Saturday, December 31, 2011

RECKLESS (MGM 1935) Warner Archive Collection


Jean Harlow's career undeniably crests into the 'sheer magnificence' category of movie acting with Victor Fleming's Reckless (1935); a glowing example of the studio bound melodrama that unexpectedly wallops its audience with genuine heart and soul. The film is loosely based on a 1931 scandal involving torch singer Libby Holman's marriage to tobacco heir Zachary Smith Reynolds and was first proposed as a project for Joan Crawford by writer/producer David O. Selznick. A bit of well-timed verisimilitude extended beyond the project's history. Jean Harlow replaced Crawford after Selznick felt that Harlow's real life romance with William Powell (her co-star) would deliver added cache at the box office. But Harlow was initially reluctant to accept the role. Her own husband, MGM producer Paul Bern had committed suicide the same as Zachary Smith did and her on screen husband, played by Franchot Tone, would have to.
The screenplay by Selznick and P.J. Wolfson changed the names 'to protect the innocent' but kept pretty much everything else in this high octane tear jerker. Harlow stars as Broadway chanteuse, Mona Leslie. We first meet Mona in jail for reckless driving. She is salvaged from the tank by sports promoter Ned Riley (William Powell) who has come to Mona's aid at the behest of her concerned Granny (loveably cantankerous May Robson). Granny knows that Ned carries a torch for Mona. However, at present that flame has been transferred from Mona to wealthy playboy Bob Harrison Jr. (Franchot Tone). Certain that his affections will not be reciprocated, Ned is reluctant to confess his true feelings to Mona. The one time he musters the courage to propose he finds that Mona has slipped off to sleep before he can find the words.
Bob is the rather devil-may-care sort. Although engaged to socialite Josephine Jo' Mercer (Rosalind Russell) he enjoys slumming with Mona. She, in turn, has mistaken his affections for genuine love. Out on a drunken bender, Bob decides to marry Mona, then quickly comes to regret his haste. Although Jo accepts their marriage and Mona without any sort of personal resentment, Bob's father, Colonel Harrison (Henry Stephenson) is unable to bring himself to be anything less than utterly condescending towards Mona.
Mona tolerates his paternal abuse, all the while hoping that he will someday warm up to her genuine kindness. Jo's brother Paul (Robert Light) is equally unwilling to let bygones be bygones. He deliberately excludes Bob from the country club fox hunt. This snub leads to the first of many scenes as Bob quickly realizes he is no longer welcome amongst the people he once regarded as his family and friends. Their alienation leads to his declining self-respect and his frequent turning to the bottle for solace. Mona does all that she can to win her husband back but it's no use. As Bob grows more sullen he begins to suspect that Ned is getting designs on his wife.
After making a public spectacle out of Jo's wedding to blueblood, Ralph Watson (Leon Ames), a severely drunken Bob confronts Mona and Ned in his hotel suite before taking his own life. The tabloids brand Bob's suicide a murder and suggest that Ned and Mona were in cahoots to finish him off for a million dollar settlement. Although a coroner's inquest eventually exonerates Ned and Mona of any such crime, the court of popular opinion refuses to surrender the rumors surrounding Bob's death. Ned and Mona are branded social pariahs and ostracized from all 'good' society.
Mona quickly discovers that no Broadway producer will take a chance on restarting her stage career. At the same time Mona learns she is pregnant with Bob's baby. The Colonel attempts to gain custody of the child but surrenders all claims when Mona agrees to forgo the million dollar insurance payout that is rightfully hers. Ned comes to Mona's aid by secretly raising funds to produce her comeback Broadway revue. But the mood at the premiere turns ugly when the Colonel stacks the audience with his own friends who hiss and boo Mona during her debut song. In her own defense, Mona confronts the audience. She tells them once and for all that she had nothing to do with Bob's death and further admonishes them for their arrogance and ignorance in preventing her to go on. Her sheer defiance softens their hearts and Mona concludes her song to resounding applause and a proposal of marriage from Ned backstage that she gratefully accepts.
Reckless is a masterpiece on many levels, only slightly marred by the obtuse interjection of a severely botched musical number near the beginning of the film. Bob has bought out the house for a command performance. Harlow lip syncs the title track 'Reckless', then has her dancing done by an obvious double for most of the routine that follows. Musical comedy was never Harlow's strong suit.
Why anyone at MGM would have force fed her into this claptrap production number (that migrates its action from an absurdly over produced art deco nightclub backdrop that inexplicably transitions into a southwestern mariachi routine topped off by Mona's onstage murder) is beyond me. Only the inconsequentially painful ending of Dancing Lady (1933), set to Rhythm of the Day narrowly tips the scale of bad taste exercised in this sequence. But even that had Nelson Eddy do his own singing and Joan Crawford schlep her own feet to the beat. Otherwise, what we have with Reckless is a lavishly produced melodrama with decorous accoutrements and top notch performances. Everyone is giving it their all and it shows in spades. George Folsey's elegant cinematography and Cedric Gibbons' superb art direction deliver a glamorous showcase that is eye-popping. Reckless is high art with high quality written all over it. It deserves better than what it's been given on DVD.
And on that note, here are a few words about the transfer. Warner's MOD Archive release is good but not great. The gray scale is fairly accurately represented. But age related artifacts are prevalent throughout and at times quite distracting. Advertised as 'remastered' the image is only a tad sharper and more refined than that offered on other titles featured in the Harlow 100th Anniversary Collection that do not advertise as much. At times contrast levels seem just a tad weaker than expected. Thankfully, we have all been spared the obnoxious inclusion of edge enhancement on this outing. But film grain occasionally looks more gritty than grainy. Overall, the transfer will not disappoint, but it's hardly worthy of a film as good as Reckless. The audio is mono but adequate with minimal hiss and pop. Extras include an audio vault of outtakes and radio promos plus the film's theatrical trailer. Highly recommended for content. Moderately recommended for transfer quality.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
4.5
VIDEO/AUDIO
3
EXTRAS
2

PERSONAL PROPERTY (MGM 1937) Warner Archive Collection


A sparkling romantic comedy based on H.M. Harwood's play The Man In Possession, W.S. Van Dyke's Personal Property (1937) shimmers with a playful zest. MGM, the purveyors of such glossy/frothy entertainments during Hollywood's golden age, are working with stellar material here, and an impeccable cast too. The film stars the studio's resident bombshell Jean Harlow in her second to last feature, opposite the undeniably handsome heartthrob Robert Taylor.
On this occasion both give peerless performances. Harlow is Mrs. Crystal Wetherby - a gold digger whose late husband left her with a fashionable home in London and his good name, but precious little else. Starved for cash, Crystal has become engaged to stuffed shirt, Claude Dabney (Reginald Owen); heir to a ladies undergarment factory. Claude's brother, Raymond (Robert Taylor) has just been paroled from a six month prison sentence for illegally selling automobiles. Although Mrs. Dabney (Henrietta Crosman) dotes on her prodigal, Raymond's father, Cosgrove (E.E. Clive) has taken Claude's side in the matter. Raymond will have to leave the family estate and seek his livelihood elsewhere.
Raymond accidentally bumps into Crystal inside the lobby of his favorite hotel. Not knowing that she is his brother's fiancée, he doggedly pursues her with flirtatious aplomb, then tails her to the opera and later, her home in an attempt to get to know her better. Crystal rebukes Raymond at every turn. But a saving grace arrives in bailiff Herbert Jenkins (Forrester Harvey) who has come to collect on some outstanding debts. Because Herbert's wife is about to have a baby, he appoints Raymond as his sheriff's deputy and assigns him the task of living on the Wetherby estate until such time as the debt can be paid in full or his men arrive to confiscate the contents of the home.
At first this arrangement does not sit well with Crystal. In fact, she's about to have a lavish dinner party in Raymond's presence. How embarrassing! Not to worry, though. Raymond has thought of everything. He decides to help Crystal along by playing the part of her butler for the evening. Only the rouse curdles when he discovers that Crystal is Claude's wife to be. The dinner party is most certainly the highlight of this Hugh Mills/Ernest Vajda screen adaptation - a potpourri of witty one liners haughtily dispatched with superb comedic timing by all concerned. At the party are Crystal's girlfriend with a roving eye, Catherine Burns (Marla Shelton), her mother, Mrs. Burns (Cora Witherspoon), stuffed shirt Lord Carstairs (Lionel Braham) and musician with marbles in his mouth, Arthur Trevelyan (Barrett Parker). All will play a farcical part in entertaining us with the obtuse stupidity of the evening as Raymond - rechristened Ferguson the butler - subliminally threatens to expose his true identity (and much to Claude's chagrin) to the rest of the unsuspecting gathering.
By night's end Crystal has decided for herself that she cannot marry Claude whom she finds even more boorish and ill tempered. But what to do? She's penniless and still unaware that she might find an escape from her debts by marrying his brother. Raymond decides to play a percentage. He cons Claude, telling him that he has decided to vacate Crystal's home for four hundred pounds. Instead, Raymond uses the money to buy up the Jenkins' debt, thereby making him the guarantor of Crystal's estate. She has become 'his' personal property!
Personal Property has wit, elegance, charm and genuine sparkle - all hallmarks of a classic 'classy' comedy. There is real chemistry between Harlow and Taylor, the kind no amount of good acting can forge. As a pair of lovable frauds they're both real charmers. But there's something more added to the mix - that intangible quality that authenticates their burgeoning on camera romance. Surrounded by a superior supporting cast, these Hollywood greats take charge and lead the audience into a sumptuous concoction of chic good taste and sardonic drollness. In the final analysis, Personal Property is a comedic gem through and through. They certainly don't make 'em like this anymore and more is the pity.
A pity too that Warner's MOD Archive release hasn't done a better job mastering the film for this release. The gray scale has held up remarkably well for a film over 70 years old. But age related artifacts (dirt, scratches, pocks and chips) are everywhere and, at times, distracting. Worse, there seems to be some rather obvious aliasing and edge enhancement applied to the transfer. When the image is solid (which is for a good portion of the film's run time) it's a middling mastering effort that we can tolerate though hardly accept. But when the shimmering of fine details kicks in it all but dismantles our appreciation for the movie. The audio is mono and adequately realized with minimal hiss and pop. Extras include a Lux Radio broadcast of a different play starring Taylor and Harlow, plus the film's original trailer. Highly recommended for content, not for transfer quality.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
4
VIDEO/AUDIO
2.5
EXTRAS
2

