Senior HTF Member
- Feb 20, 2001
- Livonia, MI USA
- Real Name
- Kenneth McAlinden
Classic Musicals from the Dream Factory Volume 2
The Pirate(1948)/Words and Music (1948)/That Midnight Kiss (1949)/The Toast of New Orleans(1950)/Royal Wedding (1951)/The Belle of New York (1952)/That's Dancing! (1985)
Studio: Warner Brothers
Rated: Unrated - G
Film Length: Various
Aspect Ratio: 4:3/16:9
Subtitles: English, French
Release Date: July 24, 2007
I was born at the age of twelve on an MGM lot.Warner has once again dipped into their MGM vaults for a collection of six classic Technicolor musicals from their post-war heyday as well as "That's Dancing" a retrospective documentary from 1985 from the producer and director of the original "That's Entertainment!" film looking at the history of dance on film.
- Judy Garland
The Pirate (1948 - MGM - 100 minutes)
Directed By: Vincente Minnelli
Starring: Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Walter Slezak, Gladys Cooper, George Zucco, Reginald Owen
"The Pirate", adapted from a stage play by S.N. Behrman, tells the tale of Manuela (Garland), a young Spanish woman in the Caribbean whose dreams of adventure frequently star the infamous Pirate Macoco aka "Mack the Black". Manuela is reluctantly but obediently resigned, through the arrangements of her Aunt Inez (Cooper), to marry the town's wealthy mayor, Don Pedro Vargas (Slezak). Serafin (Kelly), an actor who heads a traveling group of entertainers, becomes smitten with Manuela, initially due to her beauty, and even more so when he learns that she can sing and attract paying customers. After discovering Manuela's fascination with Macoco as well as a skeleton in Don Pedro's closet, Serafin devises a plan where he will masquerade as the infamous Pirate to woo her away from her intended.
"Behind the Scenes" books and documentaries are filled with stories about how classic films somehow resulted from tumultuous and chaotic production processes. This is not quite one of those situations. "The Pirate" does indeed have a fascinating and colorful back story including a lead actress who was beset by health problems resulting in her missing more shooting days than she made and numerous radical changes in story and structure starting with the adaptation process and continuing through the post-production period. The resulting film never fully transcends all of these problems, although it does come close.
The one evident problem that seems to be directly related to the behind the scenes turmoil is the film's awkward structure. "The Pirate" opens with a scene of Manuela expressing her dreams and desires, and yet she never gets the opportunity to express them via song. In fact, 15 minutes pass before any song appears, and more than a half hour goes by before Garland sings a note. Similarly, close to the movie's conclusion, a song that seems like it was intended to be a major love song appears for the first time in what sounds like a reprise.
The second major problem the film has is an inconsistency in tone. At times it seems like it wants the audience to take it seriously, but then will turn on a dime into broad farce. Kelly plays Serafin in a broad hammy John Barrymoore-style most of the time, and in a broad hammy Douglas Fairbanks style when he is masquerading as Macoco. In either case, the viewer gets the distinct impression that that his whole performance is a put-on. With the perspective of time, this seems mildly amusing if a bit sophomoric. At the time of the film's release, however, this was a gross commercial miscalculation since audiences were not necessarily looking for such irony in a Judy Garland/Gene Kelly musical.
On the other hand, Kelly's dances are as spectacular as his reputation would lead one to expect with the "Pirate Ballet" sequence being a particular highlight. Kelly sings serviceably well on most of his numbers, but he does not quite have the vocal chops to pull-off what Cole Porter was going for with "Nina". Once he started dancing, however, it stopped bothering me instantly. Late in the film, he performs two different highly entertaining production numbers to Cole Porter's "Be a Clown". In the first, he dances with the Nicholas Brothers who were perhaps the only two dancers working in movies who could make him look like he was working hard to keep up with them. The reprise is with Garland in a slapstick homage to their vaudeville roots.
Another miscalculation that probably hurt "The Pirate" at the box-office was casting Judy Garland in a more adult and sophisticated role than audiences had come to expect from her. This is by no means a problem when viewed in retrospect, however, as she gives a very good performance. While I referred to the health problems experienced by Garland during the film's production, you would never know it from her performance as captured on film, which is simultaneously energetic, comedic, and glamorous.
Director Minnelli does his usual fine job of emphasizing each actor's strengths in their solo numbers while blending them in their scenes together. Minnelli also applies his usual layer of technical polish to the proceedings. Minnelli and his collaborators' use of color, both in terms of the production design and the photography/lighting, is impressively assured, and at key times both bolder and more subtle than most of his contemporaries in the late 1940's. Despite any flaws that "The Pirate" may have, the innovative staging of the production numbers provide enough eye-candy combined with Garland's performance and Kelly's dancing to make it an entertaining spectacle for fans of MGM musicals.
Words and Music (1948 - MGM - 120 minutes)
Directed By: Norman Taurog
Starring: Mickey Rooney, Tom Drake, Ann Sothern, June Allyson, Perry Como, Judy Garland, Lena Horne, Gene Kelly, Cyd Charisse
Mickey Rooney plays lyricist Lorenz Hart in this highly fictionalized biopic of his life. Tom Drake plays composer Richard Rodgers, who serves as the narrator of the film, which traces events from their first meeting through their final collaboration. As the film progresses Hart's escalating professional success, illustrated via several dazzling production numbers of Rodgers and Hart songs performed by top MGM talent (see the cast list above), is set in relief by self consciousness about his height, romantic failings, and illness. Rodgers, meanwhile, is more successful in his personal life and tries with varying degrees of success to help Hart cope with his problems.
Postwar Hollywood had quite a run of composer biopics, which usually either whitewashed, jazzed up, or completely fabricated details of a songwriter's life as necessary to create a frame from which to hang musical production numbers of their most popular songs and to conform to the Production Code. "Words and Music" falls squarely into that tradition. As a biography, it is highly inaccurate, but as a tribute to the impressive song catalog of Rodgers and Hart, it is much more successful.
The film's portrayal of Hart is hamstrung by outside forces and socially conservative decisions. The film avoids any indication that both Rodgers and Hart were Jewish. The Production Code would not allow the filmmakers to portray Hart as a tortured self-loathing homosexual, and Hart's estate did not want the film to deal directly with his alcoholism. As such, his demons in the film are represented by anxiety about his small stature (a trait with some basis in fact), and a romantic rejection from singer Peggy McNeil (Garrett). As a result, the cause does not quite proportionately match up with the effects, which undermines the narrative and Rooney's performance. Rooney's take on Hart feels about 30% Hart and 70% high-energy Mickey Rooney, but it works for the distorted mirror that is the script. The melodrama gets laid on especially thick in the final two reels, with the last shot involving Hart introducing an irony so ridiculous that I recommend viewers wear soft gloves to avoid hurting themselves when they slap their foreheads.
The unearned overwrought melodrama runs in stark contrast to the several star-powered big-time production numbers which are the real reason this film was one of the top box-office draws of 1948. The staging of these numbers is expertly done, usually in a way that employs somewhat plausible sets that do not stray too far from the theatrical origins of the songs. Perry Como looks uncomfortable acting, but sounds fine in a number of songs throughout the film. The rest of the stunt-casting is so uniformly excellent that when I started listing highlights, I could not decide what not to mention. Gene Kelly and Vera Ellen's "Slaughter on 10th Avenue" ballet segment is very impressive, but seems oddly placed in the film since it is portrayed as the representative production number from Rodgers and Hart's last great Broadway success, and yet, being an instrumental piece, it has no lyrics from Hart.
That Midnight Kiss (1949 - MGM - 96 minutes)
Directed By: Norman Taurog
Starring: Kathryn Grayson, Mario Lanza, Ethel Barrymore, Keenan Wynn, José Iturbi, J. Carrol Naish, Jules Munshin, Thomas Gomez
In his film debut, Mario Lanza plays delivery truck driver Johnny Donnetti. When delivering a piano to the home of wealthy opera patron Abigail Budell (Barrymore), her soprano daughter, Prudence (Grayson), is amazed to find him seated at the piano playing and singing like, well, Mario Lanza. She becomes convinced that this blue-collar Caruso would make a better singing partner than Betelli (Gomez), the famous but egotistical tenor recently hired by her mother and the opera's music director José Iturbi (as himself). Prudence also begins to develop a romantic interest in Johnny, but turns him away when she believes him to have been hiding an engagement to another woman. The personal rift threatens to spoil both of their operatic debuts.
