Monday, January 23, 2017

BELLS ARE RINGING: Blu-ray (MGM 1960) Warner Archive Collection

Director, Vincente Minnelli brought nothing new or even fresh to his big screen adaptation of Bells Are Ringing (1960); the Broadway smash that endeared Judy Holliday to theater audiences in 1956 and would – again, for the movie – charm us with her effervescent and irresistible joie de vivre. Miss Holliday, it ought to be noted, is today one of the most grotesquely underrated (and underexposed) comedian/raconteurs of her generation; a bon vivant who could play the blonde ditz like nobody’s business, yet as equally stir monuments of empathy and pathos as propriety and the part demanded (see her performance in the drowning scene from 1952’s The Marrying Kind as proof…if you can find it anywhere on home video!). In hindsight, Bells Are Ringing is a better-than-average example of the Broadway to Hollywood hybrid that briefly flourished in the mid-fifties, and would again be resurrected with modulating degrees of success throughout the 1960’s; not so much ‘adapted for’ as almost literally ‘transcribed’ on celluloid with unerring fidelity to its source material. At a then staggering cost of $3,246,000, ‘Bells’ irrevocable loss of nearly $1,800,000 at the box office, at least, in hindsight, spoke more to the overall audience shift away from such slickly packaged entertainments, rather than any artistic flaw inherent in the picture itself. And MGM was hardly in a position to buffer the costs of producing a big n’ splashy musical extravaganza in 1960. Hence, what we have here (despite the promises made in a breathtaking aerial intro to the isle of Manhattan – in Cinemascope) is a studio-bound effort, more at home in the isolated trappings borrowed from virtually every Metro musical (and a few non-musicals) made at that studio from the 1940’s; given a fresh coat of paint (but precious little else), if ever so slight a rearrangement to camouflage its ‘hand-me-down’ effect. Hence, it is saying a great deal of the stars of this movie, also Minnelli’s direction, that the resultant film – despite its many shortcomings – is an effervescent gem, even if the many delays incurred along the way had allowed the glowing memory of the Broadway original to fade from public consciousness by the time the movie came out.
As was the case on stage, Judy Holliday is the movie’s raison d’etre - extraordinary in every way; blessed, as all truly gifted comediennes are, with an unexpected depth and affecting quality. She could as easily entertain us with a hearty chuckle as unexpectedly tug at our heartstrings.  In a memorable career, cut far too short by the breast cancer ultimately to claim her at the gentle age of 43, Holliday gave us dizzy dames and daring madcaps, each blessed with an inimitable blend of endearing and blissful sorrow. And to her credit, Holliday never seems transparent in this hallowed resolve to surprise with unexpected nuggets of wisdom. It has oft been said it takes a very smart person to play a total idiot. Holliday’s heroines are dumb only on the surface - a seemingly essential prerequisite for being ‘born yesterday’…or, at least – born blonde. But she is as astute in her views of the world as thoroughly infectious as the innocent, put upon by cads lurking around every corner in Manhattan’s cosmopolitan jungle. Make no mistake, in virtually all her screen appearances it’s this little lost lamb that ends up taking a considerable bite out of the wolves. And yet, Holliday, who would have preferred a career as a writer, and harbored the deepest admiration for good writing, was quite cynical about acting in general and her place within its theatrical firmament. “Acting is a very limited form of expression,” she once said, “…and those who take it seriously are very limited people. I take it seriously. But I hated the idea of being an actress. I used to throw up before every performance and cry afterwards. I thought I was learning about show biz. The more painful it was, the more important I thought the experience must be, and hating it, I convinced myself it must be invaluable. In repose my face looks as though I’ve gone through some terrible ordeal in the last five minutes. So, I have to disguise that expression and get a glassy-eyed looked…something I learned from my dog!”
We ought to sincerely thank the mutt. And so, we arrive at Holliday’s Ella Peterson in Bells Are Ringing; just a disembodied voice in ‘a perfect relationship’; working the lines of a lower east side telephone answering service and giving every client the individual attention their fragile egos crave. She can play Santa or silly and find truer meaning in loving her fellow man through her work. Her boss, Sue Summers (Jean Stapleton) thinks she is nuts. Moreover, Sue isn’t about to waste her time kissing up to the clientele. They are a paycheck and that’s all. On stage, Bells Are Ringing was mostly a one woman show; Holliday sustaining the piece with her sheer stage presence and comedic magnetism. The movie ever so slightly divides our interests between Ella and the object of her affections: playwright, Jeffrey Moss (affectionately fleshed out in all his gin-soaked glory by everyone’s favorite drunk, Dean Martin). Today, we take alcoholism seriously; but in Martin’s era he not only made a career out of elegant inebriation, but charmingly poked fun at the greatly exaggerated public persona of a chronic booze hound that helped to make him an enviable star, interjecting quips like, “I once shook hands with Pat Boone…my entire right side sobered up” or “…the reason I drink is because when I’m sober I think I’m Eddie Fisher!” Martin also claimed in a tuxedo he was a star; in plain clothes – a nobody. Point well taken in Bells Are Ringing, as Dean-o rarely appears out of that celebrated form of men’s attire, and when he does, his on-screen persona is of a ‘failed writer’. Throughout Bells Are Ringing, the chemistry between Martin and Holliday is first rate; their repartee on par with the great romantic screen teams of yesteryear; as a couple, they possess a genuine William Powell/Myrna Loy quality. If not for Holliday’s looming illness and untimely death, we might have seen more of this pair in subsequent movies.
In Bells Are Ringing, Holliday is Martin’s social conscience and moral compass. Boy, does he need one! Not only has Jeffrey Moss fallen on hard times – creatively – but, like the old joke about RKO Studios, he hasn’t had a hit in years. At one point, Ella – known only to Jeffrey as someone he chooses to call ‘mom’, illustrates what a crime it would be for him to give up writing.  She inspires him to put down the bottle and pick up the typewriter. Without ever meeting, these two are already in love.  He, in turn, brings out Ella’s sex appeal, frustratingly suppressed beneath her giddy façade, but eventually unearthed by his tender and burgeoning devotion to this woman who, in the flesh, he knows under the pseudonym, Melisande Scott.  It’s a joyous ruse, one initially perpetuated by Ella to ease Jeffrey back into his groove after ‘mom’s’ coaxing has already failed. Really, Ella loves Jeffrey that much, and, in this steel and concrete abyss of fair-weather friends, Jeffrey can use all the sincerity Ella/mom/Melisande can offer him. Alas, in faking her identity, Ella comes to realize she is no better than Olga (Valerie Allen), the vacuous tart who sees Jeffrey only as a handsome meal ticket to escort her to the races.
Bells Are Ringing was produced at the tail end of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s reign as the purveyors of top-flight musical entertainments. In some ways, the property fit MGM’s idea of mass entertainment better than its’ direct competition on Broadway then; Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady, eventually snatched up by Warner Bros. At a time when Broadway had virtually eschewed its own conventions for putting on a show – razzamatazz traded for highbrow morality set to music, a la the likes of Rodgers and Hammerstein – scenarists, Betty Comden and Adolph Green had dared to pen an unapologetic homage to all those Tin Pan Alley yarns of yesteryear with barely enough plot to link together Jules Styne’s ebullient cacophony of toe-tapping hit tunes. Bells Are Ringing was, in fact, chastised by the hoity-toity critics for its straightforward and threadbare plot. Yet, in hindsight, the play resurrects and revitalizes that woolly-headed frivolity presently lacking, and even more desperately missed, in the American theater; just a simple story about simple people, other simple people can root for with a smile. Still, bringing Bells Are Ringing to the screen was hardly a joy galore for Vincente Minnelli. In fact, the project was repeatedly stalled, first – to satisfy contractual obligations pertaining to its Broadway run, then by a sudden disinterest afflicting Comden and Green, who had been paid handsomely to adapt ‘Bells’ for the big screen. The pair, alas, was involved in preparing a Broadway retrospective of their work. Their first draft for the movie version of Bells Are Ringing mildly incensed producer, Arthur Freed; a script for a nearly three hour feature MGM had neither the time, ambitions or budget to make. Comden and Green’s second crack was more compact, but seemingly made off the cuff and lacking cohesion.