THE FOUR FEATHERS: Blu-ray (London Films 1939) Criterion Home Video


The essence and flavor of Zoltan Korda's 1939 adaptation of The Four Feathers is arguably the most loyal to A.E.W. Mason's 1902 novel. Although it diverges in many ways from a purist's interpretation of the book, the film holds the dubious distinction of being the only adaptation to feature an all British cast. The screenplay by R.C. Sherriff, Lajos Biro and Arthur Wimperis takes up its tale of heroism after the fall of Gen. Gordon in Khartoum. Gen. Flaversham (Allan Jeayes) is a disillusioned relic of the old home guard who worries that his young son, Harry (Clive Baxter) does not share in his familial sense of honor. Since the time he was able to walk, young Harry has been brought up on stories of glory and war. Gen. Burroughs (C. Aubrey Smith) in particular relishes in recanting his 'good ol' days during the Crimean conflict. Still, Harry can only see the futility in war. His father's friend, Dr. Sutton (Frederick Culley) sympathizes with Harry's dilemma but assures him that when the time comes he will do the right thing to preserve the Flaversham family name.
Unhappy circumstance that adult Harry (now played by John Clements) has not changed his viewpoint with time. It's1895 and the North Surrey Regiment, under Sir Herbert Kitchener is marching to face the forces of the Khalifa (John Laurie - decidedly miscast as an Arab). Forced into the army, Lieutenant Harry Flaversham and his comrades, Capt. John Durrance (Ralph Richardson), Lieutenants Peter Burroughs (Donald Gray) and Willoughby (Jack Allen) have all been called into service. But Harry has other plans. Engaged to Ethne Burroughs (June Duprez) he is no longer willing to sacrifice his own happiness simply to satisfy his peers.
John, Peter and Willoughby are outraged by Harry's resignation from the army. They each give him a single white feather (a symbol of cowardice) to mark their displeasure. When Ethne does nothing to defend her beloved's reputation Harry demands another feather from her. Although she refuses, he plucks a single white plumb from her fan. Harry next confides in Dr. Sutton that he is indeed a coward, then sets out to Egypt of his own accord to remedy his rash decision to withdraw from the armed forces. But Harry is still determined to be a hero on his own terms. He disguises himself as a mute Sangali, intent on infiltrating the Khalifa's forces and learn their future attack plans against the British.
On route to a clash with the Khalifa, Durrance succumbs to sun stroke that causes permanent blindness. Left for dead in the middle of the desert, Durrance is rescued by Harry who tucks Ethne's white feather into his letter. Forced to retreat back to England, Durrance actively pursues a romance with Ethne. The old Gen. approves. Durrance is a retired hero. Out of pity, Ethne pledges herself in marriage to Durrance even though her heart still belongs to Harry. Inadvertently, the sightless Durrance reveals to Ethne, the old Gen. and Dr. Sutton the contents of the white feather. Harry is still very much alive. No one, least of all Ethne, has the heart to tell Durrance this.
Meanwhile, back in the Sudan Burroughs and Willoughby are captured and taken to the prison of Omdurman - a hellish pit of despair from which there is no return. They quietly discover that the Sangali slave in their midst is none other than Harry Flaversham, come to their aid with a plan of escape. Harry organizes a revolt amongst the prisoners who overpower the guards and seize the Khalifa's arsenal. Their victory spares Kitchener's army from a full blown Khalifa attack.
When news of Harry's courage reaches Durrance he dictates a letter to Dr. Sutton, releasing Ethne of her engagement promise under the false pretext that his plans for therapy abroad to restore his sight will take many years. Sometime later Harry returns to England. He is reunited with Ethne, the Gen., Dr. Sutton and many old friends. But as the old General begins to recant his favorite war story, Harry quietly intervenes to cleverly dispel his embellishments. The mildly irritated Gen. modestly complains that he will never again be able to tell his story with a straight face.
The Four Feathers is lavish entertainment. Its battle sequences are immense and impressive. For some years afterwards they would continue to turn up as 'stock footage' in other British films. Korda's direction is more stilted than North American audiences are used to. His preference for scenes of exposition is that the actors should move about the scenery while the camera remains relatively stationary. Viewed today, these intimate scenes have a strangely embalmed quality, a sort of rigid yet mobile waxworks on display.
The other 'hump' that audiences in this country then and now need to overcome is that The Four Feathers is a film absent of star power. That vital ingredient aside, the film is populated by supremely competent performances. John Clements transformation from apprehensive soldier to Sangali native is sublime perfection. Ralph Richardson manages a minor acting coup, resisting the more obvious urge to rely on audience sympathy for the blindness of his character. Instead, he remains a steadfast beacon of courage under fire - our empathy for his Durrance derived from Richardson's presence, not his character's predicament. C. Aubrey Smith's stoic elegance draws from a rich tapestry of distinctly British memory and fondness for the England that used to be.
In the final analysis, The Four Feathers succeeds as a motion picture because the craftsmanship of its acting overrides George Perinal's rather flat and uninspired cinematography during the lengthy melodramatic dialogue sequences. The same high praise cannot be extolled on Criterion's Blu-ray release. It is, frankly, an insult to collectors who have come to regard the company's integrity and commitment for releasing time honored and art house movies in the best possible condition available. Although Criterion's Blu-ray release does correct the horrendous mis-registration problems that riddled the old MGM DVD from several years ago, it has been derived from a similarly flawed Technicolor dye transfer that contains severe streaks and modeling throughout this presentation. Color bleeding during long shots, as well as obvious 'breathing' of the image around the edges is extremely distracting.
The image is often gritty rather than grainy. (Aside: 3 strip Technicolor was a grain concealing process. As such this image ought to be velvety smooth yet sharp. Regrettably, it is neither). There is an occasional softness, particularly with the footage shot on location. As example, the rock formations that Lieutenant Durrance climbs in his sun stroke delirium are not delineated by the coarseness of their fine texture. Instead they appear as nondescript blobs of grayish brown.
Only in close ups does the image vaguely hint at the vibrancy and attention to detail it ought to have throughout. The audio is mono as originally recorded and adequate. But the visual are, in a word - disappointing, period! Extras include an informative feature length audio commentary, a featurette on the Korda legacy and London Films, and the film's original theatrical trailer. Given Criterion's usual dedication, this release seems slapdash at best! Not recommended!
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
4
VIDEO/AUDIO
2
EXTRAS
2

BOMBSHELL (MGM 1933) Warner Archive Collection


Hollywood's pre-code era yielded some rather raunchy masterpieces that have recently resurfaced as part of the 'golden age' canon of classic movies. Given our own current laissez faire cultural climate the concerns and constraints imposed upon the film industry then by the Hayes/Breen offices at the behest of the Catholic League of Decency seem laughable. But at the time there was a very fervent morality that wholly believed movies were capable of corrupting the masses. (They may have been on to something there!)
One of the cinema's most popular attractions then was Jean Harlow - a brassy unabashedly crass young lass (at least on screen) whose escapades inside a rain barrel in Red Dust (1932) prompted a targeted outrage. Although sympathetic to the cause of propriety, MGM's Louis B. Mayer was not about to turn Harlow out from his stable of stars. After all, she was a top money maker. And Harlow's screen image was diametric to the rather naive and fun loving girl behind the scenes.
Nevertheless, Harlow's early on screen persona was that of a loud mouthed, sexually promiscuous tease, unapologetically perverse and in search of sin where and whenever it could be found. In many ways, Victor Fleming's Bombshell (1933) seems to foreshadow the coming of the production code while still getting away with slinging its mud - its underlying 'pity the poor misunderstood trollop' narrative thread pitched low as a sort of subliminal apology for Harlow's more gregarious on camera antics.
In Bombshell Harlow is Lola Burns - a Hollywood star cut in the image of Paramount's Clara Bow - her 'It girl' status in constant danger of being capsized by sleazy press agent, E.J. Hanlon (Lee Tracy), unbearably greedy family; father (Frank Morgan), brother (Ted Healy), coarse private secretary, Mac (Una Merkel) and wayward romantic partners, Hugo (Ivan Lebedeff) and Jim Brogan (Pat O'Brien).
Lola's career is a resounding success. But her home life is a shambles. She hungers for peace, though perhaps not at any price. However, Hanlon is not about to let Lola settle down with anyone - especially since he is in love with her himself. Lola doesn't see that love, however. To her Hanlon is just another sponge among many, and, in some ways Lola's right. To pad his own interests, Hanlon has hired actors to portray Lola's latest lover, Gifford Middleton (Franchot Tone) and his uppity blue blood parents, Mrs. Middleton (Mary Forbes) and Wendell Middleton (C. Aubrey Smith). After some moonlit badinage, Lola is all set to marry Gifford. But a chance meeting between the Middletons and Lola's father and brother results in predictable disaster. The next day Lola retreats to the relative safety of the studio; Hanlon's plan all along. The two reconcile and Lola begins to fall for Hanlon - until she learns the truth about Gifford.
Bombshell is gregarious entertainment. The film is justly famous for a line of dialogue uttered passionately by Franchot Tone: "Your hair is like a field of silver daisies. I'd like to run barefoot through your hair!" But the film's loud mouth approach to comedy tends to grate on one's nerves. Everyone is shouting at everyone else all the time and this frantic mayhem threatens to drown out the carefully crafted witticisms and more biting comedy peppered throughout by screenwriters Caroline Francke, Mack Crane, John Lee Mahin, Jules Furthman and Norman Krasna.
When the actors settle down for a moment or two there's pause for the audience to catch their breath and reflect upon the ripeness of this parody. In truth, the film is a scathing jab at what life might be like for Hollywood's alumni besought by leeches at every turn and hounded by the press for the next big scoop about glamorous life. Bombshell isn't a great film, but it has great ideas inserted throughout its rather meandering plot - enough to provoke sincere thought after the footlights have come up.
Bombshell is one of the films offered by the Warner Archive as part of its 100th Anniversary dedicated to its star. Harlow died tragically of uremic poisoning at the age of twenty-four, necessitating retakes with a double on her last movie, Saratoga (1937). Those interested in owning this film really should invest in the entire Harlow Anniversary collection that features 7 films for a mere $49.99 plus taxes.
Although advertised as 'remastered' Bombshell's transfer suffers from virtually every age related pitfall known to film preservationists. For starters, the image is rather 'thick' instead of refined, characterized by a veil of heavy grain and with fine detail wanting throughout. The gray scale seems gritty and on the low end of the contrast spectrum. Age related artifacts are heavy and frequently distract. Warner has arguably done its best on a shoestring budget in bringing this film to home video. But it could stand to benefit from a costly 'ground up' digital restoration. The audio is mono as originally recorded and rather strident throughout. The only extra is a theatrical trailer for the Spanish version of the film. Not recommended.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3
VIDEO/AUDIO
3
EXTRAS
0