For Lanza's debut, MGM left very little to chance. The story is not too far removed from Lanza's own life. They kept his operatic musical performances brief but effective. They surrounded him with a group of ace comic character actors such as Keenan Wynn, Jules Munshin, J. Carrol Naish, and Thomas Gomez who prevented things from getting too highbrow. They paired him with Kathryn Grayson and José Iturbi who both had previous commercial success bringing classical music to the masses. Finally, they gave him no heavy dramatic scenes to perform, letting the film's finale and resolution play out on the operatic stage rather than via a long heartfelt conversation.
Lanza proves to be a winning screen presence, and the film, while not particularly deep, proves quite entertaining. Veteran MGM director Taurog keeps things moving at a reasonably snappy pace with the expected sheen of MGM glamour applied over the tastefully restrained production design and Technicolor cinematography.
The Toast of New Orleans (1950 - MGM - 97 minutes)
Directed By: Norman Taurog
Starring: Kathryn Grayson, Mario Lanza, David Niven, J. Carrol Naish
In this film, Lanza plays Pepe Duvalle, a brash uncultured good-time boy Louisiana Bayou fisherman who just happens to sing like; you guessed it, Mario Lanza. Once again he is paired with Kathryn Grayson, who plays Suzette Micheline another well to do soprano who initially wants nothing to do with the brutish Pepe after meeting him while passing through his small hometown. Suzette's paramour, opera producer Jacques Riboudeaux (Niven), thinks differently and encourages Pepe to come to New Orleans to audition for his opera. When Pepe and his hopelessly uncouth Uncle Nicky run into some bad luck with their fishing boat, Pepe decides to give opera a shot, bringing Nicky along with him. As Pepe receives training in both opera and the social graces, Suzette finds herself attracted and repulsed by him in rapid succession. For his part, Pepe becomes determined to win her over, even if he has to turn his back on his friends and family back home to do so.
The plot for "The Toast of New Orleans" is even thinner than that for "That Midnight Kiss", and Lanza is far less convincing as a Cajun fisherman than he was as a Philadelphia truck driver. That being said, the music is very good, and the film includes some wonderful operatic performances as well as the big hit song "Be My Love".
Director Taurog miscalculates by devoting far too much screen time to J. Carrol Naish as Uncle Nicky, whose shtick wears thin quickly and then goes on far too long. Another miscalculation comes with an early dance number to a song called "The Tina Lina" which is a silly song in general, and makes Lanza look particularly awkward as he hovers in the frame while Rita Moreno and James Mitchell literally dance circles around him. Having Uncle Nicky reprise "The Tina Lina" at seemingly random moments throughout the rest of the film is like adding insult to injury.
That being said, like "The Tina Lina" and the equally silly "Boom Biddy Boom Boom", for most of its running time, the film is relentlessly upbeat. Lanza's singing carries more emotional and dramatic impact than any of the scripted dialog, so there is plenty of entertainment to be had for fans of the great American tenor.
Royal Wedding (1951 - MGM - 93 minutes)
Directed By: Stanley Donen
Starring: Fred Astaire, Jane Powell, Peter Lawford, Sarah Churchill, Keenan Wynn, Albert Sharpe
In "Royal Wedding", Fred Astaire and Jane Powell play Tom and Ethel Bowen, a brother and sister dance team. Neither is inclined to settle down since Tom is concerned primarily with his career, and Ethel likes to string along as many men as possible. When their manager (Wynn) through his brother (also Wynn) secures a high profile gig in London coincident with the wedding of future Queen Elizabeth to Prince Phillip, they set out on an ocean voyage. On the ship, Ethel becomes smitten by Lord John Brindale (Lawford), a man who treats women a lot like Ethel treats men. Arriving in London, Tom is initially annoyed that Ethel seems distracted, but soon finds his own romantic distraction in the person of Anne Ashmond (Churchill), a dancer he auditions for the show, who, unfortunately, has an American fiancé.
Stanley Donen's first film as a solo director is light and frothy with a paper-thin plot and dance sequences that are both technically inventive and aesthetically pleasing. In other words, it is pretty much exactly what one looks for from an MGM musical. The film has echoes of Fred Astaire's own background as he had been part of a successful vaudeville dance team with his sister, Adele, until she married a titled British Lord in 1932. Astaire certainly seems engaged in this one, as nearly every production number in which he participates is a showstopper. The two most famous solo sequences are a number where he literally dances on the walls and ceiling of a hotel room, and another where, while he is waiting for Jane Powell's character to arrive for a rehearsal, he dances with a hat rack and various pieces of gym equipment. Donen proves to be just as simpatico with Astaire in his application of technically innovative filmmaking techniques to top-tier choreography as he was in his previous collaborations with Gene Kelly. The above average songs by composer Burton Lane and lyricist/script writer Alan Lerner certainly help the proceedings as well.