In the end, Bells are Ringing would come off a decidedly scaled down affair; Arthur Freed urging the show’s lyricist, Jules Styne to pen three new songs (only two ultimately used). The rights to produce it had cost Freed just under a cool half a million. To manage costs further, only the main title sequence would be shot on location in New York, the rest cobbled together from obvious sets and brief exteriors employing Metro’s own free-standing New York street back lot facades; easily identifiable to anyone who has seen more than, say, three MGM movies in their lifetime. Remarkably, none of this penny-pinching affects the film’s lighter-than-air atmosphere, perhaps because Vincente Minnelli has wisely focused his camera on the performers instead of the scenery. Even so, Bells Are Ringing is not Minnelli’s best work; at least, from an inventive standpoint. Minnelli, who could usually be counted upon to be deliciously ‘out there’ in concocting his musical fantasias, herein stays pretty close to his source material. There are no ‘dream sequences’, no clever camera angles or romanticized uses of color and/or color filters to draw undue attention or elevate the overall impact and mood of any particular scene. Instead, we have a facile evocation of the stage play, ever so slightly ‘opened up’ for the expansive Cinemascope screen. Again, none of this hurts the film.
The one unforgivable sin, if one can call it that, is Minnelli’s decision to unceremoniously distill Ella’s marvelous cha-cha-cha into a wan ghost flower of what it had been on the stage. Performed in a decidedly unglamorous back alley with Carl (Doria Avila), the Hispanic boyfriend of fellow phone operator, Gwynne (Ruth Storey), in her red ball gown, a La Traviatta hand-me-down given to Ella in gratitude by operatic sensation, Madame Grimaldi (Marina Koshetz), Judy Holliday manages to meld high art with even higher camp. It’s a delirious lampoon; Carl attempts to teach Ella the dance for her first date with Jeffrey; their seductive pas deux ending on a deliciously cynical note as Carl unexpectedly clasps Ella’s buttocks with a pronounced slap; her fiery elation at having mastered the steps instantly turned into icy desolation and a faraway ‘I can’t believe what just happened’ look of bewilderment caught in her eyes. Yet, all that Minnelli can think of herein is to dissolve to the next scene, his lack of punctuation, more perfunctory than pleasing and decidedly telling of his own ennui on the project. Indeed, Minnelli had moved on, or rather, decidedly away from movie musicals by 1960; perhaps, having twice been nominated, and won the Oscar for Gigi (1958), recognizing the genre and he had come about as far as he was willing to go. “I think musicals will have to deal with more important subject matter,” Minnelli mused, “No more backstage stories…nothing of that sort.” If so, then Bells Are Ringing is, in many ways, the antithesis of Minnelli’s prediction; old-fashion and even slightly campy. It would have been a sensation in 1945, and arguably, a sizable smash in the mid to late fifties. But lest we forget, 1960 was a year dominated by such ‘now’ classic offerings as Psycho, Spartacus, Butterfield 8, and, The Magnificent Seven; ‘Bells’ only significant rival in the musical genre, Fox’s clunky and misguided adaptation of Cole Porter’s Broadway spectacle, Can-Can, that sought to emulate – nee, resurrect, the wonderment of Gigi, right down to casting Maurice Chevalier and Louis Jourdan in transparently familiar roles.
