


For me, 42nd Street works because of the naughtiness going on behind the scenes; Guy Kibbee's lecherous old bugger wanting to do 'something nice' with a quid pro quo coming from Bebe Daniels, and Ginger Rogers playing a real twenty-cent tart; all gams and glib one liners like "It must have been tough on your mother, not having any children!" That's funny as hell!


But I really could never get into Ruby Keeler's nasal renditions of the songs. She sings as though someone where squeezing the tip of her nostrils with a clothes pin. There's such anemia in her voice it all but deflates the magical properties in Harry Warren and Arthur Lubin's score. Dick Powell's crooning - again, the style of the time. He makes me laugh when, after warbling the line "I'm full of vitamin 'A'" in Young and Healthy, gives out with an orgasmic yelp as though the elastic in his jock just gave him a wicked little snap. It's fun to watch because from today's perspective it lacks an air of legitimacy, long since replaced by more than a whiff of camp. Whooooooaaaa!!!!
 

Reed Grele

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As a child of the late fifties and early sixties, I was, you might say, "preconditioned" to the WB musicals and gangster films of the thirties and forties by way of the parodies done of them in many of their Merrie Melodies cartoons. Before I even knew who Hugh Herbert, Eddie Cantor, Jimmy Durante, Al ("Owl") Jolson, Ned Sparks... et al. were, I was being bombarded by all of their caricatures through the medium of television.


Now, whenever I see the classic films that showcase all of these familiar faces and voices of my youth, I feel a warm tinge of nostalgia. Add to this to the fact that I am now old enough to fully understand and appreciate these films, and it makes for a very enjoyable experience.


Ron, I know this was only your first viewing, but check it out again sometime. Besides all the great choreography and songs, there is such a plethora of "business" going on during the "dull" moments that really stands out and makes you take notice. You can't help but appreciate the effort that the great stars and character actors of the time gave to make this one of the most enjoyable films of all time..
 

warnerbro

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I really wish Warner Bros. would release all the racially-insensitive cartoons in one box set. I think it would be a huge seller and they could even enclose a documentary explaining the history of such stereotypes. It would be an instant classic. I applaud them for enclosing "Shuffle Off to Buffalo" in this set and especially in restored HD!
 

warnerbro

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I just watched this again this morning and I am amazed at how dark and gritty it is. Every scene is full of sexual innuendo and there is even a rape and murder in one of the dance numbers!
 

Virgoan

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I very much enjoyed this film Sunday afternoon. Its main contribution to the musical genre, apart from the Busby Berkeley baubles, is its presentation of a dictatorial director trying to exact as much sweat and pain from his company as possible all in the attempt to do his best work and to be remembered for something extraordinary.


The telling comments from patrons at the end of the film are that plastering one's name on everything doesn't mean you'll get the credit if you wrote/produced/choreographed/scored/conceived something all by yourself. Of course, that's not the case here for the director who just wants a financial success so that he can "sock it away" to live on in his retirement.


Ruby Keeler is quite appealling as the chorus girl who becomes a sensation. Unlikely though it may seem, Keeler was a very popular musical film star in the 1930s. Equally improbable is that Dick Powell was a singing sensation and heartthrob. Times change. Tastes change. Life marches on.


Still, wisecracks stand the test of time and there are a few zingers throughout the film. Ginger Rogers and Una Merkel have some fun moments, especially Ginger as the be-monocled "Anytime Annie".


The songs are pleasant, although the constant use of an upbeat orchestral version of "You're Getting to Be A Habit With Me" under all "dramatic" scenes, regardless of tone, grows a bit monotonous. This was 1932, before film scoring became an art form.


It's funny how none of the rehearsal numbers are shown in finished form as the show opens. Still, it's the first "backstage" musical and has some potent comments on the drudgery behind putting on a dance-filled show. "A Chorus Line" was the natural evolutionary/revolutionary offshoot, IMO.
 

Richard Gallagher

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Nick*Z said:
For me, 42nd Street works because of the naughtiness going on behind the scenes; Guy Kibbee's lecherous old bugger wanting to do 'something nice' with a quid pro quo coming from Bebe Daniels, and Ginger Rogers playing a real twenty-cent tart; all gams and glib one liners like "It must have been tough on your mother, not having any children!" That's funny as hell!

And there is the scene where Peggy brings Pat Denning to her room. As she gets chewed out by her landlady for having a man in her room, in the background you can see another man sneaking out of a different girl's room. That must have been missed by the censors.
 

Joel Arndt

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Richard Gallagher said:
And there is the scene where Peggy brings Pat Denning to her room. As she gets chewed out by her landlady for having a man in her room, in the background you can see another man sneaking out of a different girl's room. That must have been missed by the censors.

This film is pre-code and was released more than a year before the huge clamp down on visual and written content in mid-1934, so no surprise that this scene is there. And it's a great scene among many others in this gem.
 

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