Senior HTF Member
- Feb 20, 2001
- Livonia, MI USA
- Real Name
- Kenneth McAlinden
Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland Collection
Babes in Arms (1939), Strike Up the Band (1940), Babes on Broadway (1941), Girl Crazy(1943)
Studio: Warner Bros.
Film Length: Various
Aspect Ratio: 4:3
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Release Date: October 9, 2007
Babes in Arms (1939 - MGM - 93 minutes)
Directed By: Busby Berkeley
Starring: Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, Charles Winninger, Guy Kibbee, June Preisser, Margaret Hamilton, Rand Brooks
Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland play Mickey Moran and Patsy Barton, two children from show business families. Their parents had great success at the height of vaudeville, but have fallen on hard times with the advent of talking pictures. They live in suburban New York in a community with a lot of other vaudevillian families. When their parents attempt to mount a comeback with a revival show, the kids are discouraged from participating, and Mickey is particularly upset when his ideas about modernizing the act are rejected. With their parents on tour and their mortgages on the line, Mickey, Patsy and the rest of the kids decide to mount their own show in the local barn to help out. Prominent local busybody Martha Steele (Hamilton) is none too keen on the idea, however, and is constantly prevailing on the local Judge Black (Kibbee) to shut the production down and send the kids to a state school where they belong. As the picture progresses, the kids encounter various ups and downs and Patsy has her own separate set of difficulties convincing Mickey to take notice of her as more than just a friend.
"Babes in Arms" was a pivotal film in the careers of several of its key creative participants. It more or less kicked off the second phase of Busby Berkeley's career at MGM after his considerable success at Warner Bros. in the 1930s. It was also the first producer credit for Arthur Freed kicking off a string of hits that would more or less cement MGM's reputation as the dream factory through the 40s and early 50s. Rooney was already one of the top box office stars of the preceding year, but after "Babes in Arms", his first musical, he catapulted to the top of the list and stayed there for three years. While Judy Garland's career had been steadily gaining momentum as she moved from specialty numbers in the mid-30s to juvenile leads, the one two punch of "The Wizard of Oz" and "Babes in Arms" in 1939 catapulted her into the top box office stars list with Rooney and earned her a special Academy Award at the 1940 ceremony.
The film was adapted from the hit Broadway show featuring the songs of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, but in the grand Hollywood tradition, only the basic premise of the play and three songs from the original show were kept. To be fair, that same basic premise of kids banding together to put on a show would prove durable enough to spawn all four of the big hit "backyard" musicals in this DVD collection. Amazingly, future standards "My Funny Valentine", "Johnny One-Note", and "I Wish I Were in Love Again" were dropped while "The Lady is a Tramp" only appears as a bit of underscore signaling the on-screen appearances of June Preisser's "Baby" Rosalie. Even more amazingly, the film still works with the score filled out by songs from other sources, including a generous helping of songs co-written by Freed. The big finale is set to the patriotic song "God's Country" Composed by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg.
Rooney and Garland had appeared together previously supporting Ronald Sinclair in the juvenile horse racing comedy "Thoroughbreds Don't Cry" and in "Love Finds Andy Hardy", but it was "Babes in Arms" that would establish them as a potent box office pairing. Rooney chews all of the scenery he can get his teeth into, but it is perfect for the part of a young stage performer who would do the same. His appeal in this and the subsequent films is illustrated in microcosm by his impersonations of Clark Gable and Lionel Barrymore. While they are not necessarily even technically accurate as impersonations, they are done with such wanton enthusiasm and energy that you feel compelled to laugh and applaud anyway. Garland conveys her trademark non-cloying sincerity throughout the film. Her unparalleled ability to not just perform a song, but to act in character while doing so both in the recording booth and when miming on set is on full display.