The other great performance in Bells Are Ringing belongs to old-time Vaudeville ham, Eddie Foy Jr., as the deviously slick, J. Otto Prantz, who has completely swept Sue off her two left feet in order to operate his spurious racketeering enterprise right under her nose and the radar of the law; the answering service covering for his already nefarious alter-enterprise – Titanic Records – a false front, placing illegal bets. Like Dean Martin, Foy came to this movie with a fresh pair of eyes; the part originated as ‘Sandor’ on stage by Eddie Lawrence. Unusual for Arthur Freed, Bells Are Ringing retains most of its Broadway’s alumni, including Hal Linden, the stage’s Jeffrey Moss (herein, in a minor role as a nightclub entertainer, belting out one of the lesser songs, ‘The Midas Touch’). From Broadway, Freed also borrowed Bernie West to reprise his misguided dentist/composer, Dr. Joe Kitchell, and Dort Clark, for the comedic and caustic, Police Inspector Barnes.  The last bit of inspired casting went to Frank Gorshin, a superb mimic, doing his fifteen seconds of ‘the great mumbler’; a fractured Marlon Brando knock-off as Blake Barton; a beatnik on the cusp of hitting the big time.
Bells Are Ringing opens with some spectacular aerial shots of Manhattan under its main title credits. By the early sixties, Hollywood had become increasingly more daring in taking their cameras on location, necessitated by audiences’ demands for realism in their entertainments. And yet, MGM chose to buck this trend, particularly where musicals were concerned; two bright and breezy outdoorsy musicals - Brigadoon and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (both in 1954), famously (or infamously) shot within the confines of several sound stages  It is therefore more than a little disheartening to realize all that remains of the Big Apple in Bells Are Ringing, a movie set on the lower east side, are these introductory snippets – Minnelli skillfully avoiding any direct references thereafter, and centralizing his action mostly within interior settings to create – with varying degrees of success – the uber chic look of this East Coast Mecca; the one unforgivable sin, the staging of the movie’s romantic pas deux, ‘Just in Time’ against an obvious papier-mâché backdrop of the George Washington Bridge, later immortalized on its own terms, and to perfection, from an almost identical camera angle (but for real) in Woody Allen’s 1979 classic, Manhattan.  From here, we segue into a charmingly ludicrous montage, featuring a bevy of MGM contract beauties, flaxen-haired and bubble-headed; inquisitively pondering what an answering service can do for their careers and love lives. There is something insidiously charming about Minnelli’s direction as he almost immediately debunks their storied glamour, dissolving to the crumbling brownstone surrounded by vacant lots on the lower east side. Here is the real home office of the fabled Susanswerphone messaging service; its reported army of call-screeners, exhibiting ‘chic good taste’, distilled to three sweaty toilers - Ella Peterson, Sue Summers and Gwynne - in an un-air-conditioned basement flat with unattractive headsets glued to their ears. In tandem, the girls field inquiries for their roster of clientele. It becomes rather obvious Ella is the favorite. She uses the service as a means to disseminate pertinent information on everything from child-rearing to cold remedies to her grateful clients.
Sue encourages prudence. After all, police have been readily cracking down on answering services all over the city after it was discovered a few were being used as fronts for prostitution. Not long thereafter, Susanswerphone is raided by Inspector Barnes and detective Francis (Ralph Roberts). Barnes is gunning for a promotion. When he can find no proof of their complicity in any illegal enterprise, he vows instead to remain vigilant, presumably to catch this trio up to no good. Susanswerphone’s neediest client is Plaza ‘0’ Double-4 Double-3; Jeffrey Moss - a boozing playwright who cannot bring himself to the typewriter without a stiff drink into his hand. One leads to another and before long the highballs outnumber words on the printed page. Ella is convinced all Jeffrey needs is the right muse to inspire him. She adopts a maternal approach to their conversations; then, elects to sneak off to his apartment after becoming jealous of a flirtatious conversation she overhears between Jeff and his unpleasant paramour, Olga. Ella makes short shrift of this sex pot, posing as Moss’ secretary; a ruse he willingly subscribes to, in order to rid himself of an awkward sexual liaison. But afterward, Jeff attempts to pick up with Ella where he and Olga left off. Instead, she admonishes him for his lack of originality and initiative; urging him to consider what shirking his responsibilities now could mean to his future prospects as a playwright.  Through her connections at work, Ella already knows producer, Larry Hastings (Fred Clark) is hunting for a new show.
Sifting in and out of Jeff’s life with the ease of a blithe spirit, Ella also works her magic on a forlorn dentist, Dr. Kitchell, who would much rather spend his time penning lyrics to songs he hopes to peddle along the Great White Way. In fact, Kitchell spends his afternoons composing music on his air hose. Ella also steps into the part of beatnik gal pal to Blake Barton, an out of work actor, telling him if he wants to be taken seriously he has to “cut the blue jeans action” and improve his fractured diction. Ramping up her involvement on Jeff’s play, Ella reinvents herself as Melisande Scott. She agrees to go out on a date but then begins to get cold feet when Olga suggests she doesn’t buy her sweet act for a moment. An impromptu buck and wing in the park with Jeffrey near the George Washington Bridge ends up entertaining a group of casual passersby. But it also solidifies Jeff’s love for Melisande. Eventually, the pair arrives at Hastings’ Sutton Place townhouse to discuss Jeff’s play. Regrettably, this turns out not to be a private meeting but a very elegant house party, teeming to the rafters with the inanely wealthy and socially superficial. Ella is encourage to play along and ‘Drop That Name’; a wicked lampoon of how deals get done by movers and shakers in love with their own navel-gazing charm. In the meantime, Otto has trained Sue how to take orders for Titanic Records; the title of each album code for a particular race track; the speed of the recording, actually the amount of money a particular bookie is trying to bet.
Attending his cronies deep inside the bowels of New York’s public works (a scene vaguely reminiscent of Marlon Brando’s ‘Luck Be A Lady’ from the film version of Guys and Dolls, 1955), Otto explains the intricacies of his ‘Simple Little System’. Too bad for Otto, he knows his horses better than his composers. When Gwynne’s boyfriend, Carl, overhears Ella unintentionally taking a bet for Beethoven’s 10th Symphony, he intercepts the phone call to explain it must be a mistake: Beethoven only wrote nine symphonies during his lifetime. To avoid confusion, Ella decides to correct the order from ten to nine; thus, ruining the bet. In the meantime, Jeffrey inadvertently stumbles upon Dr. Kitchell and Blake Barton in a nightclub showcasing Kitchell’s new song, ‘The Midas Touch’. The song is the same name as the title of Jeff’s new and soon to be produced play. Kitchell adds that his inspiration for the composition was a young blonde, and Barton, who has won the audition to play the lead, also explains his encounter with a blonde. Piecing Melisande’s curious behaviors together with more recollections from Barton and Kitchell, Jeffrey realizes the woman who has come to mean so much in all their lives is one in the same. Moreover, she is ‘mom’ – the disembodied voice of reason Jeff has been listening to over at Susanswerphone. Back at the office, Ella tells Sue she has ruined everything by playing mother in too many people’s lives. Although she has been sincere in her efforts, she has lied to them all and, in the end – and worst of all – has been untrue to herself. She wants no more of it. So Ella has decided to go back to being just a lowly switchboard operator at the Bonjour Tristesse Brazier Company. Alas, in reply to Ella’s accidentally botched ‘bet’, a pair of goons loyal to the mob show up looking for Otto, presumably to break a few bones and collect the monies owed them. Ella detains the pair long enough for Inspector Barnes, who has been lurking outside, to get a clue and save the day. Elated at having busted Otto’s racketeering operation – a much grander foil than a prostitution ring - Barnes loosens his yolk on Susansophone. He reunites the services’ grateful callers, including Jeffrey, with Ella; the two wandering off together, presumably for all time.
