Saturday, February 24, 2007

THE ALICE FAYE COLLECTION (20th Century-Fox 1937-43) Fox Home Video


Sandwiched somewhere between pint-sized Shirley Temple and leggy Betty Grable is the brief filmic career of Alice Faye; a platinum blonde whisky-voiced chanteuse who made her stage and film debuts before she had even turned eighteen. A savvy, sassy performer with inimitable talents as a singer and dancer, Faye was Fox’s golden glamour girl for a very brief tenure.


That she left the studio of her own accord and under rather mysterious circumstances (one day, she simply tossed the keys to her dressing room to a coworker and declared “tell Mr. Zanuck he knows what he can do with this!”) made Alice Faye ‘the one that got away.’ For nearly a decade, Fox tried to woo her back into the fold. While Faye did continue to work on the radio opposite her second husband, Phil Harris, and, made an auspicious ‘comeback’ to films with 1962’s remake of State Fair, for all intensive purposes, Alice Faye left the spotlight of fame behind without personal regrets.


Secure in her role as wife and mother, Faye never looked back on her movie career – a gutsy move previously shared by Greta Garbo and Luise Rainer at MGM. Now, Fox Home Video honors their reluctant star with The Alice Faye Collection – a scant four disc offering that barely scratches the surface of Faye’s charming movie career.

Even in the echelons of mediocre Fox musicals, Roy Del Ruth’s On the Avenue (1937) is a quiet little nothing – a congenial passing of the time with enough Irving Berlin songs to anesthetize the mind, even as it exonerates the eardrum. The film stars Dick Powell as Broadway star turned producer, Gary Blake. All is well in stage-land until uppity, Mimi Caraway (Madeleine Carroll) and her equally tenacious father, the Commodore (George Barbier) decide that a sketch in Blake’s new show, depicts Mimi in an unflattering light and therefore must be stopped at all costs. Of course, this does not prevent Mimi from falling hopelessly in love with Blake once the two meet socially.


So, where is Alice Faye in all this? As aspiring, but spurned love interest and star of Blake’s new show, Mona Merrick. Determined that Blake’s affections should be channeled toward her, Mona embarks on a series of manipulations that end badly and with quite predictable results. 


Although Faye is third billed in this tired programmer, she virtually dominates the show; singing many of the film’s best songs including a delightfully Ziegfield-ish number, ‘I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm’ opposite Powell. Curiously, the title song ‘On The Avenue’ was left on the cutting room floor prior to the film’s general release.


Irving Cummings’ Lillian Russell (1940) is a lavish affair – a personal project from producer Darryl F. Zanuck who sought to immortalize the legacy of one of the theater’s great ladies on celluloid. However, under the ageis of a convoluted screenplay by William Anthony McGuire, the final film takes so many artistic liberties with Russell’s colorful life that very little except melodramatic ennui remains.


After briefly glossing over Lillian’s (Faye) birth and tangled youth involving an unrequited chance meeting with struggling newspaper hound, Alexander Moore (Henry Fonda), the narrative jumped forward into Russell’s great successes as a glamorous musical star in a series of lavishly executed musical numbers; the best being the stage tableau, ‘Ma Blushing Rosie’ and very cinematic, ‘After The Ball.’


The film jettisons Russell’s real life four marriages in favor of two; the first to jealous composer, Edward Solomon (Don Ameche) – who dies of a heart attack at his piano no less; the latter to Moore after an insufferably long courtship from afar. There’s also no mention of Russell’s first child – a girl who tragically died of shock while still an infant; or the fact that Russell was something of a career driven monster for whom all personal relationships were eventually discarded.


Irving Cummings’ That Night In Rio (1941) is the quintessential ‘40s Fox musical; over-blown, over-produced and garishly spectacular in lurid Technicolor. Under the weight of its costumes and sets there is a paper thin plot about American ham actor, Larry Martin (Don Ameche) who bears a striking resemblance to Rio’s most prominent citizen, Baron Manuel Duarte (also Ameche).


The Baron and his wife, Cecilia (Alice Faye) catch Martin’s act and are impressed by his talent; particularly Cecilia who asks Martin to go on playing her husband after a scandal at his bank threatens the Baron with personal bankruptcy. Unfortunately for all concerned a mix-up between these two men leads to a romantic rift.


Apparently suffering from too much star power and not enough plot, the film is a cornucopia of escapist vignettes; most having to do with Martin’s hostile love affair with Brazilian bombshell Carmen Miranda (playing a variation of herself). The film gives Miranda two of her best numbers; ‘I Like You Very Much’ and Chica, Chica Boom, Chica’ the latter breathtakingly staged by choreographer Hermes Pan. Faye warbles the best song in the film – the haunting and mysterious ‘They Met in Rio’ but she’s very much a tertiary character behind both Miranda and Ameche who is quite effective in his dual role.


The first film choreographer Busby Berkeley directed, The Gang’s All Here (1943) also proved to be Alice Faye’s farewell to Fox Studios. A gargantuan – but sloppy – blend of clichés that had made Berkeley’s contributions to the Warner Bros. musicals of the ‘30s such outstanding successes, The Gang’s All Here flounders by direct comparison. 


Its plot concerned showgirl Edie Allen (Faye) who accidentally meets soldier/man-about-town Andy Mason (James Ellison) at a posh New York nightclub. Edie becomes smitten with Andy. But before their romance can follow its natural course, Andy is shipped overseas.


While Edie plans a lavish charity benefit for Andy’s homecoming, she accidentally discovers that Andy already has a fiancée Vivian Potter (Shiela Ryan). The two are planning to marry as soon as Andy returns from the war. So, what’s a homespun good-nature gal to do?


Not to worry. The plot is superficial at best, and secondary to a series of gaudy musical offerings; two of the best, once again, featuring Carmen Miranda in a supporting role as entertainer, Dorita. 


The first ‘You Discover You’re In New York’ is a playful introduction, designed to get the audience thinking about Latin America (odd, because the rest of the film supposedly takes place in New York); the latter is the absurdly bizarre ‘Lady in the Tutti-Frutti Hat’ in which Miranda and a bunch of scantily clad chorus girls hurl giant bananas about a panacea of plastic palm trees. 


Faye performs the sultry ballad, ‘A Journey To A Star’ and light-hearted ‘The Polka Dot Polka’ which dissolves into Berkeley’s most surreal creation – a multi-tiered platform with spandex clad girls wielding neon tube hoola-hoops.


Fox’s DVD transfers are as mixed an offering as the films. The two B&W; On The Avenue and Lillian Russell have fairly smooth visual presentations. ‘Avenue’ appears a little worse for the wear overall with a soft characteristic and frequently low contrast levels. Age related artifacts are present and occasionally distracting.


Lillian Russell begins with a disclaimer that the film has been mastered from the best possible surviving source elements. The first half of this DVD is very nice indeed; crisp, refined and with great detail and a minimal amount of age related artifacts. Unfortunately, the second half of the print must have been stored in another vault or under a rock. It is riddled with intense grain, scratches, chips, tears and - during a scene in the park - a disturbing tear that flutters back and forth across the screen.


Of the two Technicolor features; The Gang’s All Here is the more pleasing. Colors are bold and vibrant. Flesh tones are not very natural – either too orange or pink. The overall quality is smooth and refined, with a minimal amount of grain and age-related artifacts. Matte process shots exhibit a slightly less refined quality.