The supporting cast displays the typical MGM level of polish and skill. Operatic singers Douglas McPhail and Betty Jaynes provide a nice contrast to the leads, particularly when Jaynes trades verses with Garland in the "Opera vs. Jazz" number early in the film. June Preisser is absolutely hilarious as the blonde Shirley Temple-esque former child star that romantically befuddles Mickey. Her acrobatic moves in the scene where she arrives for rehearsals are amazing. Margaret Hamilton plays the heavy against Judy for the second film in a row, having just planted her fright flag permanently in the subconscious of children everywhere as the Wicked Witch of the West in "The Wizard of Oz". For all intents and purposes, she is playing Miss Gulch again in this film.
As one would expect in a Busby Berkeley film, everything culminates in a huge dazzling production number at film's end. This disc includes the full unedited version of the "God's Country" finale. When the film was reissued in the mid-late 40s, a segment was cut out of the negative where Mickey and Judy imitate Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt in a "fireside chat" in deference to the former's recent passing. Unfortunately this segment also included Mickey presenting Judy with a keepsake heirloom that tied up their dramatic arc in the film. This piece of the finale was missing from all circulating prints and video releases prior to the 1990s. The segment has been restored from a 16mm source which has been painstakingly, and rather effectively, worked over in both the photochemical and digital video domains to match the existing 35mm material as closely as possible.
Strike Up the Band (1940 - MGM - 120 minutes)
Directed By: Busby Berkeley
Starring: Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, June Preisser, William Tracy, Larry Nunn, Margaret Early, Ann Shoemaker, Paul Whiteman
In this film, Rooney plays Jimmy Connors, a drummer at a small-town prep school who, after convincing his principal to let him convert the stolid and unpopular school band into a modern dance band, sets his sites on winning a radio competition being sponsored by big time bandleader Paul Whiteman (as himself). His obsession with making it as a bandleader blinds him to the affections of close friend and singer Mary Holden (Garland), who patiently waits for him get over his "Girls are just people" neutrality while the much younger Willie Brewster (Nunn) not-so secretly pines for her. The chief obstacle to the band's success is the prohibitive cost of sending the band to Chicago. The chief obstacle to Mary's success is Barbara Frances Morgan (Preisser), the wealthy new girl in school who takes a liking to Jimmy and will not take no for an answer.
"Strike Up the Band" followed quickly on the heels of "Babes in Arms", and essentially offered more of the same. It creaks a bit under the weight of its 120 minute running time, as the script goes off on all sorts of tangents and flights of fancy inclusive of a melodramatic subplot about Jimmy's late father wanting him to be a doctor (yawn), an extended musical sequence with animated fruit (wow!), and a gay 90s melodrama parody on which Jimmy and Mary just happened to have collaborated even though they were ostensibly just a drummer/bandleader and singer (incredulous, but fun). June Preisser plays essentially the same character as in "Babes in Arms", but without the amusing level of Shirley Temple satire. The addition of Bill Nunn as the too young boy enamored of Garland's character gives her someone to talk to about her romantic frustrations and adds an extra layer of "teen angst lite".
The musical highlights are plentiful, with contributions from a number of sources including the Oscar nominated song "Our Love Affair". Mickey and Judy each get a number tailored especially to their skills, with Judy getting the clever but emotional ballad "Nobody" and Rooney getting to show off his ability to slap the skins in "Drummer Boy".
Berkeley unleashes his imagination in the elaborate camera choreography of the "Do the La Conga" number (it goes on for ages with only a few actual cuts) as well as the big "Strike Up the Band" finale. The film taps into the 1940s big band craze not just in its plot, but by including band leader Paul Whiteman and his orchestra in the cast. Whiteman even gets to act in a couple of non-trivial scenes. The "Nell of New Rochelle" stage production in the middle of the film is pretty funny, and I found it interesting to watch a film from almost seven decades ago parodying a dramatic style from over a hundred years ago.
The individual highlights are spectacular, but I found it occasionally a chore to slog through due to its derivative nature and excessive length, especially when viewed consecutively after "Babes in Arms".
