Warner Brother's unleashes a galaxy of stars in its new Comedy Collection box set. Six films of impeccible pedigree - two in deluxe special editions, flesh out this collection; "The Philadelphia Story" and "Bringing Up Baby". In addition there's much to admire from "Stage Door", "Dinner At Eight" and "Libeled Lady." Only Lubtisch's "To Be Or Not To Be" falls somewhat short of expectations - though it too is a welcomed sight on DVD.
Plots in totem:
"Dinner At Eight" (1933) is the tale of a society matron, Millicent Jordon (Billie Burke)who is so enraptured at the prospect of throwing the society party of the decade that she eschews all other concerns in favor of the frivolities associated with such a swank soiree. Her roster of guests include the boorish social climber, Dan Packard (Wallace Beery) and his much younger wife of hot body but low class, Kitty (Jean Harlow), aging grand dame of the theater, Carlotta Vance (Marie Dressler), family physician, Dr. Wayne Talbot (Edmund Lowe) and desperate has-been movie actor, Larry Renault (John Barrymore). Millicent's husband, the kind-hearted, good natured Oliver (Lionel Barrymore) has just discovered that he is fatally ill. However, acknowledging his wife's lack of feeling for anyone but herself, Oliver decides to forego divulging his diagnosis, presumably until after the party.
"Bringing Up Baby"(1938) is the adventageous screwball comedy about a madcap New England heiress, Susan Vance (Katharine Hepburn) who, after accidentally running into stuffy zoologist, David Huxley (Cary Grant) is determined to land him as her husband. Not that David would notice. He's too concerned with acquiring a bone for his museum collection - go figure. But a gregarious little terrier named George (actually Asta from "The Thin Man" series) intervenes in David's plans, burying the irreplaceable fossilized bone somewhere on Sue's country estate. Meanwhile Baby, Susan's leopard, threatens the whole show by tearing up the scenery, as leopard's will do, after escaping from her cage. Naturally the whole mess winds up in front of a local magestrate, who lacks the ability to put two ideas together and come up with one coherant thought.
"The Philadelphia Story"(1940) concerns itself with the pending nuptuals of Tracy Lord (Katharine Hepburn) to George Kittredge (John Howard). Tracy's previous marriage to C.K Dexter Haven (Cary Grant) ended badly, but shows signs of coming back from the dead when Dex turns up to pitch a little rice this time around. But the plot thickens in an unexpected way when Tracy decides to go after tabloid journalist Mike Connor (James Stewart) on a drunken binge and midnight swim - leaving both groom and ex feeling left out.
"Libeled Lady" (1936) is a sparkling romantic comedy of errors. When committment shy newspaper editor, Warren Haggerty (Spencer Tracy) finds that his newspaper is being sued for alleging that a socialite, Connie Allenbury (Myrna Loy) is a home-wrecker he delays plans to marry his fiancee Gladys (Jean Harlow) yet again, by placing her in the midst of elegant playboy, Bill Chandler (William Powell). The idea is to have Gladys and Bill marry so that Connie will then be fooling around with a married man - hence Warren's paper will be off the hook for printing the initial story. But the plot goes hopelessly and predictably awry when Gladys starts to have genuine feelings for Bill and he for her. So what's a struggling foursome to do?
Ernst Lubitch's "To Be Or Not To Be"(1943) has to be the most genuinely bizarre political satire to emerge from Hollywood's golden age. It stars Jack Benny and Carol Lombard as Joseph and Maria Tura - a married couple and stage performers living in occupied Poland during WWII. Determined to alter the course of the war, the two helm a troupe of ham actors in a dead pan comic assault on the Nazis.
And last, but not least is "Stage Door" (1937), treading familiar backstage heartache and dismissal with unfamiliar panache and a killer cast. Wealthy socialite, Terry Randall (Katharine Hepburn) wants desperately to break into Broadway theater only she wants to do it on her own. So Terry decides to go slumming, secretly checking into a theatrical boarding house populated by sharp shooter, Judy Canfield (Lucille Ball), wise girl, Jean Maitland (Ginger Rogers), and Eve (Eve Arden) and Annie (Ann Miller), a couple of stage struck kids...almost. What Terry discovers is that life upon the wicked stage might be the nearest thing to heaven, if only she could manage to get closer to the stage itself.
All of the discs in this box set have had some restoration work performed on them. The two outstanding transfers are "Bringing Up Baby" and "The Philadelphia Story." Both are 2-disc special editions mastered from very clean film elements and jam packed with lots of extra features. Contrast levels are superb. There's a hint of edge enhancement and some fine detail shimmering, but nothing that will distract. Fine details are fully realized throughout. Film grain is kept to a bare minimum. The good people at Warner Brothers deserve a pat on the back for their formidable efforts. As for the rest; they are a mixed bag at best. with inconsistently rendered black and white images, sometimes weak contrast levels and hints of edge enhancement and some fine detail shimmering. Extras on these latter disc are bare bones to say the least. Even so, this box set comes highly recommended. It contains films we are not likely to see again on DVD and presented in transfers, that while lacking among the very best that DVD is capable of, are nevertheless head and shoulders above what previous VHS incarnations have offered to the home video market. A big and sincere "yes" then for these.