The part of Ethel fell into Jane Powell's lap after it was previously offered to June Allyson, who pulled out when she became pregnant, and Judy Garland, who was not able to participate due to health reasons. Powell, who was known for her soprano singing voice that sounded strangely disconnected from her speaking voice, makes the most of her opportunity, and proves to be a capable dancer. The fact that she looks a bit older than her 22 years helps with the casting stretch of playing the sister of Astaire, who was 30 years older than her in real life. Her production numbers with Astaire are inventive and fun, especially the splashy "Left My Hat in Haiti" and the vaudeville-style "How Could You Believe Me When I Told You that I Loved You When You Know I've Been a Liar All My Life".
Keenan Wynn is ridiculous and, more importantly, amusing as twin brothers, one of whom has a fake aristocratic British accent every bit as silly and inauthentic as the cockney accent Dick Van Dyke would employ in "Mary Poppins". Albert Sharpe gives an amusing turn as the good-hearted but fiery-tempered barkeep father of Anne. Sarah Churchill, daughter of Winston, feels like stunt casting as dancing is not really her forte. Peter Lawford more or less sleepwalks through his part, and is the weakest link in an otherwise strong cast.
The Belle of New York (1952 - MGM - 82 minutes)
Directed By: Charles Walters
Starring: Fred Astaire, Vera-Ellen, Marjorie Main, Keenan Wynn, Alice Pearce
In "The Belle of New York", Fred Astaire plays Charlie Hill, a playboy bachelor with an increasingly expensive habit of leaving fiancées stranded at the altar. Vera Ellen plays Angela Bonfils, a woman working at a skid row Salvation Army-type mission. The mission's benefactress, Phineas Hill (Main) suspects that the well-intentioned Angela is attracting record number of sinners to the mission more due to her good looks than their interest in reforming their lives. When a recently de-fiancéed Charlie spots Angela singing in the street, he is instantly smitten. In order to prove the sincerity of his affection for her, he goes so far as to try his hand at a number of honest jobs. Romantic complications ensue.
"The Belle of New York" does not quite rise to the level of the Astaire film that preceded it ("Royal Wedding") or followed it ("The Band Wagon"), but it is still a fairly entertaining time-passer with a handful of impressive musical numbers and some decent comic supporting performances from character actors Marjorie Main, Alice Pearce, and Keenan Wynn. Vera Ellen is a fine dance partner for Astaire, although her style sometimes comes across as a bit technical and cold, which may be due to the buttoned-up nature of the character she is playing.
The film's major problem has to do with a special effects conceit. With the success of the novelty number with Astaire dancing on the ceiling in "Royal Wedding", MGM though they could get lightning to strike twice by employing special effects to allow him to dance on air. This works nicely enough in the musical number "Seeing's Believing". Unfortunately, the film makes walking on air a recurring plot point rather than a conceit for a single musical number, and the effect crosses the line from "magical realism" to "give me a break-ism".
That's Dancing! (1985 - MGM - 105 minutes)
Directed By: Jack Haley, Jr.
Starring: Gene Kelly, Liza Minnelli, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Sammy Davis, Jr., Ray Bolger
"That's Dancing!" is a clip-heavy documentary on the history of dancing on film. It is broken up into five distinct sections, each with its own host. Co-Producer Gene Kelly, kicks things off surrounded by some break dancers and then reviews the early history of dance on film from the invention of the medium through the early talkies and Busby Berkeley's work at Warner Brothers. Sammy Davis, Jr. picks it up from there covering the balance of the 30s and early 40s. Mikhail Baryshnikov covers the spare but interesting history of filmed ballet. Ray Bolger covers the "golden age" of the MGM studio, and Liza Minnelli covers everything from the 50s through the 70s, with Gene Kelly returning to wrap things up with the late 70s and 80s.