In hindsight, it is perhaps easier to see why Bells Are Ringing failed to catch the zeitgeist in popular entertainments then; either for its ilk or period. While admirers of the Broadway original were quick to illustrate how Vincente Minnelli had adhered, rather obsessively, to the precepts and pacing of the stage show, detractors were more likely to point out that in doing so, Minnelli had all but deprived the two numbers that book-ended the movie; ‘A Perfect Relationship’ and ‘I’m Going Back’ of their thematic bravado as bona fide cinematic climaxes. There is something to this. Both numbers are showstoppers, playing on the strengths of their stage-bound predecessor. For all intent and purposes, Minnelli’s camera remains stationary; cinematographer, Milton Krasner lensing Judy Holliday as she cavorts in full figure, the camera only moving when absolutely essential to keep her in frame. A lesser performer might have succumbed to the dreaded elephantiasis of filling these static peripheries with plausible action. But Holliday, voice booming and charismatic in her grand gestures, manages to capture and hold our attention.  When she is on the screen, she is impossible to ignore – and Holliday is on the screen for virtually all of the movie’s run time.
Bells Are Ringing has other assets too: Preston Ames and George W. Davis’ production design retains the stage show’s artifice, newly expanded to complement the elongated proportions of Cinemascope. No one could ever confuse their antiseptic facsimile of the George Washington Bridge, all back lit with flickering kilowatts of Hollywood stardust to simulate traffic, for the real thing. Nor can we suspend our disbelief in the magic of MGM’s New York Street as a viable substitute for the thriving theater district, herein cluttered with automobiles and foot traffic direct from Central Casting. Still, such artfulness remains in service to the musical genre itself and the MGM musical in particular, where cast members are expected to spontaneously burst into song, accompanied by a never seen, though always heard, full-bodied hundred piece orchestra.  Such is the fantastic world of the movie musical and best left to its unattainable perfection far removed from the realities of life. Better still, under conductor, André Previn’s baton, the MGM studio orchestra bursts forth in 4-track stereo with a sonic ambiance that is impossible to top. Bells Are Ringing looks and sounds the part of a vintage forties MGM musical, perhaps the last example where all the pieces seem to fit so neatly together.
And then, of course, there is the Jules Styne score to recommend; Arthur Freed retaining all but a trio of original songs and hiring Styne to replace them with, arguably, even better examples of his song-writing prowess; in particular, ‘Better Than a Dream’ – a boisterous competition number where Dean Martin and Judy Holliday overlap their lyrics as counterpoint to the burgeoning emotions each has begun to already feel toward the other. Dean Martin is given the exuberant bachelor’s declaration ‘I Met A Girl’; a song to stops traffic – literally – while Eddie Foy Jr. toddles along with effete charisma, explaining ‘A Simple Little System’ to his cronies. Denied the luxury of shooting these numbers in authentic New York locations, Vincente Minnelli approaches each from a high angle, filling the Cinemascope frame with cluttered throngs of humanity instead. Arguably, the best song in the score is ‘Just In Time’, even though the rather sad-eyed, ‘The Party’s Over’ was already the most celebrated and covered by popular songstresses at the time. The potency in this pair of ballads is closely met by the gregariously obtuse enthusiasm of ‘Drop That Name’ – arguably, the most Minnelli-esque moment in the movie.
