Thursday, April 10, 2008

NANCY GOES TO RIO/TWO WEEKS WITH LOVE (MGM 1950) Warner Home Video

For this critic it is a modest curiosity in ‘direct to video’ marketing – particularly with classic movies – that so often, sequels, remakes and/or particular installments to film series have their DVD debut outside of natural continuity. As example; Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938); the fourth film in the Andy Hardy series from MGM has been made available via Warner Home Video since 2002 while the rest of the films in that series – including 1937’s A Family Affair; the one that inspired the series – remain in absentia.

Warner also released box set tributes to Doris Day, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis and so forth with many of these actress’s newer movies (meaning those derived from the later period in their career) turning up in Volume One retrospectives while withholding titles of older films for a Volume Two or Three. Presumably, this lack of continuity madness also has meaning – or at least practicality. Earlier films in an actor’s career are perhaps less known and therefore less marketable at the start of a promotion. They also generally require far more restoration work than newer titles.

After a long awaited debut, Warner Home Video has finally released a few films from singer/dancer Jane Powell’s career, though perhaps not the ones expected. The first film that starred Powell to make its DVD debut was Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) from MGM Home Video back in 1997 – then later repurposed by Warner for a reissue in 2002. The second film to be released by Warner and featuring Powell was Royal Wedding (1951) – just last year.

Now, Warner Home Video gives us a pair of Powell’s later offerings from her initial cycle in ‘teen romance’ that kicked off her career at MGM: Roy Rowland’s contrite Two Weeks With Love (1950) and Robert Leonard’s infinitely more charming, Nancy Goes To Rio (1950). Only the latter film continues to hold up under contemporary scrutiny.

In Nancy Goes To Rio, Powell is a bit long in the tooth – though nevertheless engaging - as frenetic teen, Nancy Barklay – with big dreams of following in her mother’s footsteps. Nancy’s mother, Francis Elliot (Ann Sothern) is a glamorous Broadway star who has just wrapped up the last night of a successful show. Set to take a trip to Rio, Francis throws a house party to kick off her bon voyage with her father, Gregory (Louis Calhern) and Nancy’s beau, Scotty Sheridan (Scotty Beckett) in attendance.

Arriving in Rio, Francis begins to bone up on a script for her latest stage project. In one of those gracious whims of fate that can only happen in the movies, playwright Ricardo Domingos (Fortunio Bonanova) meets Nancy after already having discussed the play with Francis and thereafter decides for himself that Nancy, not Francis, would be a better fit for his heroine.

Fran’s manager, Arthur Barrett (Glenn Anders) agrees with Ricardo. However, Arthur makes Nancy promise not to say a word to anyone about the project. Not realizing that the lead in the play has first been promised to her own mother, Nancy accidentally stumbles upon Fran rehearsing for the part, and thereafter becomes heart sore over the prospect of telling her the truth.

Meanwhile, on the cruise to Rio Nancy accidentally meets Paul Berten (Barry Sullivan) – the man who will eventually become her mother’s beau – and instantly falls in love with him. Paul overhears Nancy rehearsing a passage from the play about an unwanted pregnancy and mistakenly misinterprets the dialogue to mean that Nancy is with child. Also on board is Marina Rodrigues (Carmen Miranda) who further muddles the waters of speculation when she erroneously concludes that Nancy’s unwanted baby might in fact be Paul’s.

Miraculously, the script by Ralph Block, Jane Hall, Frederick Kohner and Sidney Sheldon manages to keep all of these plot elements in play throughout the film’s scant 99 min. running time while infusing an ample musical repertoire into the proceedings. Powell sings several arias and standards. The emblematic Miranda charms us to distraction with two glossy standout performances – said to be her favorites. In her last film for MGM, Sothern exits her illustrious career on a high note. In the final analysis, Nancy Goes To Rio is diverting entertainment; bright-eyed and mindlessly enchanting

As scripted by Dorothy Kingsley and John Larkin, Two Weeks With Love plays much more like a stock company version of Meet Me In St. Louis (1944) than a stand alone period piece. The film stars Powell as Patti Robinson – a forlorn seventeen year old desperate for her first great romance. A successful orchestra conductor and creature of habit, Patti’s father, Horatio (Louis Calhern) takes his family to a summer retreat in the Catskills for two weeks out of every concert season.

Suffering from harmless teen angst, Patti abhors the prospect of spending another summer single, though she is mooned over incessantly by Billy Finlay (Carleton Carpenter) – the awkward son of the hotel’s proprietor who, in turn is ogled to distraction by Patti’s younger sister, tomboy Melba (Debbie Reynolds). However, with the arrival of handsome man about town, Demi Armendez (Ricardo Montelban) Patti’s romantic prospects certainly seem to be looking up – that is, until notorious mantrap Valerie Stressemann (Phyllis Kirk) makes every attempt to delineate their differences in age to Ricardo and suggest that he needs a ‘real’ woman, not a child.

The film’s optimism is infectious; treating its subtext of ‘when does a girl become a woman’ with great humor and charm. Reynolds and Carpenter perform the film’s most memorable number ‘Abba-Dabba Honeymoon.’ Powell is given a few brief songs and a garish dream sequence to contend with, though on the whole she doesn’t seem to make much of a splash. Montelban is adequate, but he’s perhaps a bit too elegant and too refined to spend his vacation with these ‘commoners’ in the Catskills. In the final analysis, Two Weeks With Love really doesn't have much to say. Once seen it doesn’t stick in the memory after the footlights have come up.

Warner Home Video’s 2 disc offering is a mixed blessing. Although Nancy Goes To Rio was the benefactor of some digital clean up for its laserdisc release back in 1995, Two Weeks With Love has been neglected for the same treatment and thus fares less winningly in this DVD incarnation. Colors are generally vibrant, bold and pronounced on Nancy Goes to Rio and less so on Two Weeks With Love – becoming muddy at time and belying a definite hint of fading.

Flesh tones adopt a garish orange hue on Two Weeks With Love. Contrast levels are more refined on Nancy Goes To Rio and much to low on Two Weeks With Love, particularly during night scenes with a loss of fine detail. Age related artifacts are present, though not distracting, on both movies. The audio for both is mono and adequate for this presentation. Extras are limited to several short subjects.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
Nancy Goes To Rio 3.5
Two Weeks With Love 3

VIDEO/AUDIO
Nancy Goes To Rio 3.5
Two Weeks With Love 2.5

EXTRAS
2

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