That Night In Rio is rather inconsistently rendered. At times, colors appear quite refined and vibrant. But occasionally there is a ‘thick’ characteristic to the image. Color become slightly muddy with more than a hint of grain. Flesh tones are pasty. Neither film’s quality will disappoint but neither will astound either.


The audio on all films has been cleaned up and rechanneled to stereo. The original mono tracks are also included. Extras boil down to two informative retrospectives on Alice Faye’s career; an overview on the real Lillian Russell, informative audio commentaries on three of the four movies; theatrical trailers, and Alice Faye’s promotional featurette as a spokeswoman for Pfizer; We Still Are.


FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
On The Avenue 3
Lillian Russell 3.5
That Night In Rio 3
The Gang's All Here 3.5


VIDEO/AUDIO
On The Avenue 3
Lillian Russell 3
That Night In Rio 3
The Gang's All Here 3.5


EXTRAS
3.5

CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF (MGM 1958) Warner Home Video

"Maggie the cat is alive!" in Richard Brook’s adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ Cat On A Hot Tin Roof (1958); perhaps the cinema’s finest translation of the great playwright’s stage work. Yet the morphing from stage to screen was not without its sacrifices. 


The film was produced at a time when censorship was still alive and well in Hollywood. The irascible Brooks had a hell of a time fighting to preserve the play's original exploration of social mores, sexual ambiguity and unadulterated greed. To his credit he managed to imply a great deal of subtext without having his characters show or even overtly admit anything.


Despite the overwhelming positive critical reviews the film garnered, Tennessee Williams was not at all pleased with the final cut. All references to homosexuality were omitted, leaving the logic of the play slightly off balance. And Williams did not care much for the rewrite of his third act either that had estranged father and son reconciling their differences.


The story concerns drunken ex-football hero, Brick Pollitt (Paul Newman) and his mysterious inability to find even the remotest reason to make love to his overtly sexual wife, Maggie (Elizabeth Taylor). Unlike the play, the issue of Brick’s homosexuality and ‘love’ for fellow football player, Skipper (never seen) is adeptly avoided. What is offered in its place is a suspected affair that Skipper and Maggie may have had – one that has indirectly led to Brick’s sexual frigidity.


In the meantime, Brick’s overbearing father, Big Daddy (Burl Ives) has returned from a treatment clinic for what he believes to be a spastic colon. The truth, that he is actually dying of bowel cancer, is kept from him and Big Mama (Judith Anderson) by Brick’s elder brother, Gooper (Jack Carson) and his odious, greedy wife, Mae Flynn (Madeleine Sherwood) who has her eyes on Gooper inheriting Big Daddy's estate just as soon as the old man dies.


As a play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was Tennessee Williams personal favorite among his many great masterworks. He was less enthusiastic about the film incarnation. But director Brooks saw to it that the devil was still in the details. Each character is a finely wrought study in contempt, greed and repressed sexuality - the latter brilliantly implied with sultry, telling glances and suggestive body language. 


Although Brooks had hoped to cast Ben Gazzara (Broadway's Brick) and Grace Kelly in the leads, in retrospect he has been handed the cream of the crop in Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor who are at the top of their respective careers.


The tragic loss of Taylor's real life husband, Michael Todd in a plane crash just prior to commencement of shooting lent a powerful emotional edge to her interpretation of Maggie – a creature driven by libidinous desires that are thwarted at every possible turn by her aloof husband. 


Jack Carson excels as the embittered son who lives by his father’s edicts but in the shadow of Brick - Big Daddy's personal favorite. In the final analysis, this ‘Cat’ sizzles like few films of its vintage or any other for that matter. Raw, powerful and standing in stark contrasted to MGM’s usual take on the American family, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof endures as a cornerstone in screen drama that even Tennessee Williams can take pride in. It is a great film and a ‘must see’ cinematic experience.


Warner Home Video’s Special Edition DVD exhibits exemplary image quality; anamorphic with pronounced and refined colors, nicely balanced contrast levels and a minimal amount of film grain. Previous versions of this film have suffered from extreme color fading and slight discoloration with pasty and yellowish flesh tones. 


This newly remastered DVD corrects all of the aforementioned shortcomings. The audio is mono but, for a dialogue driven movie, sufficiently rendered. Extras include an informative audio commentary and short featurette on the making of the film. Highly recommended! Perhaps we can hope for a 1080p Blu-ray of this classy classic someday soon.


FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
4.5

VIDEO/AUDIO
4.5

EXTRAS
3.5

JEZEBEL (Warner Bros. 1936) Warner Home Video

In retrospect, William Wyler’s Jezebel (1936) marks the true beginning of Bette Davis' golden period at Warner Bros. Moreover, it manages to capture much of the fiery disposition of Scarlett O’Hara without ever mentioning Gone With The Wind – a novel, then very much ingrained in the hearts and minds of a vast and growing readership, and very shortly destined to begin preproduction at Selznick International Studios.


Davis took home her second Best Actress Oscar playing spoiled Southern belle, Julie Marsden. It was an award almost as hard won as it was well deserved. Only a year earlier Davis had stormed out of her Warner contract and departed for Europe - determined to make movies abroad to prove to Jack Warner and the world that she was more than just the glam-bam dolly he was trying to make her over as.


Perhaps, Davis knew she couldn't win the lawsuit that Warner immediately filed. But it didn't matter. She won the battle, getting Jack Warner to take her career more seriously and allow her an unprecedented amount of autonomy to choose projects for herself. And more than anything else, Davis wanted to play Scarlett O'Hara. 


But Selznick was not at all convinced that she could. In fact, Jack Warner had offered Selznick a sweet deal to co-produce GWTW with the loan out of Davis and Errol Flynn (for Rhett Butler). But Selznick balked and went with a smaller money deal over at MGM simply to secure Clark Gable for his film.


So Warner decided to do one better - snub Selznick the way he believed he had been snubbed - by trumping their deal and releasing a film that capitalized on GWTW's notoriety before Selznick had had a chance to even shoot a single frame of film. 


Jezebel is based on a modestly successful stage play by Owen Davis, heavily rewritten for the film version by John Huston, Robert Buckner, Clements Ripley and Abem Finkel. 


Like Margaret Mitchell's Scarlett, Jezebel's Julie Marsden (Davis) is a devious spitfire and a manipulative man trap. More than anything Julie wants to be loved. But her defiance against the rigid social conventions of her day brands Julie a rather wanton free spirit. Julie’s Aunt Belle Massey (Fay Bainter) is constantly urging her niece towards prudence and restraint. 


But Julie will have none of it. After appearing at her own party in riding habit and with crop still in hand, Julie shops the New Orleans plaza for a suitable gown to wear to the Olympus Ball – the event of the social season. Her choice of a harlot-red gown audaciously flashing among the virginal whites humiliates and alienates Julie's rich lawyer beau, Preston Dillard (Henry Fonda) who breaks off their engagement and departs for a career in the North. 


Emotionally shattered, Julie fills her days with superficial dalliances. Long suffering and self-professed gentleman with an air of petty larceny, Buck Cantrell (George Brent) seems the most promising prospect. Ah, but then Pres’ returns to the South with his new bride, Amy (Margaret Lindsay). Determined to destroy Pres’ happiness, Julie sets up a series of conventions that will lead to dire consequences for all concerned.


The last act of director William Wyler’s velvety smooth melodrama is reserved for a deadly outbreak of yellow fever that exacts its pound of flesh from the principle cast. It’s a rather problematic conclusion to what is essentially a woman’s picture with more venom than guts. 