The song is a time capsule of fifties celebrity culture, featured in rhyming couplets; names like Barney Baruch and King Farouk, Alistair Cooke, Lizzie and Eddie; Lucile Ball and Lauren Bacall, Vivien Leigh, Roz Russell and Freddie all thrown into the hopper for consideration. Surrounded by Jeffrey’s fair-weather friends, Ella – a.k.a. Melisande – tries to carve a plausible niche; stepping in and out of conversations without much success until she resigns to discovering names she can rhyme with Rin-Tin-Tin; the only star she is able to recall with any degree of certainty. When the name Ali Khan is thrown her way instead, Ella merely changes her reply to Ron-Ton-Ton. Aping a pair of mannequins she has overheard elsewhere in the crowded room, Ella strikes an awkward pose, declaring “I like things from Kleins…I do all my shopping there with Mary and Ethel.” Asked to clarify which Mary and which Ethel, Ella concedes, “Mary Schwartz and Ethel Hodgekist,” two obvious nobodies in lieu of the other Marys (Astor and Martin) and Ethels (Barrymore and Waters) being bandied about. Holliday employs both kinetic and verbal wit to sell this song as authentically amusing rather than mere silly shtick. And it works – surprisingly well; Minnelli’s entourage of catty courtiers bedecked in a resplendent assortment of Walter Plunkett’s costumes; Ella shedding, then shredding the lower half of her Traviata ball gown to produce a decidedly more streamlined and spangled ensemble in fire-engine red.
At least in hindsight, the best to be said for Bells Are Ringing is that it remains the least pretentious, and arguably, most fun-loving of MGM’s latter spate of Cinemascope spectacles, typically prone to glossy grandiloquence in ‘glorious Technicolor’ and ‘stereophonic sound’. There is none of this in ‘Bells’ - most of its action set against the unremarkable, and otherwise uninteresting backdrop of Susanswerphone’s dowdy, cluttered and dusty basement apartment offices; a perfectly nondescript and colorless backdrop for Judy Holliday’s larger-than-life screen presence to thrive. Yet, Bells Are Ringing is something of a sad epitaph to a particular way of making movies – and movie musicals in particular – particularly at MGM. Arguably, no one could have foreseen this would be the last collaboration between Vincente Minnelli and Arthur Freed – or that Judy Holliday, who so embodied the role and would go on to revive it again on Broadway afterward, would be dead a scant five years following the picture’s release.  But like the shifting sands of time and tastes already to have eroded MGM’s ability to make musicals with any degree of consistency or success, Bells Are Ringing gave audiences a final glimpse into what the studio was capable of when the right creative personnel could still be assembled at a moment’s notice – all of them under contract, the pistons firing in unison to create cinema art. Wow! It really did happen… ‘just in time’!
The Warner Archive (WAC) Blu-ray release, produced from a Metrocolor (a.k.a. Eastmancolor) IP of Bells Are Ringing is most welcomed. Predictably, this disc is up to WAC’s usual high standards; colors vibrant, contrast bang on, a light smattering of grain and oodles of fine detail throughout. The main titles, shot under less than studio-controlled lighting conditions have a slightly softer quality; the plum-colored titles razor-sharp and glowing.  While not as rich as traditional Technicolor, Metrocolor is nevertheless quite eye-popping. Dissolves between scenes exhibit transitional amplification of grain in tandem with loss of color density, but this is to be expected.  Contrast is on point: blacks - rich, deep and solid; whites, clean and bright, though never blooming. Ella’s red Traviata ball gown is a wowser – saturation maxed out with some startling detail to boot. The newly remastered DTS 5.1 outperforms anything we have heard in the past: Andre Previn’s lush orchestral scoring sounds great and vocals are particularly clean and bright. The one disappointment is extras.  “Just in Time” is an all too short featurette, providing little more than an overview of the production. We also get two deleted musical sequences, including Judy Holliday’s ‘Isn’t It A Crime’; another bombastic set piece for Holliday to mug for the camera: too theatrical for my tastes and quite unnecessary within the context of the film. Finally, the original theatrical trailer gets an HD upgrade. Bottom line: Bells Are Ringing on Blu-ray from WAC comes very highly recommended. You’ll want to snatch this one up…just in time!
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)


1 comment:

David M. said...

Great review as always, and continued kudos to Warner Archive. "Bells Are Ringing" is the movie I keep bringing up when people talk/argue about "La La Land" (which I still haven't seen). Even a lesser, latter-day Hollywood factory musical like this delightful confection exudes poise, charm, and skill that a modern-day musical can't hope to match. How could it?