The Busby Berkeley Collection (Footlight Parade / Gold Diggers of 1933 / Dames / Gold Diggers of 1935 / 42nd Street) (1933) (Sous-titres français)
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Busby Berkeley Collection, The (DVD) (6-Pack)
The Busby Berkeley Collection celebrates the work of one of the most visually inventive director-choreographers in the history of film. The centerpiece is of course 42nd Street (1933) . This is the quintessential backstage musical in which young Peggy Sawyer (Ruby Keeler) goes from wide-eyed chorus girl to leading lady, urged by Warner Baxter, "You're going out there a youngster, but you've got to come back a star!" A cast that also includes Dick Powell and Ginger Rogers (when she was an RKO contract player and before she teamed up with Fred Astaire) performs "Shuffle Off to Buffalo, " "You're Getting to Be a Habit with Me," and the title tune, in which Keeler tap-dances on a black surface that turns out to be the roof of a car. Berkeley's numbers are known for their kaleidoscopic patterns, their stark black-and-white contrast, and their sheer sense of spectacle. But more than anything, they're known for their celebration of women. By the dozens, they dance, play pianos, frolic in waterfalls, and, in some of the most overtly sexual numbers, stand spread-eagled in a line as the camera passes through their legs. In many ways, the title song from Dames sums it up best: "What do you go for / to see a show for? / Tell the truth, you go to see those beautiful dames."
While Berkeley choreographed and directed the musical sequences in these films, the plot sections were generally directed by others such as Lloyd Bacon. Keeler and Powell were the most frequent headliners, supported by character players such as Joan Blondell, Guy Kibbee, and Ned Sparks, and most of the songs were contributed by Harry Warren and Al Dubin. The stories aren't much, usually revolving around the putting-together of a musical show as well as the lives and loves of chorus girls. The term "gold diggers," which is the source of the title of two of the films included in this set, refers unflatteringly to chorus girls in search of wealthy husbands.
Gold Diggers of 1933 opens with a justly famous shot of Ginger Rogers wearing an outfit of coins and singing "We're in the Money" first in English then in pig Latin. Gold Diggers of 1935 is capped by "The Lullaby of Broadway," a 14-minute story-within-a-story that seems one of the inspirations for Singin' in the Rain's "Broadway Melody." Dames (1934) has the aforementioned title tune as well as "I Only Have Eyes for You" (with Powell singing to dozens of Keeler faces). Footlight Parade changes things up a bit by starring James Cagney as a producer desperately cranking out musical numbers. Keeler and Powell emerge from their bit-character roles to headline two of the big productions stacked together at the end, while Cagney replaces Powell in the third, showing off the vaudeville hoofing skills he would use later in 1942's Yankee Doodle Dandy.
DVD supplements are generous. The sixth disc is the 163-minute Busby Berkely Disc, a former laserdisc program that collects just the musical numbers from nine films without the plot filler. Most of the numbers are already included in the films in this collection, but there are also one number each from Fashions of 1934, Wonder Bar, In Caliente, and Gold Diggers of 1937. Also on the discs are new and old featurettes (one tracks the development of 42nd Street from book to screen to stage), and vintage cartoons and shorts (one promotional short has Berkeley on-screen talking up Dames). Picture quality is about the same as on the Astaire and Rogers Collection, Vol. 1: good for the age of the material, but with noticeable fuzz and print damage. --David Horiuchi
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For fans of musicals and for those who simply enjoy excellent cinema, these movies have it all! First and foremost, the artistry of Berkeley's musical sequences make these films a must-see! It doesn't matter if you are a musical maven or not. The inimitable Busby Berkeley production numbers will dazzle you, even with the sound turned down! In addition to being renowned musicals, these films are also some of the wittiest comedies from the 30's era. I don't think anybody can resist the well-written snappy dialogue and sly innuendo, particularly from the pre-code releases included here.
FOOTLIGHT PARADE -- Great pre-code dialogue, and a fantastic showcase for the comedic talents of both Joan Blondell and James Cagney, the latter demonstrating his incredible footwork that helped him score his Oscar winning role in Yankee Doodle Dandy!
GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 -- My personal favorite of this collection. it features the famous Ginger Rogers number "We're In The Money", and the unforgettable "Forgotten Man" performed by Joan Blondell! Great production numbers and more entertaining pre-code comedy.
DAMES -- In addition to the great production number of the title song, it features an hilarious performance by Hugh Herbert, probably (though debatably) his best!
GOLD DIGGERS OF 1935 -- This one introduces the great production number, "The Lullaby Of Broadway" and also features a great comedic performance from Gloria Stuart (of "Titanic" fame).
42nd STREET -- This is the film that reinvented the movie musical! Nuff said, except that Ginger Rogers' chaffing is a wonderful highlight.