THE LAST TIME I SAW PARIS (MGM 1954) Warner Archive Collection



Lost opportunities and the haunted remembrances they conjure to mind are the focus of Richard Brooks' The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954). Based on F. Scott Fitzgerald's Babylon Revisited, the film is a rather turgid melodrama about an absolutely luscious wartime romance that turns toxic after the big guns have stopped firing. The script by Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein and Brooks lacks the tender luster and exuberant punch necessary to sustain the characters beyond a few well-placed scenes. But it positively and interminably drags during the last act where all the characters succumb to insipid wallowing as they drown in their own self-pity and regret.
Our story opens in the present with Charles Wills (Van Johnson) revisiting all the old haunts he once knew so well in Paris. Charles panged expression tells us we are in for a bittersweet reminiscence. (Aside: although the film's credits suggest the entire movie was shot on location in France, only these opening scenes and a few inserts peppered throughout the film were actually photographed in Paris. The rest was photographed on MGM's back lot in Culver City.)
After reuniting with old friend and barkeep, Maurice (Kurt Kasznar) inside the Cafe Dhingo, Charles attentions are drawn to a rather gaudy caricature of Helen Ellswirth (Elizabeth Taylor) painted on the wall. We regress in flashback to the Armistice. Charles is a returning solider caught in the heady street celebration that has devoured Paris. He is impulsively kissed by Helen, who wastes no time disappearing into the crowd. Charles makes his way to the Cafe Dhingo where he is reunited with French soldier, Claude Matine (George Dolenz) who is having a drink with girlfriend, Marion Ellswirth (Donna Reed). Marion takes an immediate shine to Charles, inviting him back to her father's home for a liberation party. Charles happily complies and is amazed to discover Helen at the party too.
Much to Marion's chagrin, Charles and Helen quickly become lovers. Helen's father, James (Walter Pigeon) is an irreprehensible and penniless scamp; loveably sponging off Charles to place a bet on a long shot at a horse race. He warns Charles that the qualities of solidity and permanence that other women would value in a husband will not be enough to sustain Helen's affections. She is her father's daughter, used to the good life and parties and dabbling in art and music with artists and musicians who would rather spend their days drinking at the Cafe Dhingo than work.
Undaunted Charles marries Helen. James bequeaths them some 'useless' deeds to land in Texas that James is convinced will yield oil someday. In the meantime, Charles begins to work for the Europa News Outlet, quietly beginning his first novel in his spare time. Charles and Helen have a daughter, Vicki (Sandra Descher). But even the prospect of motherhood isn't enough to quell Helen's desire for nightlife. She frequently leaves Charles to tend to the girl while she stays out all night.
Meanwhile, Charles succumbs to a growing depression because of his lack of initial success in the publishing world. His mental darkness is compounded when Helen catches cold and has to be hospitalized for pneumonia. Gradually, Charles turns to drink. A chance meeting with notorious socialite, Lorraine Quarl (Ava Gabor) leads to a superficial romance at approximately the same time Helen decides to take up with tennis playboy, Paul (Roger Moore in his MGM debut). News arrives that the oil wells have come in. The family is rich. But this only compounds their troubles. Charles takes up racing and even more drink and Helen plunges into her affair with Paul.
Although Charles continues to see Lorraine he desperately wants Helen back. But it's no use. The two are at cross purposes and never the twain shall meet. After a particularly embarrassing scene at a social gathering Charles stumbles home in a drunken stupor. He angrily bolts the door from the inside, then collapses on the stairs. Helen returns home, contrite and hoping to reconcile once and for all. But, unable to open the door she retreats to her sister's home in a rainstorm where she collapses from another bout of pneumonia and dies.
Marion, who has married Claude, petitions the courts for custody of Vicki and wins. Charles retreats to America where he finally gets a handle on his alcoholism. Returning to France, presumably some years later, he finds James paralyzed and in a wheel chair after suffering a stroke. Charles begs Marion for custody of Vicki but she bitterly refuses him. Only after Claude confides in his wife that he has known all along how much she still loves Charles does Marion's heart soften. Marion brings Vicki to the Cafe Dhingo where Charles is waiting and father and daughter are reunited with the promise of starting their lives anew.
The Last Time I Saw Paris is a mostly maudlin affair that might have been helped along if the film had actually been shot entirely in the city of light. But the differences between the inserted location photography and the rest of the film shot at MGM are painfully obvious, the back lot entirely unconvincing as a substitute for the real thing. The assemblage of talent in the film is impressive. But the screenplay relies too heavily on every 'American in Paris' cliché, offering nothing fresh or revitalizing to a formula all too familiar.
Elizabeth Taylor is supremely gorgeous throughout the film. But her performance is fairly dull for long stretches. Van Johnson is appropriately bitter. But the bite in his contempt for Helen is so brutal one wonders how a fickle creature such as she ever clung to the hope that one day they would reconcile. Walter Pigeon's smarmy patriarch is refreshing. But Ava Gabor and Roger Moore make no impression whatsoever, particularly Moore who gets limited mileage from his Cheshire grin and dashingly youthful good looks. In the final analysis, The Last Time I Saw Paris is a tragedy of its storytelling rather than a tragic romantic story.
The film has long been in public domain and there are numerous editions available on DVD. None offer satisfactory image quality. To my knowledge Warner Home Video's resurrection of this title as part of their Archive Collection represents the first widescreen presentation of the film on home video. This is the preferred edition. Buyer beware - all others are bootlegs. Color fidelity is much improved over other editions. But there is still a considerable amount of age related debris, nicks, chips and scratches to wade through. Flesh tones are slightly too pink and occasionally the overall color spectrum is muddier than anticipated. During a few sequences contrast levels appear slightly boosted. Otherwise, the transfer is vaguely consistent with fine detail visible in medium and close ups. The audio is mono and adequate for this presentation. There are NO extras.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
2.5
VIDEO/AUDIO
3
EXTRAS
0

FASHIONS OF 1934 (WB 1934) Warner Archive Collection


Bette Davis is given the ultra-glam-bam treatment in William Dieterele's Fashions of 1934 (1934); a rather superfluous bit of claptrap and utter nonsense that stars William Powell as a adorable con 'artiste'. The screenplay by F. Hugh Herbert and Carl Erickson is a mindless, but passable escapism that casts Powell as Sherwood Nash - a fraud whose investment firm has just gone belly up. Sherwood's partner, Snap (Frank McHugh) is in a dither over their sudden loss of income but rebounds quickly when he discovers Lynn Mason (Bette Davis) waiting for the elevator. The elegant Lynn is desperately trying to break into the fashion business but to no avail. Her predicament gives Nash an angle he is all too willing to exploit.
Nash's secretary Glenda (Dorothy Burgess) knows Harry Brent (Gordon Westcott) the chauffeur of leading couturier Oscar Baroque (Reginald Owen). For a small percentage Harry agrees to drive over Oscar's latest imports from Paris to Nash's storefront before delivering them to his boss. Nash gets Glenda, Lynn and a few other models to pose in the clothes. Snap takes their pictures and Lynn feverishly works to design knock offs at a fraction of the price, thereby undercutting Oscar and all the other designers in Manhattan. Eventually the rouse is found out by Oscar. Harry is fired and Nash is threatened with prison. But Nash has another angle. He will go to Paris and act as a spy for Oscar, taking pictures of the leading Paris designs so that Oscar can beat them on the runways back home.
Once on the banks of the Seine, Lynn quickly discovers that Oscar's inspiration has come from nothing more than second hand history books purchased from street vendors. Barred from all the reputable fashion salons in Paris, Nash and Lynn decide to open up the Maison Elegance with clothing designs by Lynn forged with Oscar's signature. In the meantime, Nash comes to realize that Oscar's fiancée, the Grand Duchess Alix (Verree Teasdale) is really Mabel McGuire, his old pal from Hoboken New Jersey. Threatening her with exposure, Nash gets Mabel to star in his musical revue, sporting a decadent gown of ostrich feathers. The review is a smash hit but Oscar has arrived to learn the truth behind what's been going on behind his back.
Oscar has Nash arrested and Maison Elegance shut down. Lynn, who has been harboring affections toward Nash for some time has had enough and vows never to speak to him again. But Nash is the slippery sort. He takes the police to Oscar's lavish abode on the eve of his wedding and confronts Oscar with the truth about Mabel. Outraged, Oscar is forced to release Nash from incarceration or face fallout in the tabloids from news of his sham marriage to a faux duchess. Nash dashes off to the pier and catches the clipper bound for America. He reunites with Lynn and vows to be true to her from now on. She forgives him and the two trot off together, presumably reconciled and on their way to the altar.
Fashions of 1934 is billed as a musical comedy, but actually it's more like a classic screwball with only one musical number to recommend it. But what a number it is! Staged with aplomb by Busby Berkeley, 'Spin A Little Web of Dreams' is a sumptuous fantasia of scantily clad girls preening in ostrich plumbs. Like all of Berkeley's most inspired creations this one is a bizarre cornucopia of conflicting imagery. The female form is re-imagined as everything from a throbbing bud of a feather laden peony to a life size harp, and finally the bow of a ship sailing on carpets of flowing silk bunting. Berkeley also stages a sublime fashion show at Maison Elegance. A revolving platform of famous works of art painted on transparent screens dissolve into living creations worn by models who step beyond the paintings to parade about the forecourt, surrounded by sycophantic admirers.
These two production numbers help elevate Fashions of 1934 above its rather conventional and not terribly prepossessing comedic trappings. William Powell is in fine form as the affable cheat; slick and stylish and in his element. But Bette Davis seems entirely out of place as Lynn - her larger than life persona desperate to break away from the platinum clothes horse concocted for her by Orry-Kelly. In the final analysis, Fashions of 1934 is a curious, but effortlessly amusing film. Without Berkeley's touches of genius there would be very little to recommend it.
Part of the Warner Archive, Fashions of 1934 gets an adequate home video release. But something is decidedly wrong with the title credits. After the 'First National' logo the screen suddenly goes black for an instant before a title card reading 'William Powell in Fashions' appears on a different backing than the rest of the main titles. This credit is held over for an excruciatingly long time before the rest of the sequence continues and it is my guess that this is a reissue title card plastered on for the film's re-release some years later - presumably so that the film's original title 'Fashions of 1934' would not date the re-release.
It would have been a nice touch if Warner Home Video had gone in search of the original title sequence because this version of the main titles doesn't really work. Otherwise, the transfer is middle of the road. Age related artifacts are everywhere and occasionally distract. But the gray scale has been very nicely balanced with strong blacks and clean whites, allowing William Rees' stylish cinematography to shine through. The image is crisp without being digitally harsh. All in all, a good effort. The audio is, of course, mono as originally recorded but also in fine form. The only extra is a theatrical trailer.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3
VIDEO/AUDIO
3.5
EXTRAS
0

