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Once there was a time when actors were expected to sing and dance on screen. Americans craved well rounded performers that moved their feet, mouths and hearts at the same time. The audiences craved production numbers – so even if the story stunk they’d still have a nice melody to hum on the way home. Classic Musicals from the Dream Factory, Volume 3 dips into the MGM vaults for another nine titles. This collection highlights two leading ladies: Eleanor Powell and Jane Powell. They weren’t sisters. Eleanor was the Queen of Tap Dancing. Jane was known for her girl next door looks and soprano voice. They were related through their ability to dazzle.
Broadway Melody of 1936 (1935 – 101 minutes) reminds us that singing and dancing in Manhattan isn’t restricted to inside the theaters. Jack Benny is a Broadway gossip columnist who spreads his rumors via the radio. His boss wants more smut in his dispatches than pregnancy announcements. Benny is on a mission to dig up dirt in the chorus girl dressing rooms. His snooping around the Great White Way reveals numerous musical numbers. Eleanor Powell’s performance elevated her to stardom with her tapping skill. She gets serious competition from Buddy Ebsen and his sister Vilma in a trio tap. Buddy Ebsen wears a Mickey Mouse sweater as they perform “Sing Before Breakfast” on a rooftop. Melody allows Benny to stretch from his regular persona without shocking his audience. Producer Robert Taylor gets to punch out Benny something Rochester might have enjoyed.
Broadway Melody of 1938 (1937 – 110 minutes) takes us back to the street with a majority of the 1936 cast. With Benny gone, the plot shifts from gossip to horse racing. Buddy Ebsen turns out to have a little horse sense. Who really watches these films for plot? It’s just something to do between musical numbers. Eleanor Powell keeps tapping up a storm. The surprise star turns out to be Judy Garland. Even in a crowded film with showbiz vets, she steals the show when she opens her mouth and breaks into song. This is a film that must be experienced for the performances and not the script.
Born to Dance (1936 – 105 minutes) lets Eleanor Powell once more assumes the role of a performer aspiring for Broadway stardom. The film opens with a submarine crew singing and dancing as they head to Manhattan. Does today’s modern submarine corp promote crew sing-a-longs? Under the water lurks James Stewart (Vertigo) and Buddy Ebsen. During their liberty, Stewart hooks up with Powell. The Cole Porter’s songs elevate the film. In case you’re curious, Powell’s singing voice is really Marjorie Lane. She also dubbed Powell on both Broadway Melody flicks.
Lady Be Good (1941 – 111 minutes) gives us a musical divorce. Ann Sothern and Robert Young are a famous song-writing couple that want to cease their partnership, both in bed and by the piano. Eleanor Powell plays a friend who wants to reunite them professionally to keep the music coming. But the intimate act of creating also causes them to rekindle their romantic feelings. But it also reminds them why this movie started in divorce court. The musical numbers include Ira and George Gershwin’s “O! Lady Be Good” and “Fascinating Rhythm.” It’s a cute musical.
Nancy Goes to Rio (1950 – 99 minutes) might be a Jane Powell movie, but Carmen Miranda steals the show. Powell is the daughter of a famous Broadway actress (Ann Sothern) who finally gets a big break in a summer stock musical. To truly get into her character, she splits for Brazil to visit her mom. While studying her part on the cruise down, a passenger (Barry Sullivan) think she’s a pregnant single gal. Relationships get extremely tangled especially when she discovers that mom covets her role. What adds spice to this slight showbiz saga is Carmen Miranda’s musical numbers. She’s the lady famous for wearing the fruit in her hat as she performs. Although for the big production number here, she wears a hat filled with umbrellas.
Two Weeks with Love (1950 – 93 minutes) gives a nostalgic view of American life at the start of the 20th Century. Jane Powell’s family goes on a two week vacation in a small Catskills community. Things get freakish when Powell falls for the charms of Ricardo Montalban (Fantasy Island). But Phyllis Kirk wants to wrap the man who would be Khan in her Corinthian leather web. Will Powell get her summer romance to help ignite the 4th of July fireworks? Little sister Debbie Reynolds gives advice and harmony help. The music numbers are more playful than precision dance routines. There’s a kinky subplot involving Jane not being old enough to wear a corset.