The extras look nice, though I'm sorry no commentaries seem to be included. I'm looking forward to seeing the new featurettes. All in all, this is a very reasonably priced package that is worth every penny. Enjoy!
By Brendan G Carroll
While I was delighted that Warners & Turner have issued these great films on DVD at last in terrific quality (for the most part) and with wonderful extras, there were some opportunities missed here and one glaring omission which I hope I can set right.
The opportunities lost concern the archive material that might have been included and which would have been so worth the effort to acquire. As most Berkeley buffs know, he gave a very interesting and rare interview for a 1966 TV documentary called "The Movie Crazy Years" (about Warners) which also included a nice interview with Joan Blondell. It would have been good to see the relevant excerpts from this superb programme (which I think was made by David Wolper) included in the various featurettes on these DVDs, rather than the endless gushy on-camera posturings of the likes of John Landis. Do I really need to be told over and over in hyper-gushy language, that Buzz was a genius, by so-called celebrity fans? I really wish Turner would at least include either contemporary witnesses or film historians (like Bob Thomas or Rudy Behlmer) to add pertinent commentary to projects like this. WHAT has John Waters got to do with Busby Berkeley I ask you?
The second "missed opportunity" is the rarely (and barely) seen 96 minute documentary "Busby Berkeley" made by Russ Jones in 1974 to co-incide with the publication of Tony Thomas' superb biography of Buzz, which included rare interviews with Winifred Shaw (about the Lullaby of Broadway number) and Ruth Donnelly (about Footlight Parade) among other treasures.
Surely Turner could have acquired both of these archive resources (at little cost!) for this definitive DVD set? It would have added such tremendous historic value to the collection and genuine insight. I really felt we never got to know much about Berkeley as a man from any of the short documentaries or how he achieved his amazing effects. In fact, I realised that I knew more about him and his techniques, than I learned from any of the featurettes.
Much worse though, is the total absence of any comment about Ray Heindorf, the genius arranger and orchestrator at Warners, from 1931 on, who was responsible for the entire musical style of these films and especially the superb job he turned in for the big numbers - creating seamless 10-15 minute arrangements of Harry Warren's great songs (and those of Kahal & Fain - they wrote `By A Waterfall' by the way, not that you would know it from watching the short documentary on Footlight Parade!!).
Heindorf was also responsible for the marvellous, brassy orchestrations throughout - yet he never even gets a mention. He was a genius - in fact, according to Erich Wolfgang Korngold, (as told me by Eleanor Aller & Harry Warren himself) he was the best and fastest orchestrator Korngold had ever encountered, high praise indeed from maybe the one man in Hollywod who would know - and it was Heindorf's ability to provide an endlessly varied treatment of each song that allowed Berkeley to get away with making a number lasting a quarter of an hour without we, the viewer (and listener) ever getting bored with the tune!
Well, in spite of these shortcomings, it is wonderful to have these at last in better than average prints (and in the case of 42nd Street, amazing prints!) and of course, the historic trailers & shorts are all marvellous to have at last, rescued from the vaults.
However, I hope next time Turner puts out a major collection, somebody will take the trouble to produce a tribute to Ray Heindorf. It's long overdue.
I first saw FOOTLIGHT PARADE when I was in college in the late 60s; saw it on a big screen in a real movie palace in Minneapolis. It was a revelatory moment and I have been a committed "Berkeleyite" ever since.
There is no one during the 30s or after who did such audacious and astounding things with movie musicals.
I look forward to having the DVD set which I know will be a vast improvement over the VHS copies I have mouldering in our attic. Anyone who has a yen for musicals will want to own this set. Not only did Berkeley have the full support (for a while) of Jack Warner in the making of these extravagant films he also had the pick of the Warner stock company of actors. Think of it:Cagney, Blondell, Kibbee, Powell, and lastly but foremeost the Beautiful Ruby Keeler (for who I still harbor a schoolboy crush!). I can only hope that the bonus disc will have numbers from the(lesser)films not included in the set; numbers such as DREAM A LITTLE DREAM from FASHIONS and the numbers from WONDER BAR (even the jaw-dropping GOIN' TO HEAVEN ON A MULE number).
Now if someone (Warners or whoever owns the rights) will release Eddie Cantor's films for Goldwyn - which contain some prime Berkeley work - and also issue a set of Jolson films (which would have to include GO INTO YOUR DANCE - no Berkeley work but great music and (hubba-hubba)Ruby Keeler - everything would truly be right with the world!
Two kinds of films defined Warner Bros. in the 1930s...their fast-paced gangster films, and their Busby Berkeley musical spetaculars. Others tried to imitate the Warner gangster formula and failed. Others tried to imitate the Berkeley formula, but they were missing the essential ingredients: The Warner stock company, great songs by Harry Warren and Al Dubin, and most important, the incomparable imagination of Busby Berkeley.