"That's Dancing!" is a nice compliment to the "That's Entertainment!" series of films, the first of which was also directed by Haley more than ten years earlier. While the earlier films focused exclusively on the history of the MGM studio, "That's Dancing!" opens things up by licensing clips from other studios. This allows a more complete story to be told, inclusive of dance milestones such as the Busby Berkeley choreographed musicals at Warner Brothers, Astaire and Rogers films at RKO, Powell and Pressburger's "The Red Shoes", and more modern films such as Paramount's "Saturday Night Fever" and "Flashdance". Perhaps the most mind-blowing clip in the whole film is an excerpt of the specialty number performed by the Nicholas Brothers from Fox's "Down Argentine Way". You will believe two men can fly. They even work in a single music video: Michael Jackson's "Beat It."
The film also works in some interesting behind the scenes footage including pre-animation production footage of Kelly and a stand-in dancer from "Invitation to the Dance" and the deleted Busby Berkeley-staged Scarecrow dance sequence from "The Wizard of Oz" featuring Ray Bolger. The latter has since shown up on numerous video released of "…Oz", but I remember it being quite a revelation to me when this film was released in 1985.
All of the films except for "That's Dancing!" are presented at a 4:3 aspect ratio approximating their original theatrical presentations. "That's Dancing!" is presented in a multi-aspect ratio presentation inside a 16:9 enhanced frame so as to accommodate the various ratios of the included film clips. Unlike the "That's Entertainment!" DVDs, there is no accompanying 4:3 presentation of the film, so viewers watching on 4:3 sets will see black bars on all four sides of the image during the movie's many 4:3 clips.
The six vintage Technicolor films in the collection all appear similar in character with a few exceptions. Grain is present, but often seems somewhat softened, possibly to allow for better compression. "Words and Music" and "That Midnight Kiss" have a few more fluctuations in frame density than the other titles. "The Belle of New York" has slightly better sharpness than the other 40s and 50s titles, but also has a few dropped frames which I did not notice as a problem on any other title in the collection. It was particularly nice to see "Royal Wedding" rescued from the public domain with a very nice transfer after so many inferior DVD presentations had been flooding store shelves a few years ago.
The image quality of "That's Dancing!" varies widely with the condition of the vintage clips used for most of its running time. It does not look quite as polished as the "That's Entertainment!" DVDs did a few years ago. The original footage of the film's hosts is surprisingly grainy, but probably accurate to how it looked in the mid-80s.
Edge enhancement is not an issue on any of the titles, and compression artifacts are minor except for some of the grainiest sections of "That's Dancing!".
"That's Dancing!" is presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 remix that, like its image presentation, varies widely depending on the condition of the many vintage sources from which it was derived. The surrounds are used very conservatively when used at all.
The rest of the films are presented with English Dolby Digital 1.0 mono tracks consistent with their original theatrical presentations. They are all quite similar in character with careful application of digital noise reduction to reduce hiss and scratches leaving artifacts that will be apparent only to very critical listeners. The engineer who mastered "That Midnight Kiss" actually did so with a lighter than usual hand on the noise reduction, and while it contains more hiss on the track than the other titles in this collection, I believe it also has slightly better fidelity. This is particularly welcome on the operatic musical numbers.
"Classic Musicals from the Dream Factory, Vol. 2" comes jam-packed with even more substantial extras than its predecessor. All of the extras are presented with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio, and the non-audio-only extras are presented in 4:3 video except for the "Mario Lanza: Singing to the Gods" documentary which is 16:9 enhanced.