Still, the film holds together remarkably well under today’s scrutiny and that is in no small way due to Bette Davis’ towering central performance. As Julie, Davis is unrelenting; a demigod in angel’s harness whose final realization and sacrifice is both hauntingly tragic, yet morally satisfying.


Warner Home Video’s Special Edition DVD at long last provides an adequate mastering effort for this Oscar-winning classic. The B&W image exhibits a refined gray scale with fine details evident throughout. Blacks are still a tad weak, more dark gray than black, but whites are much improved for an image that is more crisp and solid than ever before. 


Age related artifacts are still rather heavy in spots, despite an exhaustive digital restoration. The biggest plus is a complete absence of digital anomalies that were quite prevalent on previously released discs. The audio is mono but adequately represented. Extras include a brief featurette on the making of the film and an informative audio commentary. Recommended!


FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
4



VIDEO/AUDIO
4



EXTRAS
3

STAGE FRIGHT (Warner Bros. 1950) Warner Home Video

Alfred Hitchcock’s Stage Fright (1950) is a convoluted English charmer that seeks to recapture something of the flavor of Britain's music hall glory with a murder thrown in for kicks. Rarely has Hitchcock’s attention to comedy and suspense been more seamlessly blended than in this minor - if narrative flawed - effort.


Selwyn Jepson's novel 'Man Running' is the inspiration for the film, scripted by Whitfield Cook, Ranald MacDougall, Alma Reville and James Birdie. I've always enjoyed Stage Fright as a slightly 'inferior' masterwork from Hitchcock's Warner Bros. period. Today, the films Hitch' made at W.B. are not as well regarded as those he made either at Selznick International in the early 40s, or those over at Paramount in the mid-1950s. Yet, Stage Fright is a clever enough suspense with finely wrought performances throughout. The film also brings Hitchcock back to his roots and gives audiences an opportunity to see a post-war Britain in all its reconstruction glory. 


Our story opens with a problematic flashback. Stage diva, Charlotte Inwood (Marlene Dietrich) arrives at the London flat of her lover, Jonathan Cooper (Richard Todd) after just having murdered her husband. But the flashback is a MacGuffin – a deliberate lie told by Jonathan to throw the audience off the identity of the real murderer until much later.


Enter Jane Wyman as Jonathan's loyal friend, Eve Gill. A student of drama who is desperately in love with Jonathan, Eve is determined to get to the bottom of the crime. She enlists the help of her estranged father, Commodore Gill (Alastair Simms) and together they play a dangerous game of cat and mouse with Charlotte, testing Jonathan’s theory of the crime. 


Against her father's strenuous objections Eve masquerades as Nellie Good, a common house frump who becomes Charlotte's new housemaid, only to discover that the actress is currently having an affair with her agent, Freddie (Hector McGregor). 


Meanwhile police inspector, Wilfred Smith (Michael Wilding) has grown quite fond of Eve. Moreover, he believes her trusting nature is shielding the real killer. As Eve and Wilfred's relationship grows more sincere, he tries to convince her that Jonathan's story does not add up. But Eve will have none of Wilfred's theories - at least, none that he can't prove.


One of only two films Hitchcock made in England after becoming an American director (Frenzy being the other), Stage Fright has been rather dismissively misrepresented by the critics as a footnote in the director’s illustrious career. Yet, Stage Fright is a far more intricate and satisfying movie than most give it credit. Hitchcock stages some brilliant sequences, including the moment when Commodore Gill bribes a Boy Scout to carry a doll with a blood stained dress up to the stage while Charlotte is performing, simply to gauge her reaction. 


Hitchcock is equally blessed with a marvelous cast. Richard Todd makes for a very spooky suitor. Marlene Dietrich is devilish as the music hall singer who may have murder in her heart. Michael Wilding and Alastair Simms give superb support and add that invaluable flair for a decidedly very British feeling film. But the standout is arguably Jane Wyman - though perhaps not as captivating as she ought to be. Reportedly Dietrich did not care for Wyman. By all accounts, the feeling was mutual. 


Nevertheless, Stage Fright is a good solid film with plenty of Hitchcock's cinematic touches that help to generate a lot of suspense. Why it remains in a vacuum apart from the director's other masterworks is a curiosity. True enough, Stage Fright is not as great a movie as Rebecca, Psycho or The Birds (to name only a few). But it is very solid second tier Hitchcock - which pretty much means it's A-list everyone else! 


Warner Home Video’s DVD is just average. While the gray scale is nicely balanced, the overall characteristic is rather grainy and, at times dull. Blacks are more tonal variations of deep gray than pure black. Whites are sometimes clean, sometime a dingy gray. Dirt, scratches and other age related artifacts are present. Ditto for edge enhancement and pixelization. The audio is mono but very nicely cleaned up. A brief featurette is the only extra feature.


FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3.5



VIDEO/AUDIO
3.5



EXTRAS
2.5

SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER (Columbia 1959) Sony Home Entertainment

Easily one of the most bizarre and unsettling Gothic melodramas Hollywood has ever produced, Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s Suddenly Last Summer (1959) is perhaps best described as a nightmare for adults. The film is based on Tennessee Williams’ chilling stage masterpiece, its screenplay by Gore Vidal remaining relatively faithful to its source material.


The story concerns Catherine Holly (Elizabeth Taylor); a woman institutionalized by her wealthy aunt, Violet Venable (Katherine Hepburn) after a summer holiday in Greece turns tragic. Violet has invited skilled surgeon, Doctor John Cukrowicz (Montgomery Clift) to her home to discuss her niece's case  in greater detail. Moreover, it is Violet's wish that Cukrowicz should lobotomize Catherine at the first possible opportunity to alleviate her 'nightmares'.


But does Violet really have Catherine’s best interests at heart? Catherine’s mother, Grace (Mercedes McCambridge) seems to think so. Then again, she is dependent on Violet’s good graces and charity for her own livelihood. At least by Cukrowicz's first examination of Catherine, there seems to be something quite sinister about Violet's urgency to perform the operation. Catherine is obviously scared. Possibly, even disturbed. But is she mad? In other words, would a lobotomy help? 


Violet doesn't much care. To sweeten the deal, she has promised Cukrowicz that compliance with her request will result in a very large endowment for the county hospital where he practices. But should money be the deciding factor in forever altering a young woman’s mental state?


Cukrowicz doesn’t think so, and his opposition to the surgery leads to an even more intense investigation of Catherine’s seemingly incoherent ramblings – one that exposes ugly family secrets about Violet's late son, Sebastian with dire consequences for all.


It seems that Sebastian and Violet shared a rather incestuous relationship for many years during his upbringing. However, as Violet's looks began to fade Sebastian turned to his cousin, Catherine to help him procure young male street urchins for his own sexual exploitation. This Catherine willingly did for Sebastian while the two were away on their Greek holiday. 


But in Greece Sebastian became ill. The hungry urchins decided to gang up and devour him as revenge. And yes - I mean just that. They tore Sebastian limb from limb and ate his remains before Catherine's very eyes. Who wouldn't have nightmares after that?!?


It is these sordid details that Violet has been hoping to keep secret by having Catherine lobotomized. Instead, Catherine's revelation of these unholy truth sends Violet's own mental psyche into an irreversible tailspin. As she retreats into a world of her own imagination and design Cukrowicz realizes that Violet has been the diabolically disturbed one all along. By contrast, the truth has set Catherine free. She leaves the hospital with renewed confidence.  


