Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Twenty Movie Musical Marathon & a Boxed Set Review



While I was at the TCM Classic Film Festival, the lovely folks from Warner Bros. let me chose one of their boxed sets to review. I chose their 20 Film Collection: Musical set because it had a lot of films that I hadn't seen yet. 

The Best of Warner Bros.: 20 Film Collection - Musicals boxed set contains 20 musicals spanning just over 60 years of time from 1927 to 1988. The set has a slipcase and on the back is a list of all the movies inside. There are three sets within which break up the movies into three different time frames: 1927-1951, 1951-1964 and 1967-1988. It's obvious from looking at the discs that they were meant for other DVD packages. Some say "Disc One" so you know there is a Disc Two with extras that lives in another DVD set somewhere. Most of the DVDs in this set have extras anyways so I didn't count this as any great loss.

Inside the set there is also a full color booklet. Each page of the booklet is devoted to a movie and has an image from the film, the title, a paragraph about it and lists Academy Award nominations and/or wins wherever relevant. This is a nice added bonus to this set.







The Jazz Singer (1927) - This was my first time seeing The Jazz Singer and I was genuinely surprised by how much I enjoyed this film. I'm not sure why but I was expecting a creaky clunker with little or no entertainment value but instead I got something quite different. The Jazz Singer is considered to be the very first talkie. It's really a part talkie and was intended to only have synchronized singing but with Al Jolson's ad libs there was some dialogue too. It's based on Al Jolson's own life and follows his rise to become a great entertainer.

The Broadway Melody (1929) - I had seen this film before and enjoyed it but on this viewing I became frustrated with Anita Page's character Queenie and felt compelled to smack her on several occasions. It's not a perfect early musical but definitely one to watch if you are interested in the time period and in the history of early talkies.

42nd Street (1933) - I have seen 42nd Street a few times before and the title song always seems get stuck in my head when I do watch it. The cast is magnificent: Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell, Allen Jenkins, Una Merkel, Guy Kibbee, etc. It's notable especially for the Busby Berkeley choreographed/directed sequences and for the wonderful songs.

The Great Ziegfeld (1936) - Oh my, this was quite a long movie wasn't it? This was my first viewing and going in I didn't realize it would clock in at 3 hours! The film is about the life of producer Florenz Ziegfeld and stars the dapper William Powell. His wives are played by Luise Rainier (perhaps the only surviving cast member?) and Myrna Loy, who doesn't appear until half way through the movie. This was a very entertaining film but overly long. I loved seeing a very young Dennis Morgan singing in one of the musical numbers.

The Wizard of Oz (1939) - I have always thought this movie was just plain weird. However, I have had a change of heart and that is primarily because I recently read the L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz earlier this year and fell in love with it. What made me want to read the book? Anne Hathaway did a marvelous reading for an Audible audiobook series. I really wanted to listen to her narration so I ended up reading the book that way. Also, I have been curious about why Dorothy wanted to go back to dreary old Kansas ever since I heard Director John Waters question this in the documentary These Amazing Shadows (2011). You can read my book review and my thoughts on Dorothy's attachment to Kansas here.

Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) - A new favorite! I can't believe I hadn't seen this film before. Another biopic musical, this time about the life of entertainer, playwright and songwriter George M. Cohan. 
This film reminded me how much I adore both James Cagney and Joan Leslie. Cagney's sister plays the Cohan sister and I found it very amusing that Walter Huston plays the patriarch of the Cohan family. Great film, wonderful musical numbers, great cast, entertaining all around. Will definitely be watching this one again.

An American in Paris (1951) - This movie has always felt a bit flat to me. My opinion didn't really change with this viewing. The visuals are great, Gene Kelly's dance numbers are divine and it is an amusing movie to watch but the story is a bit of a bore and I have little interest in the characters.

Show Boat (1951) - I had never seen this one before and it wasn't high on my list of films to watch. I tried to keep an open mind and watched it. It was meh. I found the musical numbers in the beginning to be entertaining but I found the film to be tiring. I enjoyed Joe E. Brown's performance and I thought Ava Gardner's character was the most interesting part of the film!

Singin' in the Rain (1952) - Pink. That's all I could think of during this viewing. PINK! I was watching a YouTube video in which a popular athlete says that he thought some bridesmaid's dresses his wife was going to chose for their wedding was too 1920s because they were Pepto Bismol pink. Well clearly he was a fan of Singin' in the Rain because there is a lot of pink worn in the film. Debbie Reynolds, Jean Hagen, even Gene Kelly all wear pink in one scene or another. Repeat viewings of favorites always bring something new to the table.

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) - This musical is one of my top favorite films so I'm glad to finally own a copy. I think it will look spectacular if it ever gets release on Blu-Ray. On this viewing I paid special attention to the choreography. The barn-raising dance scene is one of the most exquisitely choreographed and well-executed dance numbers ever. The impressive acrobatics just add to the entertainment. Every time I watch this movie I am reminded why I should never watch a wide-screen movie in pan-and-scan. Thanks for that TCM!