Babes on Broadway (1941 - MGM - 118 minutes)
Directed By: Busby Berkeley
Starring: Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, Virginia Wiedler, Ray McDonald, Richard Quine, Fay Bainter, James Gleason
"Babes on Broadway" stars Mickey Rooney as young aspiring Broadway entertainer Tommy Williams. Tommy and his two friends Ray (McDonald) and Hammy (Quine), play gigs at a pasta restaurant for tips when they are not hanging around their favorite Manhattan diner with other show business hopefuls. Their luck seems to take a turn for the better when they are spotted at one of their gigs by "Jonesy" Jones (Bainter), the assistant to big-shot Broadway producer Thornton Reed (Gleason). A private audition with Reed turns into a large scale cattle call when they talk too much around the diner, and their audition is unsuccessful. When Tommy learns from aspiring entertainer Penny Morris (Garland) about the plight of a group of kids in a settlement house trying to raise enough money for a trip to the country, he concocts a mutually exploitative scheme to mount a production as a fundraiser for the kids. Penny is initially impressed by Tommy's philanthropic gesture, until she begins to suspect that he is more interested in the exposure it will generate for him than in the funds it will raise for the kids.
The formula is modulated slightly in this one as Rooney plays Tommy as more streetwise and cynical than his previous enthusiastic dreamers from "Babes in Arms" and "Strike Up the Band". Similarly, Garland plays Penny as a little bit smarter and more independent than her characters from the previous films.
Similar to "Strike up the Band", "Babes on Broadway" feels a bit padded at almost two hours in length. An episode in the middle of the proceedings where they perform a benefit for a group of British war refugee children seems awkwardly tacked on to the film, but it was an unusual acknowledgment of the war in Europe for a pre-Pearl Harbor musical production, and resonated well with all but the staunchest neutrality advocates at the time.
The supporting cast is once again strong, although the talented Bainter and Gleason are somewhat underused. McDonald and Quine make good foils for Rooney, and Berkeley has some fun arranging them in the frame with their diminutive co-star. Virginia Wiedler registers well as a talented resident of the settlement house in a part that was reportedly earmarked for Shirley Temple. Attentive viewers will notice Donna Reed in an unbilled cameo as Jonesy's secretary, and no one should be able to miss pre-school-aged Margaret O'Brien's screen debut as a beyond precocious child with a pushy stage mother.
In the plus column go the Oscar-nominated song "How About You", the elaborately staged "Hoedown" number that is similar in execution to "Do the La Conga", Rooney's insane but funny Carmen Miranda impersonation singing "Mama Yo Quiero" and the inventive "Ghost Theater" number in which Mickey and Judy pay musical tribute to past luminaries of the Broadway stage, including a bit where Rooney does his George M. Cohan homage a mere six months before the release of James Cagney's "Yankee Doodle Dandy".
On the negative side of the ledger, particularly for modern audiences, the film's big blowout climactic number is a blackface minstrel show that runs for well over a dozen minutes. The talent that went into it is undeniable, and it looks like Rooney even learned how to play the banjo based on how well he mimes it during the number, but it remains difficult to appreciate from a modern perspective. There was a shorter minstrel number in "Babes in Arms" as well, but in the case of "Babes on Broadway", it is the conclusion of the film and ends things on a sourly dated note.
Girl Crazy (1943 - MGM - 99 minutes)
Directed By: Norman Taurog
Starring: Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, Rags Ragland, Gil Stratton, Nancy Walker, Guy Kibbee
Loosely adopted from the Broadway musical of the same name, "Girl Crazy" tells the story of Danny Churchill, Jr. (Rooney), the son of a prominent New York Publisher. When Danny's nightclubbing ways land him on the front page of the local scandal sheets one too many times, his father transfers him out of Yale and into the remote Cody College of Mines and Agriculture with an exclusively male student body in the southwestern United States. Expecting to not see any women until he returns home from school, Danny is pleased to make the acquaintance of Ginger Gray (Garland), the niece of the college's Dean who is responsible for delivering the mail to campus. Danny finds adapting to the western atmosphere difficult, and encounters some significant resistance in his efforts to woo the unimpressed and popular Ginger. When he learns that the college is in danger of being shut down by the state due to low enrollment, Danny hatches a plan to draw attention (and co-ed enrollments) to the school with a western rodeo show inclusive of a beauty contest.