Suddenly Last Summer is dark and disturbing beyond all expectation. Given that the final act of Tennessee Williams’ play openly deals with cannibalism and homosexuality – or if you prefer 'homosexual cannibals' - either way, taboo subjects under the Production Code - it is remarkable how much of the play's venom and haunted sexual depravity has been preserved on film. 


Katherine Hepburn delivers a seminal performance as the aging spider woman who will stop at nothing to keep her late son’s secrets buried. Elizabeth Taylor is riveting as the young woman who must expose the truth to someone - anyone - despite living in constant fear of her aunt. Montgomery Clift is understated, proving a very solid counterbalance between these two. In the end, Suddenly Last Summer is daring and provocative – sometimes wordy – but never anything less than an emotional powerhouse. It is definitely worth a second look on DVD.


Sony Home Entertainment’s DVD is remarkably clean. The B&W image exhibits a refined gray scale with deep solid blacks and very clean whites. There are several sequences, particularly those employing split screen dissolves and fades, that are heavier on film grain and age related artifacts. Otherwise, there's much to recommend this presentation. The audio is mono but adequately represented. Regrettably, there are NO extras. Bottom line: recommended!


FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3.5

VIDEO/AUDIO
3.5

EXTRAS
0

THE LITTLE FOXES (Samuel Goldwyn 1941) MGM Home Video

The Little Foxes (1941) put a period to a rather tempestuous alliance between director William Wyler and Warner's 'fifth brother', Bette Davis. The two had begun their association as respectful collaborators on the set of Jezebel (1938). By the time that film wrapped, Davis and Wyler had become lovers; an on again/off again affair that lasted out their working together again on Somerset Maugham's The Letter (1940). But by the time Davis stood before the cameras to immortalize this play by Lillian Hellman, she and Wyler were quite simply at each other’s throats. In hindsight, the fireworks behind the scenes augmented Davis’ unrelentingly bitter performance as Regina Giddens, the ruthless matriarch of an unscrupulous Southern family of backstabbers.

The screenplay by Hellman, Dorothy Parker, Arthur Kober and Alan Campbell opens with a bittersweet coup. Regina's elder brother, Oscar (Carl Benton Reid) has entered into a loveless marriage with Birdie Hubbard (Patricia Collinge), an emotionally fragile creature with an alcohol problem, simply to inherit a portion of her family's plantation and cotton fields. 



Oscar's plan all along has been to enrich his own family's dwindling coffers by now entering into an alliance with his elder brother, Ben (Charles Dingle) to build a cotton mill that will restore the family's reputation to prominence. In this shuffle, Oscar has all but discarded his wife. Having realized the error in her marriage too late, Birdie gently tries to advise her niece, Alexandra (Teresa Wright) against a similar fate being perpetrated on the unsuspecting girl by no less than her own mother, Regina (Bette Davis).  


Once proud and prosperous, Regina’s determination to be flush with riches once again spurs her to plot the financial ruin of her two brothers, while orchestrating a forced romance between Alexandra and devious first cousin, Leo (Dan Duryea), Oscar's son. Such a marriage would surely afford Leo - and more indirectly Regina and Oscar - access to Alexandra's paternal inheritance.


Alexandra, however, is infatuated with David Hewitt (Richard Carlson); an impertinent telegram operator who immeasurably enjoys goading Alexandra to wild distraction. Like Birdie, however, David really only has Alexandra's best interests at heart.  


The bond Alexandra shares with her ailing father, Horace (Herbert Marshall) is a special one. He has always loved her and been protective of her, respecting Regina's wishes in Alexandra's upbringing, though ever cautious of the negative influences she may exude. Yet, despite Regina's obvious affects, Alexandra has remained unspoiled and true to her own heart. Regrettably, this admirable innocence is not to last.


Regina asks Horace outright for his money but he refuses.  Her next course of action is to align her deceptions with Oscar - both convincing the rather dimwitted Leo, a bank clerk, to steal Horace's railroad bonds from his safety deposit box. Discovering this plan afoot, Horace summons Regina to the parlor and informs her that he has decided to change his will. Alexandra will inherit everything. Furthermore, he will give Leo the bonds, thereby cutting her out of Oscar and Ben's cotton deal entirely. However, before Horace can solidify these plans he suffers a fatal heart attack as Regina looks on, quietly refusing him the medication that might save his life.

A grieving Alexandra remains oblivious to her mother's treachery. Regina now turns her attentions to blackmailing Oscar and Ben. She will have Leo arrested for stealing her late husband's bonds unless both brothers agree to give her seventy-five percent ownership in their mills. With little recourse, Oscar and Ben reluctantly agree. But their acquiescence comes at a terrible price for Regina. 



Having at long last awoken to the evil that Regina has perpetrated upon the entire family, Alexandra confronts her mother. She denounces Regina and tells her she will never be a party to her devious ways again.  David comes to take Alexandra away, leaving Regina the heir of the Giddens' estate, but thoroughly isolated in this resplendent cage she has constructed for herself.

The Little Foxes is a magnificent, if sadly underrated classic in Bette Davis' canon of film work. Davis is chilling as the intellectually scheming, morally repugnant, yet utterly charming - at least on the surface - enterprising matriarch. In later years, William Wyler would go on record with his own disappointment about Davis' performance, that he believed lacked heart. To be certain, Davis’ Regina Giddens is a spider woman with no redemption. She is both self serving and wholly unsympathetic, existing in a sort of soulless vacuum of her own design.



That said, there are few actresses of any vintage, including Davis' own, who could present so malignant a creature so compellingly on the screen and still make her magnetic to an audience. When Davis' Regina Giddens appears in a scene, nothing and no one else matters.  Like the rest of the clan, we as the audience, are brought to heel in shock and awe and perhaps even tremble at this demonic creation who will stop at nothing to achieve her own desires. 


The film's themes of innocence lost and regained are well established in both Teresa Wright and Herbert Marshall's tender and understated performances, and to a lesser extent, through Birdie's flawed attempts to intervene on Alexandra's behalf while living in constant fear of her own husband. 


But The Little Foxes is also a superb drawing room melodrama, painstakingly paced by Wyler. As seen through master cinematographer, Gregg Toland's deep focus lens, the omnipotent darkness and decay of this forgotten southern family is affectionately recaptured with rather sumptuous accoutrements. These extol and exaggerate the Giddons' dead family legacy, best exemplified through Stephen Goosson's sublimely cluttered Art Direction and Howard Bristol's equally claustrophobic Set Decoration.  In the final analysis, everything works in service of the story and the result is a disturbingly vial, multifaceted movie that will likely endure for many good years yet to come.  

