MUSICALS: 4-MOVIE COLLECTION
BLU-RAY EXPERIENCE: **** (out of 5)
Studio: Warner Bros.
BY KEVIN CARR
Warner Bros. has done a service to the fans of the old-school musical by packaging four of the most memorable ones in its catalogue into a single box set. The “Musicals: 4-Movie Collection” includes “The Band Wagon” (1953), “Calamity Jane” (1953), “Kiss Me Kate” (1953) and “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952). While these have shown up in high definition before, there are some nice surprises in the pack.
Each of the four musicals on Blu-ray have slightly different special features. Fortunately, there’s something on every disc, so the box set offers more than simply the bare-bones movies. Included in the set is also a set of four glossy photographs for the individual films.
THE BAND WAGON
MOVIE: ***1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Like many film, there’s a healthy dose of narcissism in “The Band Wagon” as the story focuses on the entertainment industry itself. Vincente Minnelli directs Fred Astaire as an aging movie star trying to get his career back on track with a Broadway show. He aims for a light comedy, but an egomaniacal director and a problematic diva added to the cast cause problems. Of course, like any MGM musical, there’s a time to fight and a time to come together to put on a show, and things can always work out.
Even though he was older than many of his musical contemporaries, Fred Astaire was always charming to see on screen. His chemistry with Cyd Charisse made this movie work, and they carried the story through the bigger musical numbers.
Like any musical from the 50s, there are plenty of song and dance numbers, and they don’t always seem terribly relevant to the plot. These films are made to enjoy the performance as much as they were made to follow the story. However, “The Band Wagon” manages to strike a balance between the two.
“The Band Wagon” includes a commentary by Liza Minnelli (whose father directed the film) and Michael Feinstein. Featurettes include the 37-minute behind-the-scenes retrospective “Get Aboard! The Band Wagon,” WNET’s hour-long spotlight “The Men Who Made the Movies: Vincente Minnelli,” the early short comedy film “Jack Buchanan and the Glee Quartet,” the Tex Avery MGM cartoon “The Three Little Pups” and the theatrical trailer.
MOVIE: ***1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Doris Day gets riled up to play the title character in “Calamity Jane.” A romanticized version of history, Calamity Jane promises to bring a classy singer from Chicago to South Dakota to perform. However, a case of mistaken identity causes a huge mix-up. Then, she has to get along with the new singer, even as a love triangle develops with Jane’s main squeeze, along with a dose of wandering eyes from western legend Wild Bill Hickok (Howard Keel).
Without question, Doris Day is what makes this movie work. While she reached the peak of her career co-starring with Rock Hudson ten years later, Day’s spunk and energy really carries this film. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that she’s far prettier than the somewhat haggard-looking Calamity Jane really was.
Strangely enough, “Calamity Jane” also depends on a storyline about stage performance, even though it takes place in the wild west. It’s a fun musical with plenty of fun musical numbers. The characters work well together, even though Keel’s singing voice rings a bit overblown throughout. If you can get past the glaring political incorrectness when it comes to women’s issues and the Native Americans, there’s a lot of enjoy with “Calamity Jane.”
Features on this disc is a little slimmer with fewer nods to the western genre than it should have, but it still includes some fun elements that can make the Warner Bros. “Night at the Movies” concept work. There’s a Joe McDoaks’ cartoon “So You Love Your Dog,” the brilliant classic Looney Tunes cartoon “Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2th Century,” a look at the “Western Style Premiere,” a spotlight on “Photoplay Magazine’s Film Awards” and the theatrical trailer.
KISS ME KATE
MOVIE: ** (out of 5 stars)
Sadly, this is the movie in the batch that left me cold. I wanted to like this so much, and this was the first time I’ve seen it. However, the film drags too much in the middle, gets distracted with too many sub-standard musical numbers and doesn’t have the most compelling leads I’ve seen in musicals. (Again, I blame Keel’s voice, as well as Kathryn Grayson’s voice, who plays opposite him.)
The story is about a production of “The Taming of the Shrew” that has been updated for modern times. Two of the stars are divorced, their personalities mirroring those they play on stage. When the male lead fears the female lead will bail, he manipulates a couple of loan shark thugs to keep her at the theater so he can pay off a false debt.
The most impressive thing about “Kiss Me Kate” is its 3D presentation, and the disc in the set includes both the 3D and 2D versions of the movie. The 3D has been remastered for modern television sets, and as one of the best examples of the process in the 50s, it’s still worth seeing. It doesn’t rely on gimmick photography but rather uses depth and perspective to make the set and productions numbers more dynamic. While it’s not the best movie in the pack, the 3D presentation is definitely a selling point.
The features on this disc are probably the lightest in the package. There’s a ten-minute featurette on Cole Porter called “Cole Porter in Hollywood: Too Darn Hot” and a six-minute look at New York in “Mighty Manhattan, New York’s Wonder City.” There’s also the MGM cartoon “Barney’s Hungry Cousin” and the film’s theatrical trailer.
SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN
MOVIE: ****1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Hands down, this is easily my favorite musical of the pack and one of my favorite musicals of all time. “Singin’ in the Rain” is packed with catchy tunes, brilliant choreography and some gorgeous color photography.
The story follows a group of movie stars trying to transition from silent pictures to the talkies. One of the biggest stars is an actress with an irritating voice, and her co-stars have to find a way to dub her with modern sound in order to keep her career going.
If you have ever had any interest in Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor or Debbie Reynolds, check out the best film any of them have ever done. It’s a great musical, but it’s also a great story, which is far more rare in musicals. Were you to remove the song and dances, the movie would be lacking. However, it would still tell a compelling and interesting story. The dialogue and characters are not just there to string musical numbers together.
While the features are few on this one, they are meaty. The commentary track features stars Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor, Cyd Charisse, Kathleen Freeman, co-director Stanley Donen, screenwriters Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and modern filmmaker Baz Luhrmann with author/historian Rudy Behlmer. There’s also a 50-minute documentary “Singin’ in the Rain: Raining on a New Generation” with various modern dance and musical theater personalities (though some, like what seems to be the entire production team and cast of “Glee,” tends to be a bit overstated). There’s also the “Jukebox,” which allows you to jump directly to musical numbers and program them in your chosen order. There’s also the film’s theatrical trailer.