"Girl Crazy" varies from the cookie-cutter format a bit without completely throwing out the playbook. Judy finally gets to play hard to get as the object of Mickey's desire rather than the girl pining for his attention. Judy and Mickey have more of a classic romantic comedy relationship in this one inclusive of the opening "meet cute" with Mickey first eying Judy tending to a broken down jalopy while he is trekking across the desert to his remote college. The southwest setting and comic western elements also serve to freshen things up a bit. The film even gets a bit risqué at times, albeit by Louis B. Mayer and production code standards, with the mild double entendres inherent in "Treat Me Rough" and "Could You Use Me" as well as the staging of "Embraceable You" as a number sung by Garland to more or less each individual student at the college.
The filmmakers also made the smart choice of retaining most of the George and Ira Gershwin songs from the original Broadway production even if they did jettison all but the barest premise of the plot. Busby Berkeley was initially assigned to direct, and helmed the spectacular closing "I've Got Rhythm" production number, but due to illness and the studio's concerns about budget overruns, he was replaced by Norman Taurog. This is my favorite of the four films in the collection, and shows that the Arthur Freed unit at MGM had really hit its stride.
The supporting cast is very good with early screen appearances from June Allyson (in a specialty number performing "Treat Me Rough" during the film's opening) and Peter Lawford (in a single-line blink and you will miss him cameo). The film also features a typically enjoyable comic turn from Rags Ragland as an employee at the college. Dance Director Charles Walters, who would later go on to establish himself as a distinguished director of film musicals, appears on screen as Judy Garland's dance partner during the "Embraceable You" number.
All four films are presented in 4:3 black and white transfers consistent with their original theatrical presentations. All of the films appear to be from elements at least two generations removed from the original negatives. The film elements used for "Babes in Arms" and "Girl Crazy" appear to be in significantly worse shape than the other two titles in the collection. "Babes in Arms" has artifacts of significant levels of digital video noise reduction applied to the master, and still suffers from visible damage such as vertical scratches throughout. "Girl Crazy" is significantly grainier than the other titles with bright areas of the frame pulsing with the grain and occasionally appearing blown out in contrast. Edge ringing is negligible to non-existent on all four titles, and compression is generally very good, especially considering the amount of film grain present.
All films are presented with English Dolby Digital 1.0 mono soundtracks encoded at 192 kbps. As with the video, "Girl Crazy" proves to be the most problematic. It starts right out of the gate with massive distortion on the opening fanfare of the score, but it does improve after that. Also similar to the video, "Babes in Arms" has the heaviest noise reduction applied with noticeable artifacts sounding like the engineers were trying too hard to coax a pristine track from difficult elements.
All of the extras are presented in 4:3 video with Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound unless otherwise indicated.
All four films include recently filmed introductions from Mickey Rooney that run a little over three minutes each. On "Babes in Arms" he talks a little about his and Judy's careers which began on the vaudeville stage and led up to their pairing in that film. Most of the rest of the introductions consist of fairly obvious comments on cast, collaborators, and the success of the picture. Each film is also accompanied on disc by its original theatrical trailer.
"Babes In Arms" and "Girl Crazy" both include excellent full-length audio commentaries from John Fricke. They are as thorough, interesting, and well–researched as his previous commentaries on Garland films such as "The Wizard of Oz", "Meet Me in St. Louis" and "The Pirate". He offers detailed biographies of key cast and creative talent, discusses changes from script to screen highlighting the planned contents of deleted segments, and generally delivers everything one could hope for in a scholarly commentary.
