Saturday, November 29, 2008

GREENWICH VILLAGE (2oth Century-Fox 1944) Fox Home Video

Walter Lang’s Greenwich Village (1944) is a delightfully obtuse musical extravaganza, aided and abetted by a truly inspired performance from Carmen Miranda, garishly photographed in eye-popping Technicolor. If nothing else, the film proves a universal; that Miranda is one of those rare movie treasures whose sheer presence on celluloid is enough to make anyone sit up and take notice.

Set in New York’s famed hot spot for low brow entertainment circa 1922, the story concocted by Frederick Hazlitt Brennan is supposed to be a conventional lover’s triangle between nightclub proprietor Danny O’Mara (William Bendix), symphonic composer, Kenneth Harvey (Don Ameche) and aspiring pop chanteuse, Bonnie Watson (Vivian Blaine).

Instead, the film quite easily becomes a showcase for the Brazilian bombshell, cast as fortune teller Princess Querida. Miranda cavorts in some utterly outrageous musical sequences while chewing up the scenery elsewhere as she runs amuck with her usual fracturing of the English language.

When first we meet Kenneth, he is a struggling composer, easily horns-waggled out of his money by the conspiring Querida and O’Mara, who need his money to launch their theatrical show. Mistakenly, Querida assumes that Kenneth’s wallet full of tens and twenties means that he is a millionaire when, in fact, Kenneth is actually a former college professor who has cashed out his entire life savings to set himself up in the Bohemian enclave and become a true artist.

Meanwhile, Kenneth falls in love with nightclub singer, Bonnie Watson who just happens to be O’Mara’s girl. Not that she shares O’Mara’s affections. Although Bonnie is grateful to O’Mara for his interests in her as a singer, Bonnie’s heart quickly falls for Kenneth, especially when O’Mara promises Kenneth that he will secure an audition with the eminent composer, Kavosky (Emil Rameau). In truth, O’Mara needs Kenneth to write the score for his show and has no interest in helping him succeed as a serious composer.

However, when Kenneth is double-crossed by a struggling violinist, Hofer (Felix Bressart) – who takes his money and attempts to escape – O’Mara comes to Kenneth’s rescue, apprehending Hofer to save his show and, inadvertently getting Kavosky to hear Kenneth’s score for that show; actually, the high brow symphony Kenneth had been toiling on since he moved to Greenwich Village.

The songs in this lavishly appointed musical romp are the least memorable part of this story, but that doesn’t stop the bombastic Carmen Miranda from excelling at elevating the rather conventional material to new heights of bizarre and exotic bliss. Though Blaine gets the torch songs and ballads, it’s Miranda’s super production numbers that continue to click the most with audiences today.

Lang’s direction is slick and stylish. The plot – while conventional to a fault – moves effortlessly enough through 82 minutes of pure mishap and utterly wacky screwball comedy. In the final analysis, Greenwich Village is a musical worth seeing because the sum of its parts equals an experience that is jolly good, if largely forgettable fun.

Fox Home Video’s DVD transfer is sumptuous. The Technicolor is rich, vibrant and glowing. Restoration efforts have resurrected an almost grain free image with sharp resolution and superbly rendered contrast levels. Blacks are deep and velvety. Whites are bright and pristine. The audio is presented either in re-channeled stereo or the original mono. Extras are limited to a stills gallery. Recommended!

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



No comments: