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Classic Musicals from the Dream Factory (Ziegfeld Follies / Till the Clouds Roll By / Three Little Words / Summer Stock / It's Always Fair Weather)
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Classic Musicals Collection: Classic Musicals from the Dream Factory (DVD)
Classic Musicals from the Dream Factory is a five-film collection of enjoyable but not-quite-top-tier movies from MGM's peak period between the mid-1940s and mid-'50s. The best films are the two with Gene Kelly. In Summer Stock (1950), he teams with Judy Garland in a traditional "let's put on a show" setting. Garland was in her last MGM film, but she shares a tap duel with Kelly and performs one of her most famous routines, "Get Happy" in a black jacket and fedora. It's Always Fair Weather (1955) features Kelly alongside Dan Dailey and Michael Kidd as three GIs who return from the war, a plot reminiscent of On the Town, another Kelly collaboration with Stanley Donen. The songs aren't much, but highlights include the three GIs' trash-can-lid dance, Cyd Charisse's solo supported by a crew of boxers, and Kelly's number on roller skates, "I Like Myself." Ziegfeld Follies (1946) follows the format of a revue, with a wisp of a plot (producer Florenz Ziegfeld is in heaven imagining his dream revue; he's played by William Powell, who had played the character 10 years earlier in The Great Ziegfeld) and a bunch of diverse musical numbers: Fred Astaire's dances with Charisse, Lucille Bremer, and Gene Kelly (their only screen collaboration till That's Entertainment II in 1976); a water number with Esther Williams; and songs by Judy Garland, Lena Horne, and Kathryn Grayson. Also following the revue format is Till the Clouds Roll By (1946), which features famous performances by Frank Sinatra ("Ol' Man River"), Lena Horne ("Can't Help Lovin' That Man"), and Judy Garland ("Look for the Silver Lining"). Interspersed among the numbers is a lackluster biography of songwriter Jerome Kern. For a more traditional songwriter biography, try Three Little Words (1950), starring Astaire and Red Skelton as Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby, respectively, whose Tin Pan Alley and Broadway songs include "Who's Sorry Now," "My Sunny Tennessee," "I Wanna Be Loved by You," and the title tune. Vera-Ellen is an excellent partner for Astaire, and a young Debbie Reynolds appears as Boop-a-Doop girl Helen Kane.
All the discs are supplemented by new featurettes and classic shorts and cartoons. Deserving special mention is Till the Clouds Roll By, which has been available for years on inferior public-domain DVDs. This version has the best picture by far, and also offers musical outtakes by Judy Garland and Kathryn Grayson. --David Horiuchi
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The absolute gem (again IMHO) however is the Oscar and Grammy winning songwriter of Mary Poppins, Chitty, Chitty Bang Bang and so many more Richard M Sherman. Mr Sherman's thoughts about Jerome Kern (Till the Clouds Roll By) and Kalmar & Ruby (Three Little Words)go much further than the normal "college professors" on other DVDs. As those two movies are about songwriters...who better than one of the all time greats to comment and frankly he seems to be much more than a hired gun , but an actual fan of these writers and very familiar with their work, lives and the movies in question...raising the bar substantially due to his participation.
No where is this more evident than in this new boxed set of stellar favorites from Warner Home Video, which is todays 'tiffany' of video labels. Nobody does it better. The care, cleverness & dedication they put into their classic releases is abundant, and each film in this set has been given a sparkling new transfer and is loaded with extras, as is the Warner style.
Not only do you get Judy & Gene in the charming SUMMER STOCK, climaxing with GET HAPPY, but you also get those two and a dozen more Metro stars in the dazzling ZIEGFELD FOLLIES. Gene Kelly's final collaboration with Stanley Donen as co-directors, is the magnificent gem IT'S ALWAYS FAIR WEATHER, with a witty screenplay by Comden & Green, and knockout performances from the entire cast including Cyd Charisse. At last this comes to DVD in 16x9 widescreen with 5.1 audio, and outtakes too! Astaire and Red Skelton team in THREE LITTLE WORDS, which is probably the best and most delightful "composer-bio" ever to come out of Hollywood. It's truthful to the real story of Kalmar and Ruby, and is a joyous blend of great songs and comedic fun. Last but certainly not least is the first legitimate DVD release of TILL THE CLOUDS ROLL BY, MGM's extravaganza built around the music of Jerome Kern. A huge roster of MGM talent is featured in great musical numbers that now finally look and sound terrific.
Although its heartbreaking that the MGM we once knew is no longer, and survives only as a 'label' owned by another studio, we film fans are so fortunate that the great MGM library ended up with the superbly talented folks at Warner Brothers.
New featurette Ziegfeld Follies: An Embarrassment of Riches
Vintage MGM Crime Does Not Pay short The Luckiest Guy in the World
2 classic MGM cartoons: The Hick Chick, Solid Serenade
Audio-only bonus: outtake songs If Swing Goes, I Go Too, This Heart of Mine and We Will Meet Again in Honolulu
Ziegfeld movies trailer gallery
Till the Clouds Roll By
New featurette Till the Clouds Roll By: Real to Reel
Vintage Fitzpartick Traveltalk short Glimpses of California
Classic MGM Tex Avery cartoon Henpecked Hoboes
Two musical outtake sequences: Judy Garland performing D'Ya Love Me? and Music in the Air (I've Told Ev'ry Little Star/The Song is You) performed by Kathryn Grayson and Johnny Johnston
Three Little Words
New featurette Three Little Words: It's All True
Vintage Fitzpatrick Traveltalk short Roaming Through Michigan
Classic MGM Tex Avery cartoon Ventriloquist Cat
Audio-only bonus: Paula Stone's Hollywood USA radio promo featuring Fred Astaire & Harry Ruby
New featurette Summer Stock: Get Happy!
Classic MGM cartoon The Cuckoo Clock
Vintage Pete Smith Specialty Short Did'ja Know?
Audio-only bonus: outtake song Fall in Love
It's Always Fair Weather
New featurette It's Always Fair Weather: Going Out on a High Note
3 outtake musical numbers: The Binge/Trashcan Dance (alternate takes), Jack and the Space Giants (with Michael Kidd), Love Is Nothing but a Racket (with Gene Kelly & Cyd Charisse)
Two segments from The MGM Parade featuring Cyd Charisse and Gene Kelly
2 classic MGM cartoons: Deputy Droopy, Good Will to Men
Audio-only bonus: I Thought They'd Never Leave outtake featuring Dolores Grey's unused vocal
Three Little Words (1950) - I enjoyed this film the most. I think Astaire and Skelton complemented each other wonderfully. I was wondering how Skelton would work teamed up with Astaire, but he holds his own quite well. Supposedly it is the story of songwriting team Bert Kalmar (Fred Astaire) and Harry Ruby (Red Skelton), and I am not sure how close to the truth this story is, but the film is everything you expect in an MGM musical of this period, great music and good comedy. Hermes Pan, who did so much of the choreography in Astaire's RKO films, does the dance numbers here, and they are quite polished. It is quite humorous how the film works the hobbies of Kalmar and Ruby - magic and baseball, respectively - into the storyline.
Summer Stock (1950) - One of those "let's put on a show" MGM musicals, and Judy Garland's last starring role at MGM before being fired. Judy is trying to make a go of the family farm when her sister (Gloria De Haven) shows up with her beau (Gene Kelly) and her entire theatrical troupe. She has generously donated the farm as the locale for the troupe's next show, without getting Judy's permission of course. Eventually little sister decides she is destined for better things than "summer stock" and runs off with the show's star. Now the show has to find someone to take her place...who do you think they pick?
Till The Clouds Roll By (1946) - This is a pretty good biopic/musical involving the life and music of Jerome Kern (Robert Walker). Warner Home Video has restored this film to its former glory versus the really bad copies in circulation in the public domain. Unlike most MGM musicals, this film separates the main characters in the film (Walker as Kern and Van Heflin as Kern's mentor James Hessler) from the performers, who amount to MGM's biggest musical stars of the day performing Kern's music culminating in Frank Sinatra singing "Old Man River" from Showboat. Another highlight is Judy Garland as Marilyn Miller performing various numbers from "Sally". Again, you have to suspend your beliefs on the true facts of Kern's life.
It's Always Fair Weather (1955) - The age of the big MGM musical production was beginning to wind down by the time this film was made. It has more story to it than most MGM musicals, revolving around three G.I. buddies and their vow in 1945 to meet in a particular bar ten years later. They all keep their word and keep the date, but each is vastly disappointed in how the other two have turned out and initially have nothing much to say to each other. There's some interesting commentary here on life in the 50's and in particular the early days of TV and advertising's place in it. Gene Kelly is entertaining as always, but I was really surprised by Dan Dailey's talent as the ad executive that comes to a startling self-realization at an inopportune time and does quite a performance dancing and singing about his plight.
Ziegfeld Follies (1946) - The premise of this film is that Ziegfeld (with William Powell reprising his role) is in heaven thinking of his dream revue, with the rest of the movie just a playing out of that dream revue. It involves the big musical and comedy stars of MGM putting on a show of their various capabilities, and for all intents and purposes could be renamed "The Hollywood Revue of 1946" for those familiar with the original from 1929 which basically had the same purpose. Of course, technology has advanced considerably over the ensuing 17 years, but there are still some missteps. Basically, the musical numbers are good, but the comedy skits that punctuate them fall very flat and detract from the entire film. The highlight for me was seeing Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly perform together in a number. The musical numbers make this an above average film, but just barely.
Someone else has already gone over the extras, which are many, so I won't mention them once again. All in all a very enjoyable set for anyone who is a fan of the MGM musicals of the 40's and 50's with all of the extras I've come to expect from Warner Home Video. They certainly know their audience.
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