MGM Home Video’s DVD is rather disappointing. Despite a refined gray scale with solid deep blacks and very clean whites with minimal age related artifacts, the entire image is marred by a relatively high concentration of digital anomalies; edge enhancement, shimmering of fine details and pixelization - all of them quite distracting. One hopes to someday see this film properly remastered for Blu-ray. It certainly deserves better visually than what it has received! 
The audio has been rather awkwardly re-channeled by Chace Audio to produce a pseudo-stereo effect that predictably exhibits all the limitations in fidelity one would expect. This is primarily a dialogue driven narrative. The original mono, also included on this disc, will therefore do quite nicely. A theatrical trailer that appears as though it were fed through a meat grinder is the only extra included.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
4.5

VIDEO/AUDIO
2.5
EXTRAS
0

KNIGHTS OF THE ROUND TABLE (MGM 1953) Warner Home Video

Director Richard Thorpe’s Knights of the Round Table (1953) was MGM's first movie shot in Cinemascope. Ever cautious that ‘scope’ would be just another passing fade (like 3D that had come and gone the year before) the company hedged its bets with this sprawling spectacle by producing a 'flat' version too. On the surface, midieval England - with its varied visions of galliards, knights on horseback and round table discussions - must have seemed like good subject matter for the expanded width of the big screen. Yet as penned by Talbot Jennings, Jan Lustig and Noel Langley - all competant screenwriters - ‘Knights’ is a rather plodding, somber and unimaginative entertainment.

The legend of King Arthur has always been a perennial film favorite. But on this occasion, an aged Robert Taylor, usually so natural in period costume, is an uncomfortable and wooden Sir Lancelot. Riding through the forest in search of noble King Arthur (Mel Ferrer), Lancelot becomes embroiled in a plot to expose the evils of Morgan Le Fay (Anne Crawford) and Modred (Stanley Baker). But the two hold the key to Arthur’s downfall; the secret that Lancelot and Queen Gueneviere (Ava Gardner) are lovers.

In part, due to the production code’s stringent morality, but also because Lancelot is to be the hero of our story, the romance between Guen’ and Lance’ is antiseptic at best. Even after the king discovers the truth for himself, his lament is more magnanimous than tortured; his forgiveness less driven by angst than necessity for a happy round table discussion. In short, director Thorpe’s faux epic diffuses conflict at every opportunity and winds up with an undeniably glossy, though dull, spectacle.


Alfred Junge and Hans Peters art direction is impeccable but somehow distilled by the rather stiff cinematography by Stephen Dade and Freddie Young. Cinemascope is not their forte just yet and Knights of the Round Table illustrates their frustrations with the letterboxed proportions. We either get extreme long shots that attempt to encompass all of the action all at once, or extreme close ups that are meant to draw attention to one or two players in a scene by giving us absolutely nothing else except a pair of talking heads to look at. In a few years both Young and Dade would be masters at re-framing their action for the widescreen lens. But not just yet and unfortunately it shows.

Warner Home Video’s DVD is just above average. No attempt has been made to remove age related artifacts. At times the image seems somewhat digitally harsh. Exterior photography has a heavy patina of film grain and a less saturated color palette. Matte process shots are obvious and inconsistently rendered. Black levels are perhaps a bit weak and fine details are lost in darker scenes.

Close ups, however, look gorgeous. Several establishing shots suffer from a litany of pixelization that breaks apart fine details. Fades between scenes are hampered by a sudden grainy transition that is inherent in all early Cinemascope films. The audio is stereo surround and amply provides a satisfying acoustic spread. Extras include a very brief featurette with Mel Ferrer’s comments on the production, a movietone trailer and the film's original theatrical trailer. This is not a bad movie but it is an incredibly dated one.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3

VIDEO/AUDIO
3

EXTRAS
2

BLADE RUNNER: Blu-ray (The Ladd Company 1982) Warner Home Video

The postmodern sci-fi epic that defined its generation and beyond, Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982) is an apocalyptic vision of the not so very distant future; a perpetually dark and overcrowded, neon-lit dystopia with a sub-tropical climate and predominantly Asian population.


Our story concerns bounty hunter, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) who is assigned the task of killing three replicants - android robots identical to humans - that have come to earth from a colonized mining camp to seek revenge on their creator - Eldon Tyrell (Joe Turkel). 

Rachel (Sean Young) is Tyrell’s latest creation, so sophisticated and life-like that not even she knows she has been manufactured. Deckard and Rachel begin a problematic affair. But before long, Rachel learns the truth and cannot come to terms with her own artificial intelligence.

Meanwhile, the colony replicants have murdered scientist, Hannibal Chew (James Hong), the man responsible for creating their eyes. The replicant's self appointed leader, Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) sends Pris (Darryl Hannah) to seek out J.F. Sebastian (William Sanderson) – another genetic designer - for extermination while he pursues Tyrell.
 

Deckard begins to have nocturnal visions of his own childhood that perhaps suggest to him he is not human either. As he struggles to come to terms with his own self doubts - genetically modified or otherwise - Deckard also becomes involved with Rachel. But like all things in this oppressively bleak vision of the future, their 'romance' is not to be. In fact, it's not even a romance, except to say that it involves a brief sexual encounter that ends tragically for both parties.

Blade Runner is very much a futurist noir mood piece heavily influenced by Fritz Lang’s silent masterpiece Metropolis (1927). Despite some fairly solid acting and thoroughly compelling special effects, as a whole the narrative patched together by David Webb Peoples and Hampton Fancher simply fails to gel in a way that is entirely satisfying. 



Evidently, director Ridley Scott must have agreed with this assessment. After its’ limited theatrical run, the director re-edited and re-released the film in a new director’s cut that, sadly, did not improve much on the original’s disjointed plot. Then came the ultimate director's cut, an infinitely more cohesive and satisfying explanation for all that had gone before.

Viewed today, Blade Runner is unrelentingly bleak - not just about the future but about everything in it; the fate of mankind, human interaction, relationships, technology's place in society, the sanctity of life, etc. etc. etc. Perhaps it remains just a little too dark and depressing to be acceptable as pure entertainment. The film, in any of its cuts, plays like a suicidal vision of one man's fate.

Not surprising since its source material is a novel by Philip K. Dick. But Dick's more cerebral protestations are not presented to us in the screenplay - leaving only Jordon Crownanweth's excessively moody cinematography and David L. Snyder's claustrophobic art direction to sustain and nourish. Although fascinating to look it, it sadly does neither. I like Blade Runner - don't get me wrong. But I have to be in the right frame of mind to digest its many layers of overwhelming tragedy.

Warner Home Video’s 5 disc Blu-ray offers Blade Runner in its various cuts rectifies the problematic transfer the film was given on DVD. These 1080p transfers are head and shoulders above anything the film has ever looked like. Colours are bold. Contrast is bang on. Fine detail is evident even during the darkest scenes and in Blade Runner there are many VERY dark sequences.  There's nothing to complain about here.

The audio remains in 5.1 DTS but is very nicely remastered for a sonic experience one will surely appreciate. This multidisc set includes all of the various cuts of the film with independent audio commentaries for each, plus an extensive backlog of archival footage (interviews, stills, audio outtakes, etc.) and a staggering two hour documentary on the making of the film that is perhaps even more compelling viewing than the movie itself. 



Bottom line: this is Blade Runner as Ridley Scott always intended you to see it. If you're a fan of the movie then the multidisc Blu-ray is definitely the way to go.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3.5

VIDEO/AUDIO
5+

EXTRAS
5+

THE LAST HURRAH (Columbia 1958) Sony Home Entertainment

John Ford’s The Last Hurrah (1958) is a superbly crafted political melodrama that follows the exploits of Irish American charmer, Frank Skeffington (Spencer Tracy). Running for his third term as mayor, Frank meets with overwhelming opposition from a corrupt city council who don't appreciate his strong-arm tactics and chronic meddling in their backroom intrigues.