Thursday, December 22, 2011

LOVELY TO LOOK AT (MGM 1952) Warner Archive Collection


Based on Alice Duer Miller's novel 'Gowns by Roberta' and more directly on the Broadway smash hit and subsequent film Roberta (1933) co-starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Mervyn LeRoy's Lovely To Look At (1952) retains the most durable aspects of the stage show and book while ever so slightly refreshing the bouquet of memorable songs for the postwar generation. Overall, the dated material holds together remarkably well, thanks to the winning score that features such immortal songs as 'Yesterdays' and 'Smoke Get In Your Eyes'. The screenplay by Dorothy Fields, Otto A. Harbach, George Wells, Harry Ruby and Andrew Solt begins in the drawing room of aspiring Broadway producer Tony Naylor (Howard Keel) who, at present, is entertaining potential backers for his new show with a sampling from the score along with co-producers Al Marsh (Red Skelton) and Jerry Ralby (Gower Champion). The backers are enchanted by what they see and hear but less amused to learn that at present all Tony has to show for his efforts is inspiration and perspiration. They walk out without committing a single dollar to his venture.
Disillusioned, Tony, Al and Jerry decide to hit the nightclub where Tony's latest plaything, Bubbles Cassidy is performing. She wants to get married, but Tony is all fizz and no pop. The next day, Al gets the surprise of his life. His beloved Aunt Roberta has died in Paris, bequeathing him her couturier. Tony has another inspiration. The three will go to France, sell off the assets and use the money to finance their show on Broadway. A good plan, only upon their arrival they discover that Roberta is a couturier in steep financial decline. The shop's overseer, Stephanie (Kathryn Grayson) and her chief designer, Clarisse (Marge Champion) have been counting on Al to pull the company out of imminent financial ruin. After some consternation Al agrees to help the girls. He has more trouble convincing Tony that it's the right thing to do. But Tony has already moved on, finagling a selloff of Roberta to rival Max Fogelsby (Kurt Kasznar) whose girlfriend, Zsa Zsa (Zsa Zsa Gabor) is hoping to be part of Roberta's fashion show extravaganza.
Meanwhile Jerry has fallen in love with Clarisse and Stephanie with Tony - although he is as ever reluctant to commit himself to any relationship for very long. Bubbles realizes that she has been romantically betting on the wrong horse, so to speak, and eventually decides to accept a proposal from Al. This leaves Tony free to pursue Stephanie. But a falling out between Tony and Al - after the latter learns that Tony has been wooing Stephanie merely to convince her to give up the couturier - threatens not only their future friendship but Stephanie's happiness as well. For the most part the songs in Lovely to Look At are staged with great visual flare. 'I Won't Dance' is playfully performed by Marge and Gower Champion in the shop's attic, amidst cords of fabric and other fashion accessories. 'Lafayette' is a charming traveling song sung exuberantly by Howard Keel, Gower Champion and Red Skelton as the boys experience the pleasures of Paris en route to Roberta's.
The film's title song gets a clever treatment with Kathryn Grayson standing before six full length mirrors fantasizing Howard Keel has materialized in each as a reflection to serenade her. But perhaps the most spectacularly realized song is 'Smoke Gets In Your Eyes' sung by Grayson and then danced by the Champions amidst a seemingly endless array of glistening stars set against velvety blue heavens. Midway through filming director Mervyn LeRoy called in Vincente Minnelli to stage a lavish fashion show finale for the film. MGM also brought in its costume designer Adrian. But Adrian's cloths seem constantly at odds with the clutter in Jack D. Moore and Edwin Willis' production design. The result is a grand spectacle more garish than lovely, a crazy quilt of oddities and severely wacky haute couture.
Red Skelton serves as the hapless master of ceremonies, constantly in the way and tripping over the countless yards of silk bunting perpetually being moved around the pavilion. Models cavort between extras attired in animal skulls and metal breast plates. Amidst all this hullaballoo Marge and Gower Champion perform a strange pas deux as bejeweled gamin and lanky jewel thief, the latter in danger of having his own heart stolen. Kathryn Grayson emerges from the fray warbling the melodic, 'The Touch of Your Hand' with Howard Keel - the romance between Stephanie and Tony reconciled in song before the final fade out. In all, the fashion show finale from Lovely To Look At is bewilderingly done in bad taste. It doesn't ruin the film as a whole, but it does tend to grate on one's nerves.
Warner's MOD DVD release is above average, though not spectacular. Lovely To look At received a Technicolor restoration all the way back in 1995 for its laserdisc release and this is the print we get from the Warner Archive. It's flawed with minor mis-registration problems. Age related artifacts are present throughout. Scratches are the most obvious and begin immediately during the title sequence. When the image is properly aligned it exhibits a razor sharp clarity that is very impressive. Colors are less vibrant than one might expect and flesh tones are at times unnaturally pinky-orange. Contrast levels appear slightly bumped, for a slightly brighter than necessary image. Overall, this transfer will not disappoint, but this is hardly an exemplary effort. The audio is mono and offers some interesting spatial separation, particularly during the film's title song. There are NO extras.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3
VIDEO/AUDIO
3
EXTRAS
0