A few years ago, Warner Bros. released a great disc of 42nd STREET, the film that made Berkeley a household name. The film had been lovingly restored, and had never looked so good. However, the rest of his great classics awaited the same kind of painstaking restoration, and the day has finally arrived when we can rejoice in owning these sensational, delightful, and mind-boggling fantasy-fests of delight.
Best of all, there are HOURS of extra features, including a bonus disc of more than 20 of Berkeley's musical spectaculars. If all you want is music and dance, without plot, this is like a 1930s, three-hour music video beyond compare!
There are engaging mini-documentaries that illuminate various aspects of these films, which help put each film in historical context. While die-hard buffs would lament the fact that certain ancient documentaries they recall aren't included, it's obvious that such items probably have legal or ownership barriers which could preclude WB's access to those pieces. However, this is not really a concern, for what has been provided here beyond comprehensive, with great quality, and with the same kind of smarts that sets Warner Home Video's product heads and tails above all the other studios when it comes to classics.
So, here's to Busby! To Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell! To an amazing song-and-dance Jimmy Cagney and the always wonderful Joan Blondell....not to mention folks like Guy Kibbee, Ned Sparks and so many Warner regulars. You can't pass this up and call yourself a movie lover!
10) You know there are some things - works of art, foods, smells, people - that leave such an indelible image on you that every time you come across them you seem to be immersed in a nostalgic haze. Watching these Berkeley films does it to me. I can't always explain it. When I show my VHS copies to friends or students of mine, invariably somebody goes "what the heck is that?!?" Berkeley's over-the-top quality has to be experienced to be believed.
9) I don't have "Dames" or Golddiggers of 1935" although I've seen them. I consider them lesser works, but each contains some incredible numbers: "Dames" has a catchy title song that was included in the stage production of 42ND STREET and "1935" has "Lullaby of Broadway" which is a complete musical tragedy in 15 minutes.
8) I don't even know what the extras are, but I can't wait. Extra numbers?
7) Another reviewer hinted at this: it's that Warner Brothers stamp on the musical genre that makes these films so amazing. It's a toughness, a rawness, a gangster film-like quality. It's performances by actors like Jimmy Cagney, Joan Blondell, Aline McMahon and Ginger Rogers that give these films....oh, I'll call it 'moxie!" And then couple them with the sweetness of Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell, and the combination can't be beat.
6) The three "Prologues" that close FOOTLIGHT PARADE should be seen by everyone. From the soft-porn leering of "Honeymoon Hotel" to the aquatic excess of "By a Waterfall" to the brilliance of Cagney and Keeler in "Shanghai Lil".....I never lose the thrill down my back when I watch them.
5) The chance to see some of the greatest character actors in the Warner Bros. stable strut their stuff, even in tiny parts (i.e. Sterling Holloway as the delivery boy in GOLDDIGGERS OF 1933). Watching Guy Kibbee or Hugh Herbert or Una Merkel or Aline MacMahon or any of the others on screen is a treat.
4) Speaking of G. of 1933, "Petting in the Park" reminds you of what films could show before the Hays Code messed everything up. Another prurient delight from Busby Berkeley's dirty mind. And then "Shadow Waltz" shows you how romantic and stirring he could be. Best of all "My Forgotten Man" is a must-see at the end of that picture. Berkeley could play with mood as well as anybody. As hilarious as this film is, you never forget that these people are in the middle of a Depression and are always on the verge of starving. Happy ending or not, Berkeley can't let you forget it either. The number is magnificent. The amazing Joan Blondell can sing about as well as Ruby Keeler could tap, and it doesn't matter!!!!!!
3) Did I mention Ruby Keeler's tap-dancing? I work with a lot of tappers in my profession, and nobody ever stepped like her. It's thunderous and awkward and absolutely beautiful. And her voice, which approaches near-bass qualities.....I know it sounds like I'm putting her down, but I love this woman. She makes you smile and breaks your heart, all at the same time.
2) If you absolutely hate musicals (and that means you probably aren't even in this spot on Amazon, reading this, but just on the off chance that you are) then skip over the musical numbers and watch the snappy patter of the dialogue scenes. Cagney in FOOTLIGHT PARADE is Cagney at his best! Watching Ginger Rogers, Una Merkel and the rest of the showgirls engage in witty, bitchy banter in 42ND STREET of G. of 1933 will have you howling.
1) If you love musicals, then I highly recommend these films because they are the works of a true original. Nobody approached musical theatre like Busby Berkeley. It's hard not to feel strongly about him; you could end up hating the guy for his craziness. But I'm betting you won't!
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