The pack of Skeffington’s detractors is led by Norman Cass Sr. (Basil Rathbone), whose youthful incumbent Kevin McCluskey (Charles B. Fitzsimmons) seems an impossible long shot. Cass and his cronies start off by pitching McCluskey to the public as a model of the spotless all-American family man. But McCluskey’s lack of experience in the political arena is rife with possibilities for exploitation that Frank is all too willing to take advantage.

Not above dishing a little dirt of his own, Skeffington uses incriminating photos of Cass’s simpleton son, Norman Jr. (O.Z. Whitehead) to blackmail Cass Sr. into relative submission. Skeffington also gingerly berates the rest of city council opposing him, including newspaper editor, Amos Force (John Carradine) to whom Skeffington’s nephew, Adam Caufield (Jeffrey Hunter) is an employee and sometimes unwilling observer.


The rouse works but only temporarily. Skeffington loses to McCluskey by a narrow margin, in many ways signalling an end to the days when politics was decided on merit rather than propaganda and muck-raking. Skeffington suffers a heart attack and dies, knowing that his legacy as a political giant has come to a end first.

The Last Hurrah is poignantly wrought entertainment with its message tucked neatly beneath its pure entertainment value. Ford, who was never big on 'teaching' his audiences anything, nevertheless managed to illustrate a fundamental truth about life and politics. That both are subject to ever-evolving change and not always for the better.

As Skeffington, Spencer Tracy is pure dynamite, delving out equal portions of brutality and kindness in a tour de force performance that quite easily might be his best. There are plenty of fine cameos to go around, including Jane Darwell’s crotchety spinster, Anna Lee’s tender widow, and, Donald Crisp’s stoic turn as His Eminence, Cardinal Burke. Buttressed by a fine cast and Frank S. Nugent’s adroit screenplay, director Ford delivers a quietly compelling minor saga of a political veteran losing ground in the twilight of his years.

Sony Home Entertainment’s DVD is quite impressive; anamorphic and with a refined gray scale exhibiting solid deep blacks and almost pristine whites. There is a definite grain structure to this film, and age related artifacts are present throughout. The audio is MONO and nicely rendered. Unfortunately, there are NO extras.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
4.5

VIDEO/AUDIO
3.5

EXTRAS
0

DARK PASSAGE (Warner Bros. 1947) Warner Home Video

Delmer Daves’ Dark Passage (1947) marks the penultimate teaming of Bogie and Bacall. A dark and brooding film noir that utilized the subjective camera for almost half its running time, the film was not the box office sensation Jack Warner had hoped for when it originally hit theaters. Yet time has perhaps mellowed that initially harsh critical response.

Viewed today, Dark Passage is a fairly gripping story of cynicism and heroism - two contradictory sides to any man's life clashed together in the Daves' screenplay like the tectonic plates of the San Andreas Fault and with just as much friction mounting as the narrative progresses. What is disconcerting for audiences today - as it probably was for audiences back in the day - is that Bogart does not appear in the flesh on camera for more than half the movie and when he finally does there is a sort of waxen quality to his visage that audiences didn't quite remember from his other outings with Bacall. MGM would try a similar gimmick with Robert Montgomery the same year as Dark Passage with Lady in the Lake. It didn't work then. It doesn't work now - at least not entirely and chiefly because people pay their ticket money to see stars. No star. No box office!

Moving along: Bogart is Vincent Parry, a man wrongfully accused of murdering his wife and sent to prison for life. He escapes San Quentin and is rescued by amateur painter, Irene Jansen (Bacall) who smuggles Parry past police, across the Golden Gate Bridge and into her San Francisco apartment. From there, Parry procures a plastic surgeon to alter his facial features.

The plot thickens when Parry arranges to stay with an old friend, George Fellsinger (Rory Mallinson) while he recovers from his wounds. However, when Parry returns to George's apartment all bandaged up a few hours later he discovers that someone has murdered George. Perhaps it’s the same person who murdered his wife.

The film is a bleak depiction of alienation within the big city – our hero, living moment to moment – each, in mortal fear of his discovery and reinstated incarceration. The narrative is fairly generic for noir thrillers, but immeasurably aided by Daves’ unusual camera work and staging. The dream sequence, in which Parry – under the influence of Dr. Coley’s (Houseley Stevenson) laughing gas – has nightmares about what he will eventually look like once the bandages come off, is quite terrifying.

Still, the motive for Irene's compassion towards Parry (that he reminds her of her own father's case) is a tad weak. Is she genuinely sympathetic because she realizes he is innocent or is she a love crazy obsessive/compulsive type who desires to give up her lucrative lifestyle as a legitimate artist to become someone else's gun moll? We're never quite sure.

Worse for the film, the chemistry between Bogart and Bacall is stifled by the screenplay that continuously sets up one barrier after the next to deflate their romance. Inexplicably, the last act of the story is dedicated to Parry hunting down his wife's killer alone while Bacall hightails it to some tropical island with no U.S. extradition. Spoiler: Parry confronts Madge with the knowledge that she murdered his wife because she was in love with him. But Madge panicks and accidentally falls to her death - thereby giving Parry no alibi for the first murder and also making him predictably liable for this accident.

In the end, Dark Passage becomes little more than an interesting footnote in the Bogie/Bacall canon. One can understand why their on screen pairings at Warner Bros. ended after this box office fiasco. But it remains a curiosity why no other studio ever paired these two together later on.

Warner Home Video’s DVD is a winner. The transfer is remarkable; remastered, near reference quality disc with deep blacks and solid clean whites. The image is razor sharp without being digitally harsh. An incredible amount of fine detail is evident, even during the darkest scenes and the image is remarkable clean and free of age related artefacts. The audio is MONO but very nicely balanced. Extras include a featurette on the making of the film that while short covers a lot of ground. There's also a Bugs Bunny cartoon and the film's theatrical trailer.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3

VIDEO/AUDIO
4.5

EXTRAS
2

FAR FROM HEAVEN: Blu-ray (Alliance Atlantis 2002) Alliance Atlantis Home Video

In mood, tone and overall plot development Todd Hayne’s Far From Heaven (2002) is an evocative homage to Douglas Sirk; the 1950’s director extraordinaire of syrupy over-the-top soap opera melodramas. Sirk’s particular brand of schlocky nonsense has always escaped this reviewer’s admiration, although there is little to deny that for his time he was considered bar none the leading authority in this type of campy melodrama.

Hayne’s emulation of ‘the master’ is a stunning recreation of Sirk's visual lushness to be sure, but regrettably without Sirk's cleverness to solicit some sort of epic grandeur from simple middle class dilemmas. Revisiting the idyllic 1950s through less than rose-colored glasses is hardly an ambitious pursuit. Yet, there is a faint aroma of formaldehyde permeating Hayne’s exploitation of that absurd quest for the deepest shag rug and most prominent fins on each new car.

The plot concerns dutiful wife and mother, Cathy Whitaker (Julianne Moore) whose serene domesticity is forever shattered when she discovers that her handsome ad executive husband, Frank (Dennis Quaid) has been engaging young men to satisfy his homosexual double life.

The film plays fast and loose with Frank’s feeble attempts to break himself of his homo-erotic tendencies (in post war America it was thought that homosexuality could be ‘cured’) – a struggle of emotions that eventually leads to an emotional rift and permanent split with Cathy. In the meantime, Cathy’s feelings of inadequacy push her closer to an even more taboo interracial love affair with groundskeeper Raymond Deagan (Dennis Haysbert).