FOUR DAUGHTERS (WB 1938) Warner Archive Collection


The family drama is a sub-genre in cinema storytelling that Hollywood used to excel at during the 1930s and '40s. Modest stories about everyday folk were a daily staple of the American movie goer’s diet back then. Perhaps more than any other genre, the family drama nourished our need to believe that happy endings were possible for everyone - even ourselves. True enough, the people who populated these homespun narratives were dressed more smartly than the average ma and pa, and perhaps lived in more idyllic surroundings, but otherwise their struggles, fears, hopes and dreams were not unlike ours. And we cherished the way these family units came together during times of joy and strife, always able to find their way on to a brighter tomorrow. Simple ideals, perhaps, but sold with tender aplomb and a gentle understanding for life as it should - and possibly could - be.
Based on Fannie Hurst's celebrated novel, director Michael Curtiz's Four Daughters (1938) is the quintessential heartwarming - and, at times heartrending - melodrama. The film stars the Lane sisters, Pricilla, Rosemary and Lola, along with Gale Page, as the four siblings who find love and heartbreak in homespun America. The screenplay written by Lenore J. Coffee and Julius J. Epstein effectively condenses Hurst's novel without losing any of its poignant reflections on quaint - almost bucolic - domesticity. The film opens in the front parlor of the Lemp family. Sisters Ann (Pricilla Lane), Emma (Gale Page), Thea (Thea Lane) and Kay (Rosemary Lane) are in the middle of a music recital conducted by their father, Adam (Claude Rains), who has great hopes for a classical music career for Kay even though she prefers modern jazz.
Thea excites the brood when she announces that she has finagled a date with Ben Crowley; a wealthy - slightly older suitor who will be able to fulfill her dreams of living well. Ben is hardly romantic. Nevertheless, Thea pursues Ben and eventually he proposes marriage. Emma has a steady beau too, flower shop owner Ernest Talbot (Dick Foran). Although Ernest's love is genuine, Emma is not entirely certain Ernest is the man for her. He's too placid and lacking in that spark and fire of romantic fantasy that Emma secretly yearns.
In the meantime, Adam has welcomed Felix Deitz (the sadly underrated Jeffrey Lynn in a stellar performance) into the family's home as a tenant. Felix is a brash but loveable and roguishly handsome composer. The shy and restrained Emma is immediately smitten with him, but Felix gravitates to the more gregarious Ann, who is quite unaware of her sister's affections. Felix invites a friend, music arranger Mickey Borden (John Garfield, in the role that made him a star) to room with him as the two collaborate on songs. Although a brilliant arranger, Mickey is not terribly serious about life. His interests blow with the wind, to where his latest meal will come from. The Lemp family welcome Mickey into their fold and Mickey soon takes a subtle romantic interest in Ann, though she is as obtuse to his advances as she is to understanding how deep Emma's affections run for Felix.
Emma and Ann share a close sisterly bond, one that Ann has initially vowed never to break by getting married. However, when Felix proposes Ann accepts. In a last ditch effort to win Ann for himself, Mickey tells her on the day of her wedding that she will be ruining two lives if she goes through with the marriage. Unable to break her sisters heart, Ann instead elopes with Mickey - certain that her departure will lead to Felix falling in love with Emma. Instead, Felix leaves the Lemps, making a career for himself in the big city and Emma decides once and for all that Ernest is the man for her.
Four months pass. It's Christmas and the family reunite. Felix unexpectedly returns too, his mere presence creating romantic tension as everyone gathers around the radio for the evening's big surprise. Kay has landed a radio program with national sponsorship. Her debut is a smashing success that makes Adam very proud. But during the broadcast Ann accidentally drops the claim check from a bracelet Felix once gave her that she has since sold to help keep Mickey afloat. Felix decides to leave the Lemps, perhaps for good. Mickey offers to drive him to the station in Ben's car. At the last possible moment, Ben decides to tag along.
After Mickey drops Ben off at the corner drug store he confides his own selfish reasons for marrying Ann to Felix. Realizing that Mickey just might love Ann, Felix forgives him, offering a gift of money that he intended to give as a wedding present, then says goodbye. But as the train pulls from the station Mickey realizes what a heel he has been. He deliberately drives Ben's car at a full clip off the snowy road and into a ditch to commit suicide. Meanwhile a phone call arrives at the Lemps informing them of the accident. However, since the car is in Ben's name the Lemps assume it is Ben, not Mickey who is mortally wounded and lying in the hospital. When Ann, Adam and Thea arrive at the hospital Thea, who has been growing rather cold and distant from her husband, realizes just how much she loves him. Ann and Mickey are briefly reunited. He smiles at her tenderly, then dies. In the Spring Felix returns to the Lemps, swinging on their rusty gate. Ann rushes to his side and the two embrace. They are at last free to love as their hearts dictate.
Four Daughters is a beautifully constructed, superbly scripted and impeccably acted melodrama. The entire cast is working overtime, but with a freshness and congeniality that seems un-strained. It's a wonder that Jeffrey Lynn never made a bigger splash in movies as a leading man. His performance is a standout. So is John Garfield's. This film made him a star. The Lane sisters give it their all, and it is saying much of the two lesser, Lola and Rosemary, that although their parts are not as well delineated in the script they manage to distinguish themselves as memorable siblings. In retrospect, Pricilla Lane is the outstanding find, her plucky personality and commanding presence a definite plus.
In many ways Four Daughters marks the definite break Warner Brothers began to make in the mid-30s away from 'ripped from the headlines' gangster/crime movies into the foray of lush and memorable romantic dramas and comedies that would place the studio in direct competition with MGM for its box office during the 1940s. Ernest Haller's sumptuous cinematography captures the simple beauty of mid-town America and its surrounding rural landscapes. Here is a world of cleanliness and wholesomeness, of tidy little homes and churches nestled against rolling hills with babbling brooks and wild honeysuckle. Bottom line: the family drama doesn't get much better than this. Four Daughters is an unpretentious slice of life told with an understanding heart and patience for exposition that we don't see in movies anymore. It has strong characters, great humanity and real charisma; the true hallmarks of an enduring cinematic masterpiece.
It's a pity this title didn't get a Blu-ray release but instead has gone straight to the Warner MOD Archive. This is the second outing for this movie in the archive, remastered this time around for improved picture quality. The elements are still in rough shape, but the gray scale is greatly improved with contrast levels appearing bang on. At times the image is a tad thick with fine detail wanting. Otherwise, this is a nicely transferred attempt at preserving the film as it currently exists. But age related artifacts are everywhere and, in a few instances, distract. The audio is mono but adequate for this presentation. There are NO extras! Parting thoughts: Four Daughters gets my vote for a Blu-ray upgrade with a new restored 1080p hi-def master and perhaps some extra features like an audio commentary and featurette. This film belongs in everyone's library. It's a winner, a charmer and a joy to experience.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
4.5
VIDEO/AUDIO
3.5
EXTRAS
0

