The availability of a second collection of films of the charming Alice Faye is welcome. It seems that a new generation are discovering this quality performer and actress and this DVD collection is a worthy valentine to her legacy. Faye's films tended to follow a proven box office formula. She was quoted in later life as drily stating that they merely rotated her leading men as she constantly remade the same story. These films certainly support that view as all the cliches are on view, each with their own twist.
- first off is the 1939 "Rose of Washington Square". This is a dramatic musical with a more gutsy part for Faye than usual and an excellent role for matinee idol Tyrone Power as a heel. The story was based on the life of "Funny Girl" Fanny Brice who sued the studio for plagiarism. Al Jolson, as Faye's vaudeville buddy, and Faye sing superbly. The film was severely edited before release and many of the cut scenes survive, some of which have been included here.
- next, also released in 1939, is the technicolour romantic comedy "Hollywood Cavalcade". This is a nostalgic look at the coming of talkies, a Reader's Digest potted history of Hollywood, with Faye's role based loosely on, among others, Mabel Normand, a silent screen comedian, and Don Ameche on Mack Sennett, a silent comedy director. The film is very well made with soft colouring and excellent performances by the leads but the director Irving Cummings, while meticulous, always directed at a plod. The best scenes are the Keystone Cop comedy recreations, not directed by Cummings, before the films descends into the usual cliches with Faye neglected by her leading man and wearing her heart on her sleeve.
- in 1941, "The Great American Broadcast" adhered rigidly to the girl meets boy, girl loses boy, girl reunites with boy formula, this time set around the advent of radio. The plot is a rehash of "Alexander's Ragtime Band" stirred in with "Tin Pan Alley" with John Payne and Jack Oakie re-appearing from the latter film. While it may be flawed history, it is a mighty entertaining film. Faye's rendition of the war time Harry Warren lament "Where you are", backed by the Ink Spots, is memorable and the Nicholas Brothers are in there too, performing a breathtaking dance as usual.
- in 1943, "Hello Frisco Hello", one of Faye's best remembered films, was released. A period musical rich in familiar and, in this case, particularly tiresome plot cliches, it benefits from spectacular colour, great production values, superb sound and Faye herself, slim, radiant, warm and sympathetic. This is the film in which she mesmerised the audience with her signature tune "You'll Never Know", but there are other goodies like "The Grizzly Bear" and "Pick on me". John Payne and Jack Oakie are with her for the third time, the former as a very stiff and humorless leading man and the latter for some hokey overacted comedy.
- the inclusion in the set of the lousy war time propaganda film "Four Jills in a Jeep" is hard to fathom, unless you view it as a sort of bonus. This boring musical traces the factual trip by 4 second rate stars to entertain the boys at the front. Most of the musical numbers are dull with wooden Dick Haymes, loud Martha Raye and voluptuous Carole Landis, among others. One highlight is the athletic dancing of Mitzi Mayfair. Faye makes a guest appearance reprising "You'll Never Know". She seems reserved.
With all the entertaining films available to include in the package, "Four Jills in Jeep" is a rotten choice. It also should be pointed out that "Hollywood Cavalcade" is not a musical, given that this set is another of Fox's "Marquee Musicals". The film certainly has the feel of one with a delightful soundtrack of old favourites supporting the melodrama but Faye does not sing.
The set has been beautifully packaged. All of the prints have been restored and are in great condition and the 2 technicolour prints are outstanding. Every film has its own documentary, not only focusing on Faye and her colleagues but on the historical aspects of the yarns - Fanny Brice for "Rose", the advent of radio for "Broadcast", the history of Hollywood for "Cavalcade" and USO tours for "Jills". Each of the films with Faye as the lead hit a bullseye at the box office. "Frisco" has a charming featurette on Faye herself and her daughter Alice appears, as well as Michael Feinstein and Hugh Hefner among others.
All the usual marketing material is included such as theatrical trailers, on set stills and advertising. In fact my only complaint is that Faye's exquisite rendition of "I'll see you in my dreams" is not among the deleted numbers from "Rose". A colourful booklet comes in the box, devoting 2 pages of anecdotes and background information to each film. This nicely complements the featurettes on each DVD. Lastly, "Rose", "Jills" and "Frisco" have audio only tracks. You can view the films with the original studio recordings matched carefully to what is on the screen without dialogue interruption etc - a very neat feature.
The DVD set is excellent value and with the documentaries, the modern viewer will begin to understand just what an important star Alice Faye was and that her contribution to American pop music was huge in her heyday.