Hayne’s social commentary on both the rigidity and hypocrisies of vintage Americana is clearly the star of this film. However, he is hampered in his delivery of that 'message’ by leaden performances from Quaid in particular but also Moore. There simply is zero chemistry between these two. One wonders, for example, how Cathy could have been fooled for so long into thinking her husband was heterosexual. Frank’s ‘transgressions’ are presented as sudden and almost freak occurrences. For an audience, it is as though he awoke one morning and decided to switch sexual preferences.

The ‘affair’ between Cathy and Raymond is even more problematic – not for its interracial content – but because there seems to be zero spark to propel it anywhere. Cathy’s antiseptic WASP is chronically constipated from going all the way by her own inability to commit to a different skin color, while Raymond’s cultured reserve is more nonchalant than apprehensive – robbing us of all possible passion and melodramatic tension. In the end, Far from Heaven is far from perfect entertainment. It is a story of improbable and utterly flawed romantic longing set against a ‘50s pastiche of suburbian backyard landscapes.

Alliance Home Video's Blu-ray greatly improves on the multitude of sins committed on their DVD transfer. The image is really quite stunning. Colors are rich, vibrant and nicely balanced, recapturing the Sirk-esque lushness that Haynes is aiming for. Contrast levels are accurately rendered. Blacks are solid, deep and velvety. Whites are pristine. The DVD's edge enhancement and some shimmering of fine details is gone from the Blu-ray. The soundtrack has been remastered but is still 5.1 and adequately rendered for this dialogue driven movie.

Extras are all imports from the DVD and include a very self-congratulatory featurette in which director Hayne's explains how he believes he did Douglas Sirk one better. Aside: like Richard Attenborough's heavy-handed handling of Miracle on 34th Street (1994) or Gus Van Sant's shot for shot remake of Psycho (1998) - this simply can't be done! Why won’t Hollywood admit as much?

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3

VIDEO/AUDIO
4.5

EXTRAS
2

TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT (Warner Bros. 1944) Warner Home Video

Howard Hawks’ To Have And Have Not (1944) gets the nod for introducing audiences to Lauren Bacall and having the inspired notion of teaming her with Humphrey Bogart for the very first time, thereby creating one of the most legendary screen couples in film history - both on and off the silver screen. 


Under a personal contract to director Hawks – who evidently hoped for more behind the scenes from his young discovery – Bacall disappointed her mentor by falling for, and eventually marrying, Bogart instead.

Bacall plays Marie ‘Slim’ Browning, a pickpocket in Martinique who crosses paths with Capt. Harry Steve Morgan (Humphrey Bogart). Seems Harry was double-crossed by his most recent fishing patron, Johnson (Walter Sande), the man whose wallet Slim has just pinched. Before Steve can collect on the debt, Johnson is accidentally killed by a stray bullet.

Morgan is hired by nightclub owner and supporter of the resistance, Frenchy (Marcel Dalio) to charter his boat for freedom fighters; Paul De Bursac (Walter Molnar) and his wife, Hellene (Dolores Moran). However, when Morgan’s boat receives a Vichy ambush, Paul is wounded.

Hawks, who reportedly told Ernest Hemingway that he could make a success out of his worst novel – To Have and Have Not – does just that. Jules Furthman and William Faukner's screenplay sets up some genuine romantic fireworks between Slim and Harry that crackle with witty dialogue. Of course, all that good writing would have been for not had Bogart and Bacall not fallen for one another on the set, thereby lending some prickly sexual subtext to the already loaded lines. 



To Have and Have Not is not so much a ‘narrative’ as it proves a ‘character’ driven exercise in film making. The patriotic 'resistance rescue' plot is really just an excuse to hang a bunch of glib one liners on. Hawks gets great economy out of Bogie and Bacall's on screen chemistry. This excels and carries the movie along even as it thoroughly stalls the threadbare plot from moving towards its inevitable conclusion. 


Style over substance? You bet. But what a style it is - and oh, what a treat to explore over and over again. There's just something magical about these two stars - completely within their element and obviously in love with each other.

Warner Home Video’s DVD is a fairly admirable effort. The gray scale is, on the whole, nicely balanced with solid blacks and relatively clean whites. Occasionally, edge enhancement and pixelization intrude. There are a few scenes in which contrast levels seem low and age related artifacts and film grain more than a tad excessive.The obvious stock footage used as rear projection is riddled with excessive grain and slightly out of focus. The audio is MONO but cleaned up and very well balanced. Warner provides a featurette, a cartoon and the film's original theatrical trailer.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
4

VIDEO/AUDIO
3.5

EXTRAS
2

YOU'LL NEVER GET RICH (Columbia 1941) Sony Home Entertainment

Sidney Lanfield’s You'll Never Get Rich (1941) is the first of two musicals Fred Astaire made with Rita Hayworth after dissolving his partnership with Ginger Rogers at RKO. In hindsight, the pairing of Astaire and Hayworth seemed a natural. She was, after all, a trained dancer before she became an actress, while Astaire's reputation in the industry, arguably needs no introduction. 


Yet, although this film is light, breezy and brimming to the ceiling with comedy and music - ironically, there is precious little to recommend it as whole. Yes, Rita is lovely and exceptionally adept at performing intricate tap routines next to the formidable Astaire. Yes, Astaire is his usual urbane self, the epitome of sleek sophistication both on and off the dance floor. But the screenplay by Michael Fessier and Ernest Pagano is mired in its leaden plot of mistaken identity and goes absolutely nowhere fast.

Hoofer Robert Curtis’ (Astaire) employer – Robert Cortland (Robert Benchley) is a randy old sod with a roving eye for the ladies. This frequently lands him in hot water with wife, Julia (Frieda Inescort). To ease their marital strain, Cortland often relies on Curtis to pretend to be his romantic fop. However, currently both Roberts have their eyes on Sheila Winthrop (Hayworth) a chorus girl with so much more than just a pair of 'happy feet' to offer.To secure her part in Cortland's new show, an unlikely affair begins, then stops, then starts up again as Sheila suddenly realizes she has slowly begun to fall in love - not with Cortland, but Curtis. To get Curtis out of the picture - literally - Cortland conspires to have him drafted into the army.

The rest of the film is genuinely forgettable, as Curtis tries everything he can to convince Sheila that he’s a straight arrow with only one heart in dead aim – hers. Of course, less than stellar plotting could easily have been overcome if the musical program were worth half the price of admission.


Sadly, there are few bright spots of inspiration. Astaire’s ‘Shootin’ the Works for Uncle Sam’ is patriotic and pleasant enough, as is his solo tap routine inside an army prison. But the film’s two too brief pas deux between its two formidable stars are a bore. The finale – a sort of glam-bam ode to the war bride, with dancers atop an art deco army tank, is garish, gaudy and haphazardly staged. At best, You’ll Never Get Rich is a film that passes effortlessly from the subconscious shortly after the houselights have come up.

Sony Home Entertainment’s DVD is average. The gray scale has been adequately mastered. Contrast levels appear slightly bumped up with an inherent loss of fine details as the most obvious result. Whites are slightly blooming. Blacks are not entirely black. Age related artifacts; dirt, scratches et al are evident and, at times, distracting. Film grain is also rather obvious. The audio is mono but adequately represented. There are NO extras.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3

VIDEO/AUDIO
3

EXTRAS
0

MARLIYN MONROE: THE DIAMOND COLLECTION VOL. ONE (2oth Century-Fox 1953-62) Fox Home Video


It’s a rather telling statement on the current benchmark in female celebrity that many a contemporary starlet continues to strive to duplicate the ‘50s iconography of Marilyn Monroe. Everyone from Madonna to the late Anna Nicole Smith has gone through a 'Marilyn phase' – none, able to recapture Monroe’s inimitable classy sheen beneath their own raunchiness. Hence, Marilyn Monroe remains the ideal in ultra-sexed platinum bobble-headed femininity. She is, as she was then, that perfect blend of sass and naivety.