One technical note on the audio supplements. For some reason, the radio shows and excerpts on these discs are not encoded with a fully functional time code, and I found that certain normal functions of my DVD players such as "resume", "fast forward", and "rewind" would not function. This means that if you would like to listen to, for instance, one of the hour-long Lux Radio Theater programs, you had best set an hour aside to do so, because every time you stop your player, it starts over from the beginning, and there is no skipping ahead.
Additionally, the "Babes in Arms" disc includes: "Duel Personalities" - a nine minute and 54 second black and white "Our Gang" short from 1939 where Alfalfa develops a false sense of courage under hypnosis and challenges Butch to a fight over Darla. Also included is "The Mad Maestro" - a 1939 Hugh Harman MGM Technicolor cartoon in which a pear-shaped conductor with a Stokowski wig has various comic troubles getting his orchestra to navigate through a piece of music. It is a nice showpiece for Scott Bradley's arrangements, but not as funny as similarly themed cartoons that came before and after it. "Newsreel Footage" runs four minutes and three seconds and contains footage of Judy Garland's 16th Birthday party (including Mickey Rooney as a guest), Rooney, Garland, and Louis B. Mayer at the World's Fair in New York, and a March of Dimes PSA starring Mickey and Judy. Audio only features include: "9/24/1939 Gulf Screen Guild Theater" - broadcast which runs 28 minutes and 18 seconds featuring Rooney, Garland, Cary Grant, and Ann Sothern clowning around at each other's expense; "11/9/1941 Gulf Screen Guild Theater" program which runs 27 minutes and 59 seconds featuring Rooney and Garland performing songs from "Babes in Arms"; "Good News of 1938 Radio Show" which runs 13 minutes and 40 seconds in which Judy performs two numbers including a rendition of "God's Country"; and "'Leo is on the Air' Radio Promo" – a four minute and 43 second hyperbolic promotional advertisement for "Babes in Arms" previewing much of the music.
The "Strike Up the Band" disc includes "Wedding Bills" – a nine minute and 41 second "Pete Smith Specialty" from 1940 where the practical realities of an engagement increasingly weigh on the film's protagonist, Jojo, with wry observations from Smith. Also included is "Romeo in Rhythm" - an eight minute and fourteen second Technicolor MGM cartoon from 1940 that transports "Romeo and Juliet" to a New York tenement more than two decades before "West Side Story", in this case acted out by crows speaking in stereotypical african american colloquialisms and singing MGM library tracks such as "You Were Meant for Me". "'Do the La Conga' Stereo Number" runs six minutes and two seconds and is exactly what it claims to be in DD 2.0 stereo mixed from directional orchestral stems. Audio Only features include: "10/28/1940 Lux Radio Theater Broadcast" – An hour long production of "Strike up the Band" with Mickey and Judy Reprising their roles; "Leo is on the Air radio Promo" consists of fourteen minutes and six seconds of hyping "Strike Up the Band" with lots of musical excerpts; "7/2/1941 Millions for Defense Radio Excerpt" – runs thirteen minutes and 56 seconds consisting of ten minutes of comic bits of business involving the host, Fred Allen, trying to reach Mickey and Judy for their appearance on the program culminating in a performance of "Strike Up the Band".
The "Babes on Broadway" disc includes "How to Hold Your Husband - Back" a nine minute and eighteen second black and white "Pete Smith Specialty" short with Smith's narration accompanying a number of humorous vignettes in which wives prevent husbands from being all they can be. "Dance of the Weed" is a 1941 Technicolor Rudolf Ising Cartoon running eight minutes and 38 seconds in which an awkward dancing weed falls in love with a ballerina-like flower and saves her from some menacing snapdragons. Audio only features include: "Chin Up, Cheerio, Carry On Burton Lane Guide Track" a demo that runs two minutes and 30 seconds; "Leo is On the Air Radio Promo" consists of fifteen minutes of musical highlights from "Babes on Broadway"; "Leo is on the Air Christmas Radio Promo" runs fourteen minutes and one second of a Christmas-themed broadcast featuring Rooney and Garland on Santa Claus lane with the big guy himself; "11/17/1941 Lux Radio Theater Broadcast of 'Merton of the Movies'" runs 57 minutes and 53 seconds consisting of a radio play of the popular novel/play/silent film story starring Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland.