Deep in My Heart (1954 – 132 minutes) is the another white-washed composer biopic. This time Jose Ferrer plays Sigmund Romberg, who brought The Student Prince to Broadway. Romberg struggles to get his music based off the classics heard during the rag time age. He sells out to tin pan alley with the stupid “Leg of Mutton Dance.” He becomes a major star on Broadway by cranking out music he considers crap. He attempts to regain his artistic soul by plotting to stage his Maytime. The reason for a movie like this is to have guest stars pop up and perform the composers work. For Deep in My Heart the singers include Gene Kelly, Rosemary Clooney, Vic Damone, An Miller, Cyd Charisse and Jane Powell.
Unfortunately we’re not treated to the dulcet tones of Jim Backus. The future Thurston Howell III merely acts. The centerpiece of the film is Ferrer performing his latest musical for the producer. The physical comedy works as he does all the characters and the songs. It’s a shame we weren’t given a warts and all biopic since it’s hinted that there’s something creepy about the relationship between Sigmund and his mother.
Hit the Deck (1955 – 112) has three sailors (Tony Martin, Vic Damone & Russ Tamblyn) take Manhattan. If that sounds a wee bit like Anchors Away, it’s deliberate. The film swims in the wake of the Frank Sinatra – Gene Kelly hit. The Hit the Deck sailors are stuck at a polar station experimenting with new scuba suits that supposedly prevent hypothermia. They escape their ice cube fate through a bakery scheme that leads to a vacation in New York City. The trio get into a little Big Apple mischief. Martin pays a booty call to his semi-fiance, Ann Miller. Tamblyn falls hard for Debbie Reynolds. Damone gets the hots for Tamblyn’s sister played by Jane Powell. Naturally these sailors express their emotions through song and dance. The Short Patrol continually busts up these romantic mingles.
Kismet (1955 – 113) takes us back to a time when Baghdad was a city of mystery and enchantment instead of a quagmire. Howard Keel is a poet posing as a begger. Judging from the average poet’s salary shouldn’t that be considered an upgrade? He keeps letting Kismet (a.k.a. fate) control his adventure. He encounters a corrupt Wazir (Sebastian Cabot, Mr. French from Family Affari) and the Caliph (Vic Damone). This musical should have been stellar with Vincent Minelli in the director’s chair and the classic song “Stranger in Paradise.” However Kismet is pedestrian for an over the top musical. The dance sequences are on the level of an Elvis musical.
This third visit in MGM’s Dream Factory contains films will appeal to major fans of cinema musicals. While the scripts aren’t knock outs, there’s plenty of musical moments that dazzle. This boxset reestablishes Eleanor Powell and Jane Powell status as stars in the movies that left you humming as the houselights came up.
The first six titles are 1.33:1. Deep in My Heart is 1.85:1 anamorphic. Hit the Deck and Kismet are 2:35:1 anamorphic. The restored prints shine with only tiny specks evident on the frame.
The audio on the first six titles are Dolby Digital Mono. The levels are solid without any pops or scratches. All have French dub tracks except Broadway Melody of 1936. The subtitles are in English and French. Hit the Deck has Dolby Digital 5.1 mix and 5.0 presentation of the original 4-track theatrical mix. There’s also a Dolby 5.1 music-only track for song sequences. There’s also a French dub. The subtitles are in English and French. Deep in my Heart has a remastered Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack as well as a Dolby Digital Mono of the theatrical mix. There’s also a French dub. The subtitles are in English and French. Kismet has a new Dolby Digital 5.1 mix and 5.0 presentation of the original 4-track theatrical mix. There’s a Portuguese dub track, but the songs are still in English. The subtitles are in English, French and Portuguese.
Hit the Deck
The Fall Guy (9:08) is a Pete Smith Specialty that collects all of Dave O’Brien’s memorable stunts in this series. This guy should have been a Stooge instead of Joe Besser.
Field and Scream (7:06) is a Tex Avery cartoon. This time he turns his insane perspective on the world of fishing and hunting.
“Sometimes I’m Happy” (4:02) is an audio-only outtake song.
Original Theatrical Trailer (4:12) pushes the trio of sailors singing on the town with their ladies.
Deep in my Heart
The Strauss Fantasy (9:48) is a musical short focusing on the MGM Orchestra performing a selection of Strauss. The colors are as warm as the music.
Farm of Tomorrow (6:31) is a Tex Avery cartoon. The animator genetically joins livestock to improve modern living. How do you get more drumsticks on a chicken?
Outtake musical numbers: “Dance, My Darlings” (3:01) features Helen Traubel performing in a restaurant. “Girlies of the Cabaret” (1:12) has George Murphy doing a stage routine with showgirls dressed in international outfits. Keep an eye out for Esther Williams.
Audio Outtakes (4:18) of “One Kiss and “Lover Come Back to Me.”