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

HOLLYWOOD PARTY (MGM 1934) Warner Archive Collection



Patched together by directors Richard Boleslawski, Allan Dwan, Edmund Goulding, Russell Mack, Charles Reisner, Roy Rowland, George Stevens and Sam Wood, MGM's lavishly absurd send-up to west coast decadence, Hollywood Party (1934) remains the granddaddy of all such nonsensical ensemble pieces. All the studios made review-styled films throughout the 1930s – then again during the war years. But none could rival MGM's supremacy for glamour or star power. They had the biggest names in showbiz and enough cash in their coffers to eclipse virtually any such effort put forth elsewhere. MGM in the good ol’ days was a studio with a reputation for quality and excellence. And while one can argue that Hollywood Party represents neither particularly well – in point of fact, the movie is little more than a travelogue through MGM’s roster of star talent – the film unequivocally champions the old studio motto ‘ars gratia artis’ loosely translated as “art for art’s sake”.
The premise of Howard Dietz, Arthur Kober, Richy Craig Jr., Herbert Fields, Edmund Goulding, Henry Myers, Edgar Allen Woolf's screenplay is simplistic to a fault. Then again, you aren't watching star cavalcades like Hollywood Party for plot. In a nutshell, the narrative centers on Jimmy Durante (playing himself) as a great star in danger of falling off this perch. On screen Durante is the Great Schnarzan - a spoof of Tarzan (whom MGM had made famous with Johnny Weissmuller) - wrestling dead lions and chasing after his Jane (played on the screen in this movie by sultry Spanish starlet, Lupe Velez. Velez would make a name for herself as one of Hollywood's most bizarre suicides in 1944, discovered face down in a toilet after succumbing to an overdose of barbiturates.) In this film Ms. Velez is very much alive, however, and full of vinegar for Durante after he snubs her by not inviting her to his over-the-top house party. The whole affair is being given in honor of Baron Munchausen (Bob Pearl); a big game hunter whose lions are wanted by Durante to co-star in his next big picture in order to resurrect his waning popularity with fans.
In another corner are the Clemps: Harvey (Charles Butterworth), Henrietta (Polly Moran) and daughter Linda (June Clyde) - newly arrived from Texas. Harvey is a millionaire oil baron who enjoys tearing up thousand dollar bills in public to attest to his fortune. But he is unnaturally quite obtuse to virtually any and all romantic inquiries made about either his daughter or his wife. Durante's biggest rival, Liondora (George Givot) attempts to woo Linda, then Harvey to gain access to the millionaire's backing for Munchausen's lions. But as luck would have it neither will get what they want out of the night's festivities.
The film wildly ricochets between vignettes as far reaching and eclectic as a cartoon sequence featuring Mickey Mouse (on a rare loan out from Disney) and 'Hot Chocolate Soldiers' to the arrival of Ted Healy and The Three Stooges playing a pack of misguided autograph hounds. Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy turn up in the last act as the original owners of Munchausen's lions - intent on collecting their fury friends after they discover they've been duped by the Baron. Durante seduces Henrietta but is unable to consummate their affair when the lions are unleashed from their cages. Striking his head on the stairs, Durante awakes in his own home with his real wife (Jeanne Olsen) at his side. The whole night has been just a dream concocted after reading Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan The Ape Man.
At its core, Hollywood Party is an utterly mindless trifle. There's no point to anything we see on the screen. It's just pure entertainment. And therein is the film's success. It isn't pretending to be anything but a cavalcade of great stars doing wonderfully clever and occasionally daft bits of business for which their careers were made justly famous and are still fondly remembered for today. This is a wonderful opportunity to see a lot of 'acts' get into the act without being bothered by needless exposition. Like a night in Vaudeville, Hollywood Party comes across as delightful and silly. It's grand good fun, even if it is completely meaningless.
Warner Home Video's MOD DVD is very solid. Given the film's age and the fact that no restoration work has been performed on this title, the transfer holds up remarkably well. It's sharp and consistent with considerable grain. But age related artifacts are kept at bay for the most part. Process shots and dissolves are grainy, but otherwise the image is fairly smooth and satisfying. Contrast seems slightly bumped up. The audio is mono. Occasionally, it's strident but otherwise passable if not exceptional. Warner has seen fit to give us a rare audio vault of extras - 9 outtakes of songs both featured and left on the cutting room floor. Recommended!
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3
VIDEO/AUDIO
3
EXTRAS
2

HONOLULU (MGM 1939) Warner Archive Collection


Mistaken identities and dead ringer twins are at the crux of Edward Buzzell's Honolulu (1939); a charmingly obtuse musical comedy: heavy on the comedy – but light on the music. Very light, in fact, especially for MGM, the studio that practically invented and certainly would go on to perfect the musical genre during the next two decades. Inspired by stories of doppelgangers, the screenplay patched together by Herbert Fields, Frank Partos and Harry Ruskin is an effortless trifle, easy on the eye and ear but unremarkable in virtually every way...well, almost. Because Honolulu’s ace in the hole is undeniably its leading lady – Eleanor Powell: her supple, sultry dance routine near the end, four and a half minutes of spectacular entertainment.
The film stars Robert Young as movie matinee idol, Brooks Mason – a harried leading man to whom the perks of stardom have decidedly begun to wear very thin. Mobbed at every turn by his adoring fans Brooks desires nothing more than peace away from the fray of adulation. So, when Honolulu pineapple plantation owner George Smith (also played by Young) - a man who could pass for Mason's twin - is practically torn limb from limb after one of Brooks' premieres it gives Brooks a great idea that is soon to become a colossal headache. Brooks and George will trade places and lives for a spell so that Brooks can get away from life in the fast lane.
Unhappy circumstance for George who quickly finds himself caught in a revolving door at Manhattan's Memorial Hospital after he is throttled by yet another flock of sycophants. Brooks' agent, Joe Duffy (George Burns), who isn't in on the gag thinks his meal ticket has clearly lost his mind and feverishly works to sedate George until a cure for his 'condition' can be ironed out by the doctors. In the meantime, Brooks - masquerading as George - is having the time of his life. Aboard a luxury liner bound for Honolulu Brooks meets winsome dancer Dorothy March (Eleanor Powell) and her travelling companion, Millicent DeGrasse (Gracie Allen). Millicent rightly pegs Brooks as the Hollywood star of her dreams - a truth he vehemently denies, all the while pursuing Dorothy during their shipboard romance.
But once on the mainland of the Hawaiian islands, Brooks has to face George's fiancée Cecelia Grayson (Rita Johnson). Mistaking Brooks for George, she is briefly startled by George's transformation from congenial pineapple grower to charming lady’s man. Brooks sweeps Cecelia off her feet for George's sake. But this creates a rift in Brook's relationship with Dorothy. After some cleverly timed delays Cecelia's father, Horace (Clarence Kolb) finally forces Brook's hand in marriage. In the nick of time George turns out for his own nuptials. Dorothy forgives Brooks and the two are married. Millicent takes a shine to Joe and introduces him to her sister (also played by Allen). Utterly bewildered at seeing 'doubles' yet again Joe faints in the lagoon.
Honolulu is a fairly effervescent comedy. The musical program is scant at best. Gracie Allen sings a delightful ditty that Powell dances to briefly aboard ship. Powell also does a 'black face' routine that is meant as homage to her dancing idol, Bill 'Bojangles' Robinson. But the standout routine in the film is undoubtedly the Hawaiian chant that comes at the tail end of the film's third act. Powell, in grass skirt and bare feet performs a fresh and sultry dance before donning a pair of heels to tap out the final act. Robert Young is quite good at playing twins. True enough, there's very little difference between Brooks and his alter ego, but Young and some clever split screen work make the rouse hold up. Enough cannot be said about Eleanor Powell, a gorgeous and gifted performer who, sadly, has largely been forgotten today except among die hard classic film fans. Her legacy endures as the lady who is tops in taps. But we need to remember her more.
Warner Home Video's MOD DVD transfer is solid, if flawed. No attempt has been made to clean up age related artifacts. They are present and on occasion distracting. Thankfully, Warner has 'remastered' the transfer to eliminate the ton of edge enhancement that has always plagued TV broadcasts of this film. The image is fairly solid with only a hint here and there of those nasty edge effects. The gray scale seems a tad 'thick' with fine detail frequently less than what one might expect. Nevertheless, the image is reasonably sharp throughout, showcasing Ray June's slick and stylized cinematography to good effect. The audio is mono but quite aggressive, particularly during the Hawaiian chant dance routine. The drums are clear sounding and loud. There are NO extras. Recommended!
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3
VIDEO/AUDIO
3.5
EXTRAS
0