"The Pirate" comes with a well-researched, well organized, and breathlessly jam-packed commentary from John Fricke. There are not many people who do this better than Fricke, especially when it comes to the films of Judy Garland. Also included is "The Pirate: A Musical Treasure Chest", an 18 minute and 57 second talking heads and film clips featurette that covers a lot of the same ground as the commentary, but offers multiple perspectives from Fricke, Liza Minnelli, Gene Kelly's widow Patricia Ward Kelly, film historian Richard Barrios, film historian Miles Krueger, and dancer Fayard Nicholas. Seeing the recently deceased Nicholas was unexpected, and underscores the value of efforts that Warner has taken over recent years to conduct archival interviews with participants in the classic films in their library. "You Can't Win" is a vintage seven minute and 51 second short from the "Pete Smith Specialty" series featuring Smith's wry narration over a man dealing with a number of life's frustrations, "Cat Fishin'" is a vintage Hanna-Barbera Tom and Jerry short in which Tom sneaks past bulldog Spike in order to get to a private fishing hole where he proceeds to use Jerry as bait. "Mack the Black Stereo Number" runs three minutes and 48 seconds and presents the entire Garland production number from the film remixed to Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo from directional orchestral stems. "Audio Outtakes" runs 17 minutes and one second if the "Play All" feature is chosen and includes the deleted ballad "Love of My Life" which appeared only in its "Reprise" from in the finished film, a wild and crazy extended vocal arrangement of "Mack the Black" that was intended for the film's opening before it was bumped and re-arranged to a more conventional musical style, and the deleted musical number "Voodoo", which was deemed too hot for the general public by Louis B. Mayer. "Love of My Life" and "Voodoo" are in stereo. "Roger Edens Guide Tracks" include his run-throughs of "Be a Clown", "Manuela", "Nina", "Voodoo", and "You Can Do No Wrong". "Radio Interviews" includes scripted promotional interviews by Dick Simmons with Gene Kelly (supporting "On the Town") and Judy Garland (supporting "The Pirate"). They run a total of eight minutes and 59 seconds if "Play All" is selected. Finally, the theatrical trailer for "The Pirate" runs two minutes and 22 seconds.
"Words and Music" includes an audio commentary by film historian Richard Barrios. His commentary is very well researched, although he tends to repeat himself and is not quite as polished in his delivery as John Fricke was on his commentary for "The Pirate". "A Life in Words and Music" is a 20 minute and seven second featurette that presents the true history of Rodgers and Hart as well as discussion of the film's production. Participants include Barrios, Miles Krueger, Richard Rodgers' daughter Mary Rodgers, President of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization Theodore Chaplin, friend of Hart Noel Taylor, Mickey Rooney, and Patricia Ward Kelly. "Going to Blazes" is a 21 minute and 11 second vintage short from the "Theatre of Life Series" that looks at fire fighting in Los Angeles, inclusive of training, dispatching, maintenance procedures, post-fire investigations, statistics, and fire prevention tips. "The Cat that Hated People" is a vintage Tex Avery cartoon that focuses on a cat who gets so annoyed with humans that he hops on a rocket to the moon, which, to his regret, turns out to be the strangest cartoon locale since Porky visited "Wackyland". "Outtakes" runs 13 minutes and 26 seconds if "Play All" is chosen, and includes a reconstruction of the originally intended opening sequence of Perry Como singing "Lover" (a clip from which appeared in the film's trailer) as well as four takes of Perry Como performing "You're Nearer". "Audio Outtakes" runs 19 minutes and 59 seconds if "Play All" is chosen, and includes "Falling in Love with Love/You Took Advantage of Me", "I Feel at Home with You", "Manhattan", "My Funny Valentine", "My Heart Stood Still", "On Your Toes", and "Way Out West on West End Avenue". Vocalists are not identified on the outtakes, but unless my ears deceive me, among them are Gene Kelly, Perry Como, Mickey Rooney, and June Allyson. Finally, the film's three minute and 34 second theatrical trailer is included.
"That Midnight Kiss" includes "Sports Oddities", an eight minute and nineteen second vintage short from the "Pete Smith Specialty" series looking at unorthodox and "trick" sports with clips of surfing champion Preston Peterson and drivers Doug Smith and Dick Wiegel. "Señor Droopy" is a vintage Tex Avery short in which matador Droopy competes with cheating matador Spike in an ever-escalating hilarious manner. "One Love of Mine" is an outtake musical number running two minutes and 39 seconds that was from a rehearsal scene between Grayson and Lanza's characters. The video presentation for this scene is comparable in quality to that of the film, but the audio is "scratchier". Finally, the film's two minute and 39 second theatrical trailer is included.
"The Toast of New Orleans" includes "Mario Lanza: Singing to the Gods", a recent joint production of Turner and Calliope Media for BBC Wales. Running 58 minutes and 23 seconds, it provides an overview of Mario Lanza's career alternating archival footage with talking head interview segments including writer Jeff Rense, biographer Derek Mannering, film historian Gavin Lambert, friend and "handler" Terry Robinson, Psychoanalyst (but not to Lanza) Dr. Deborah Stern, photographer Murray Garrett, Biographer Armando Cesari, Manager Al Teitelbaum, singer Babs Diner, co-star Sarita Montiel, biographer Eddy Lovaglio, co-star Luisa Di Meo, 1957 European Tour Manager Peter Prichard, health clinic employee Gian Carlo Stopponi, and daughter Ellisa Lanza-Bergman. The documentary is a well-produced comprehensive overview of Lanza's tragically short life and career. Also included are two vintage color shorts from the James Fitzpatrick "Traveltalks" series: "Modern New Orleans" runs seven minutes and 58 seconds and provides color footage highlighting aspects of New Orleans circa 1940 while "Old New Orleans" runs eight minutes and 38 seconds and focuses on landmarks and historical sites from the city's pre-Louisiana Purchase history. Finally, the film's theatrical trailer is included, running three minutes and five seconds.