The "Girl Crazy" disc includes "Hollywood Daredevils" – a nine minute 21 second 1943 black and white Pete Smith Specialty focusing on a number of stuntmen performing some wacky and dangerous vehicle stunts. "The Early Bird Dood It" is a very funny 1943 Tex Avery MGM cartoon where a worm enlists the aid of a cat to get rid of that pesky early bird; "'I Got Rhythm' Stereo Remix Version" includes the entire seven and a half minute segment remixed to 2.0 stereo from directional orchestral stems. The sole audio only feature is "Bronco Busters" Audio Outtake – a four minute and 40 second recording of a song deleted from the film featuring Judy, Mickey, Nancy Walker, and chorus with Tommy Dorsey's band
Moving on to the dedicated Bonus Disc, "Private Screenings with Mickey Rooney" runs 40 minutes and thirteen seconds. It is a program recorded in 1997 and shot on standard definition color 4:3 video with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound in which Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne sits down for a retrospective interview with Mickey Rooney after a clip-heavy biographical intro. Rooney has some strong opinions about things and occasionally gets a bit feisty despite his generally rose-colored outlook on his experience at MGM. The interview is mixed with occasional montages of film clips and behind the scenes photos.
"The Judy Garland Songbook" runs one hour, 26 minutes, and 35 seconds if "Play All" is selected, and includes 21 clips of complete production numbers featuring Judy Garland in movies throughout her entire film career. The program is framed by panned and scanned excerpts from the "Born in a Trunk" number from "A Star is Born", but all other clips are in their original aspect ratios. It includes clips from "Thoroughbreds Don't Cry", "Love Finds Andy Hardy" and "Thousands Cheer" which all include Rooney. This is the final solution for anyone who complained that there was not enough Judy Garland in the "That's Entertainment" films. It does not try to be comprehensive (nothing from "The Wizard of Oz"), but it is a nice representative sampling of her work in the movies.
"Mickey and Judy Trailer Gallery" runs 28 minutes and 46 seconds. In addition to repeating the trailers for the "backyard musical" films in this set, it includes promotional trailers for "Thoroughbreds Don't Cry", "Love Finds Andy Hardy", "Andy Hardy Meets Debutante", "Life Begins for Andy Hardy", "Thousands Cheer", and "Words and Music".
I am not normally all that impressed by packaging, but Warner really went the extra mile with this one. Inside the thick sturdy foil-enhanced cardboard box are three pieces. The first is a four-panel digipack with each of the four films occupying overlapping plastic hubs in the two center panels. Next is the "Bonus DVD and Guide", which is bound like a DVD-case-sized hardcover book. The inside front cover includes a plastic hub for the bonus disc while the rest consists of a 48 page book with contents and chapter lists for all discs in the collection, an informative John Fricke essay on each film, and reproductions of vintage promotional images and text for each film. Finally, a two pocket cardboard case contains the "Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland Portfolio" consisting of 20 cards with 5x7 behind the scenes photographs. All of these are decorated with numerous black and white tinted blue promotional images of Mickey and Judy. It is graphically interesting and tastefully done.
A decade into the DVD format, Warner has more than made up for the previous absence of these films on disc by giving them an absolute first class treatment. The films themselves are not artistic statements so much as eager to please entertaining showcases for their stars' considerable talents. The audio/video presentations are hampered by what are reportedly unavoidable source issues, especially in the case of "Girl Crazy" and "Babes in Arms", but the films look much better than they have in previous video incarnations and television broadcasts. Extras are very generous with key contributions from Garland expert John Fricke in addition to vintage shorts, radio programs, a couple of production numbers remixed to stereo, and some audio outtakes. The packaging is first class and impressed me despite my normal aversion to overlapping discs.