20th Century Fox acknowledges her legacy on celluloid with Marilyn Monroe: The Diamond Collection Vol. One. The set aptly bringing together Monroe’s trademark performances; Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) How To Marry A Millionaire (1953), There’s No Business Like Show Business (1954), The Seven Year Itch (1955), Bus Stop (1956) and the AMC original feature length documentary; Marilyn Monroe: The Final Days – a poignant account of Marilyn’s unfinished last film, prolifically titled, Something’s Gotta Give (1962).

Of all these substantial screen efforts, Howard Hawks’ Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) remains the highlight; giddy, gaudy in Fox’s lurid Technicolor, and musically gay, it features Monroe as rabid gold digger, Lorilei Lee, a show girl engaged to be married to simpleton rich kid, Gus Esmond (Tom Noonan). Determined that no other man should have his chance with Lorilei, Gus employs her best friend, Dorothy Shaw (Jane Russell) as chaperone on their prenuptial trip to Paris.

But when an elderly scallywag and diamond mine owner, Sir Francis Beekman (Charles Colburn) decides to make a play for Lorilei the high jinx and double entendre spark a riotous comedy of errors. Monroe is at her best as the devious ‘innocent.’ She smolders in the film’s iconic musical offering – Diamonds are A Girl’s Best Friend.


In How To Marry A Millionaire (1953) Monroe is Pola Debevoise, a blind-as-a-bat fashion model who is in cahoots with Schatze Page (Lauren Bacall) and Loco Dempsey (Betty Grable). The schemers plan to snag a trio of rich husbands by renting a posh penthouse on 5th Ave.

A promising prospect surfaces in middle-aged bachelor with the best of intentions, J.D. Hadley (William Powell). He’s an oil tycoon who genuinely falls for Schatze’s charms until he discovers that she still has feelings for fellow millionaire, Tom Brookman (Cameron Mitchell). The wrinkle; Schatze thinks Tom is a gas pump jockey. In the end, all of the girls’ best laid plans crumble under the forces of true love.

Monroe is quite engaging as the near-sighted gal who bumps into furniture, walls and the wrong sort of man – eighteen carat fake, J. Stewart Marshall (Alex D’Arcy). The first comedy shot in Fox’s patented Cinemascope, How To Marry A Millionaire was a colossal hit, despite its rather vapid premise.

There’s No Business Like Show Business (1954) is not a Monroe film per say. It is the story of Vaudeville family: The Five Donahues - mom, Molly (Ethel Merman), father, Terence (Dan Dailey), sons Tim (Donald O’Connor) and Steve (Johnnie Raye) and daughter, Katie (Mitzi Gaynor). They love, laugh and cry (in various stages of the Lamar Trotti, Phoebe & Henry Ephron screenplay) while Tim courts aspiring actress, Vicki Hoffman (Marilyn Monroe).

When it seems as though Vicki might wind up romantically with her agent, Lew Harris (Richard Eastham) Tim goes on a drunken bender to ‘find himself.’ The screenplay is pure pulp, but furnished with a megawatt Irving Berlin score that includes Ethel Merman pulling out all stops, singing the title tune with great aplomb. There's No Business Like Show Business is a lush and lavishly appointed Fox musical with plenty for the eyes and ears. The heart, however, may be left wanting for something more.

Billy Wilder’s The Seven Year Itch (1955) is a curiosity amongst Monroe’s filmic projects, since she inadvertently becomes the focus of a story that on the stage had belonged to harried husband, Richard Sherman (Tom Ewell), with the part of the upstairs neighbor he finds himself attracted to (a role not even given a name) a rather insignificant part.

Richard’s wife, Helen (Evelyn Keyes) and their young son, Ricky (Butch Bernard) have gone to the country for the summer, leaving Richard alone on the isle of Manhattan with dishonorable intentions towards ‘the new girl’ living upstairs. Not that she would recognize any of them.

The film is meant to be a riotous exploration of man’s struggle with his own sexual frustrations. Instead, it emerges mostly as a leaden and uninspired claptrap of colorless vignettes – the best being the iconic moment when a sudden updraft created by a subway raises Monroe’s billowy pleated skirt above her knees. Reportedly shot first on location in New York City, the scene generated such large crowds that Monroe’s then husband, baseball great Joe DiMaggio, was hardly thrilled by the attention. In the end, the scene was reshot on the Fox backlot.

Finally, there’s Bus Stop (1956). Rambunctious cowboy, Bo Decker (Don Murray in a thoroughly campy performance) thinks he can deal with women the same way he does with cattle; hogtie their feet and hands and carrying them over his shoulder back to his farm. Even for the 50s, this is one dumb buck.

Monroe stars as Cherie, a hapless no-talent flesh show at a Texas speakeasy. To Bo, Cherie is a vision but the film hints of a past that is riddled with failed romances and tragic stolen moments. Considered at the time to be Monroe’s breakout performance - a departure from her trademark image as a dumb blonde - in hindsight Bus Stop marks the beginning of the end for Monroe’s tenure as the last great diva from Hollywood’s post-war golden age.

Fox Home Video has done an outstanding job on all the transfers included in this box set. The best is Gentleman Prefer Blondes: full frame, with a fully saturated palette of gaudy Fox Technicolor oozing from every frame, bold contrast levels, superb rendering of fine details and with a minimal amount of film grain and age related artifacts. This is a near reference quality disc.

In keeping with the limitations of early widescreen technologies, colors are less refined on all of the Cinemascope productions, though Fox has done a marvelous job on each title. Apart from its more subdued spectrum of color – flesh tones are still a tad pasty – the image is quite solid, nicely contrasted and with a minimal amount of age related damage. This is no small feat.

All of these ‘scope’ films – save There’s No Business Like Show Business – were in advanced stages of decomposition prior to Fox performing complete digital restorations. While transitions between scenes continue to exhibits a momentary degradation – the overall quality will surely impress.

The best looking of the ‘scope’ films is There’s No Business Like Show Business – with eye popping colors, thoroughly balanced contrast levels and a very sharp and satisfy image throughout. The biggest improvement in image quality - over previously released to home video editions - is The Seven Year Itch. The weakest is Bus Stop.

The audio on Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is a remixed stereo blend from the original mono stems with limited spread and fidelity. The rest of the films have true 5.0 stereo mixes derived from their original six track magnetic stereo masters. The only extra of merit is AMC’s feature length account of the last days of Marilyn Monroe’s life – with vintage and new interviews from surviving cast members. Each film comes with a theatrical trailer and restoration comparison. Recommended!

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes 4
How To Marry A Millionaire 3.5
The Seven Year Itch 3
There's No Business Like Show Business 3
Bus Stop 3
Marilyn Monroe: The Final Days 3.5

VIDEO/AUDIO
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes 4.5
How To Marry A Millionaire 3.5
The Seven Year Itch 3.5
There's No Business Like Show Business 4
Bus Stop 3.5
Marilyn Monroe: The Final Days 3

EXTRAS
2