"Royal Wedding" includes the 53 minute and ten second Turner Classic Movies program "Private Screenings with Stanley Donen" which consists of an extended interview between Robert Osborne and Donen spanning his entire career. "Royal Wedding: June, Judy, and Jane" is a 16 minute and 19 second featurette covering the film's production mixing stills and film clips with on-camera interviews of Richard Barrios, Miles Krueger, Composer Burton Lane, June Alyson, John Fricke, Jane Powell, and Stanley Donen. "Droopy's Double Trouble" is a vintage Tex Avery cartoon in which Droopy and his identical twin brother, Drippy, work together as butlers confounding bulldog Spike when one keeps inviting him in to their mansion while the other keeps beating him and throwing him out for trespassing. "Car of Tomorrow" is another vintage Tex Avery cartoon with a bunch of black out gags involving cars and driving. "Ev'ry Night at Seven Outtake" is a three minute and 15 second deleted musical number in which Peter Lawford reprised the song from the film's opening sequence. "Fred Astaire and Jane Powell MGM Promotional Radio Interview for 'Royal Wedding'" is an audio feature with a three minute scripted interview segment with Dick Simmons. The film's theatrical trailer, running two minutes and 37 seconds is also included.
"The Belle of New York" includes "Musicquiz", an eight minute and 58 second short from the "Pete Smith Specialty" series in which Smith narrates a look at obscure music trivia and odd instruments. "Magical Maestro" is an insanely funny vintage Tex Avery cartoon in which a snooty opera singer offends a magician and gets his comeuppance when he is "conducted" with a magic wand. "'I Wanna Be a Dancin' Man' Alternate Scene" includes a slightly less dramatic staging of the complete four minute and fifteen second number from the film. If you have the "That's Entertainment! III" DVD, you can see this version in a splitscreen presentation with the version used in the film. Finally, the film's three minute and nine second theatrical trailer is also included.
"That’s Dancing!" comes with a number of vintage promotional featurettes. First up is an introduction from Gene Kelly and Jack Haley, Jr. that runs two minutes and 51 seconds that explains their approach to the film. "Invitation to Dance" is a five minute and 49 second promo that includes footage of the shooting of a Kim Carnes video that is just dripping with 80s juice. "The Search" runs two minutes and fifteen seconds and features Haley, Kelly, and producer David Niven, Jr. discussing how they chose the clips from which the film was assembled. "The Cameras Roll" runs two minutes and fifteen seconds and focuses on shooting the newly produced "hosted" segments of the movie including Liza Minnelli standing outside on what looks like a very cold New York day. "The Gathering" documents the 1985 assembling of dance stars past and present for a commemorative photograph to promote the movie. Finally, the film's theatrical trailer, running one minute and 31 seconds is presented in 4:3 letterbox format.
The films are packaged in slimcases with covers and disc art derived from vintage film promotional art. The Mario Lanza titles "That Midnight Kiss" and "The Toast of New Orleans" are combined in a double disc slimcase as are the Fred Astaire titles "Royal Wedding" and "The Belle of New York". The slimcases are clear allowing their double sided cover inserts to display additional artwork and chapter listings when the cases are opened. All five slimcases are surrounded by a thin cardboard box which reproduces smaller versions of the slimcase artwork similar to the cover art for Volume 1 in the series. The films are also available separately in standard Amaray style cases, with the Lanza and Astaire discs packaged as "Double Features".
Warner Home Video has pulled out the stops for another collection of first time on DVD MGM musicals from their vaults. All of the films receive very good to great audio/video presentations, and most have interesting and informative behind the scenes extras as well as vintage shorts and cartoons. Even the packaging is first rate. If you are a fan of classic musicals, you cannot ask for a much better handling of titles than this. Bring on Volume 3!