Theatrical Trailer (4:29) reminds us that Jose Ferrer “poured out his love in song.”
The Battle of Gettysburg (29:34) is a Cinemascope visit to the historic battleground. The narrator’s descriptions of the battles are illustrated with the Gettysburg landscape of 1955.
The First Bad Man (6:35) is a Tex Avery cartoon. The first caveman outlaw terrorizes the prehistoric west.
The MGM Parade TV Series (9:38) has two excerpts from the show as they promote the upcoming film. There’s behind the scenes footage of Vincent Minneli.
Complete version of partially-censored musical number “Rahadlakum” (2:19) is a black and white version. The censors must not have dug the harem action.
“Rhymes Have I” (3:21) is an audio-only song.
Theatrical trailers for the 1944 version (2:55) and 1955 take (4:24). The 1944 version, starring Ronald Colman and Marlene Dietrich, isn’t a musical.
Nancy Goes To Rio
Wrong Way Butch (10:05) is a Pete Smith Specialty. David O’Brien is a careless guy who is always prone to industrial accidents. Ouch!
The Peachy Cobbler (6:42) is a Tex Avery cartoon. The old shoemaker gets a little help from magical elves.
Theatrical trailer (2:17) pushes Jane Powell.
Two Weeks With Love
TCM special Reel Memories with Jane Powell (43:27) has Robert Osborne conduct an in-depth interview with her.
Crashing the Movies (7:51) is a Pete Smith Specialty. This collects the freakish events that ended up as oddities in newsreels. A great shot of a woman hanging by her teeth as she flies over Manhattan on a wire.
Garden Gopher (6:05) is a Tex Avery cartoon. A dog and a gopher battle over burying a bone.
Theatrical trailer (2:07) promises “Jane Powell with Love and youth in bloom!”
Broadway Melody of 1936
Sunkist Stars at Palm Springs (19:52) is a musical that features a blonde in a star covered dress skipping rope. This is pure art.
To Spring (9:07) is a Happy Harmonies cartoon that pays tribute to the season. Elves under the earth pump color into the landscape.
Leo Is on the Air (14:07) is a radio show to promote the movie.
Theatrical trailer (4:22) gives Jack Benny a little face time.
Broadway Melody of 1938
That Mothers Might Live (10:15) explains how the modern maternity ward was developed. This won the Oscar.
Pipe Dreams (8:26) is a Harman-Ising cartoon. Three monkeys learn the dangers of smoking.
Alternate Audio Cues (12:14) has five takes of “Everybody Sing.”
Outtake Songs (19:16) includes Judy Garland performing “Yours and Mine” and “Your Broadway and My Broadway.” Igor Gorin sings “Sun Showers.”
Leo Is on the Air (14:08) is the radio show promoting the songs from the movie.
Good News of 1938 (34:53) is a radio program promoting the tunes.
Theatrical trailer (2:13) hypes “The Main Stem of Melody Mirth and Maidens.”
Born to Dance
Hollywood – The Second Step (10:29) introduces us to Jane Barnes, Maureen O’Sullivan’s stand-in on a Tarzan movie.
The Old Mill Pond (7:29) is a Happy Harmonies cartoon filled with singing frogs.
“Easy To Love” (2:55) is the audio track.
Hollywood Hotel (41:24) is the radio broadcast hosted by Dick Powell to promote the movie.
Theatrical Trailer (4:35) pushes the cavalcade of stars.
Lady Be Good
Glimpses of Florida (9:18) is a FitzPatrick TravelTalks. The Technicolor vision of the Sunshine State must have thrilled folks freezing in Vermont.
The Rookie Bear (8:01) is a Rudolf Ising cartoon. Barney Bear gets drafted into the army. Steven Colbert would not be pleased to know bears were in the Pentagon.
“I Love to Dance” (4:05) is a song outtake.
Leo Is on the Air (6:15) is a radio promo for the film.
Theatrical trailer (4:28) wishes us a “Happy New Movie Year.”
Classics From the Dream Factory, Volume 3 keeps the musical goodness coming from MGM’s vault. For fans of movie musicals, this set allows you to embrace Eleanor Powell and Jane Powell during their prime. The bonus features are plentiful. They’re as entertaining as the features. The numerous Tex Avery cartoons alone make this a great way to spend the night.
Warner Home Video presents Classic Musicals from the Dream Factory, Volume 3. Starring Eleanor Powell, Jane Powell, Vic Damone, Carmen Miranda and Judy Garland. Nine films on nine DVDs. Not Rated. Released on DVD: April 8, 2008. Available at Amazon.com.