A Star is Born (1954) - There are quite a few gaps in my viewing of major motion pictures and I filled one in by watching A Star is Born. Yes, this is Judy Garland’s movie but I was much more fascinated with James Mason’s performance. There are two discs in the set and the version included is the full before 30+ minutes were cut for the theatrical release. About 5 minutes were missing and those were filled in with audio and publicity photographs. The ending almost came as a surprise until I remembered Don Draper in Mad Men talking about it in a scene from the show. Oh well! Not a new favorite and I still found it a bit too long but I appreciated seeing it in full.

The Music Man (1962) -  I was already disposed to not like this film but I was over by two things: the performance of the adorable little Ronny Howard and the film’s glorious ending. The Music Man in question is a traveling con artist and while he tries to swindle the townsfolk of River City out of their hard-earned money, he ends up giving the people something much more valuable in return: hope and a belief in themselves. This touched me greatly and I had a good sob by the film’s end.

Viva Las Vegas (1964) - I’ll watch anything that takes me back to the Las Vegas of the 1960s. If they ever invent time-traveling vacations, I would book a trip to that time and location straight away. I’m not a fan of Elvis but I nonetheless enjoyed this film immensely. I adore Ann-Margret and the music and dance numbers were a lot of fun. The plot is pretty interesting too! Overall this was a very enjoyable film to watch.
Camelot (1967) - Oh boy. I was majorly disappointed in this film and it's hard for me to articulate why It never captivated my imagination or attention and I didn't care for the songs. I was more fascinated by the on-screen and real-life affair between Vanessa Redgrave and Franco Nero.

Perhaps my previous history with The Wizard of Oz made me a bit wary about this musical adaptation of a children’s book. I’m glad I watched it because what an entertaining film! It was a great study of how greed transforms us and how we should reevaluate what’s truly important to us. I’m not sure I would have enjoyed the film as much as I did if it wasn’t for that moral to the story. I was particularly fascinated the curious fact that this is the only film Peter Ostrum, the actor who played Charlie, ever did. What a way to both start and finish an acting career!

Cabaret (1972) - This was my first viewing and I was oddly fascinated by this film. 
This was my first viewing and while I was oddly fascinated by this film at the end I felt dissatisfied. I didn’t care for the vision of the 1930s through 1970s lenses and found myself annoyed by most of the characters. It was an entertaining movie, great plot and wonderfully raunchy musical numbers.

That's Entertainment! (1974) - Let’s just get one thing straight. This is a documentary type film that celebrates MGM. And it’s in a set celebrating Warner Bros. This confused me immensely and while it’s a great addition to a musical boxed set I thought it stuck out like a sore thumb in this set in particular. Lots of folks rave about That’s Entertainment and I had never seen it before. It was a bittersweet experience watching all those stars (Fred Astaire, Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor, Mickey Rooney, Jimmy Stewart, James Cagney, etc.) walking around the decrepit and abandoned MGM lot, talking about their glory days. However, even with my MGM-Warner Bros. objection, I think this is a great introduction for people who are not familiar with earlier musicals. I laughed when Frank Sinatra called the show girls from Broadway Melody of 1929 “overweight”. Yeah, okay buddy.

Victor Victoria (1982) - I don’t know why I compare Victor Victoria with Cabaret but I did and I found myself loving the former much more than the latter. Maybe because they were both nostalgic, featured Americans abroad and had gay characters. I have a new appreciation for the divine Julie Andrews after watching this film. The film is only a little campy, has loveable characters and great musical numbers. Enjoyable all around and I can’t wait to watch it again.

Little Shop of Horrors (1986) - I had seen this before but my husband hadn't so I decided we could watch this together. This film is the stuff of nightmares. I think I enjoyed it much more on my second viewing. The songs are wonderful, it's quite a unique story and I do enjoy a good Greek Chorus! Also, certain Family Guy episodes make much more sense after you've seen this film.

Hairspray (1988) - I knew almost nothing about this film when I sat down to watch it which I think was the best way to experience it. Hairspray is more a film with music rather than a musical film. It has John Water's signature touch: it's both bizarre and fun. I love the 1960s nostalgia but my favorite thing about the movie is it's message: don't ever be afraid to be who you are. That alone makes this film a winner.

With the Holidays right around the corner, this boxed set would make a perfect gift!

The Best of Warner Bros.: 20 Film Collection - Musicals
Available at the following online retailers:

Barnes and Noble

Turner Classic Movies Shop
Warner Bros. Online Shop

2 comments:

  1. It was very strange reading this and realizing I've seen all of these movies save for Camelot-- and I'll go ahead and make a note not to seek it out!

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  2. Wow, this seems wonderful!
    I'm glad you liked Yankee Doodle Dandy, it's a really good musical. I have yet to see The Jazz Singer, and I can't wait to do it! As much as I love That' Entertainment!, I don't think it would workn in this box set either, only in the box set with the whole trilogy.
    Kisses!

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