Tuesday, July 24, 2007

WORDS AND MUSIC (MGM 1948) Warner Home Video

With his eye clearly on the box office returns garnered by Richard Whorf’s Till The Clouds Roll By (1946), director Norman Taurog takes dead aim at his own bio pic with Words and Music (1948); a blissfully obtuse would be biography containing not an ounce of truth about the lives of its subjects: composers, Richard Rodgers (played to laconic effect by Tom Drake) and Lorenz Hart (a quip-talking Mickey Rooney). Like its predecessor, Words and Music's screenplay by Fred Finkelhoffe and Guy Bolton is a threadbare framework on which to hang a decorous catalogue of Rodgers and Hart standards with all the opulence and star power that MGM in its prime could muster.

The film finds Rodgers and Hart as a pair of young forlorn composers who eventually strike it big with the aid of friends, Eddie Lorison Anders (Perry Como), Peggy Lorgan McNeil (Betty Garrett) and Margo Grant (Cyd Charisse). Hart suffers from ‘short man syndrome’ – an affliction that taints his romances and ultimately leads to his premature death…at least, so the narrative would suggest. In between his great search for love in all the wrong places, Hart manages to compose a compendium of singable standards that have remained peerless examples in song writing.

No less than seven of the studio’s major stars appear as themselves in the film; Lena Horne delivers a sultry ‘Where or When’ and glib-savvy ‘The Lady Is A Tramp’; June Allyson performs the utterly charming ‘Thou Swell’ from A Connecticut Yankee; Perry Como croons ‘Mountain Greenery’ and ‘A Blue Room’ – to name but a handful of the 22 songs incorporated. There's even opportunity for Judy Garland to reunite with Rooney in the delightful ‘I Wish I Were In Love Again’, before claiming the floor for her solo – ‘Johnny One Note’ - a positively electric experience. 

Words and Music is an enchanting musical for musicals sake. There's no integration of the songs and dances into the plot. They're strictly played to illustrate the ballast in showmanship - an embarrassment of riches that MGM wielded with peerless autonomy during its glory days. Thus the film is more 'a show' than a story. That said, it works as a glossy star-spangled hit-filled cavalcade; hard to argue with and a real tough act to follow. When the dust had settled on the production, audiences were not left wanting for entertainment value and the film became one of MGM’s biggest and brightest money makers. While it isn't in the same league as Meet Me In St. Louis or The Band Wagon, Words and Music is a joyful, tune packed experience not to be missed.

Warner Home Video’s DVD provides quite a satisfactory DVD transfer with a few minuses. The pluses: bright solid colors that are fully saturated, a generally crisp and well defined image with good contrast levels registering just a smidgen below par. The one unfortunate inclusion on this transfer is the appearance of edge enhancement and shimmering of fine details scattered sporadically throughout. 

Some scenes are entirely free of this nuisance, while others are painfully obvious. There is also more than a hint of grain in certain scenes, providing for a less than entirely smooth presentation. The audio is mono but quite adequately balanced. Extras include an informative commentary by historian Richard Barrios, a new featurette on the film, an audio library of rare musical cues and outtakes and the original theatrical trailer.


FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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