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Joe Libby

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Topsy Turvy [Import]
Topsy Turvy [Import]
VHS
4 used & new from CDN$ 6.10

5.0 out of 5 stars Simply Splendid, May 17 2000
This review is from: Topsy Turvy [Import] (VHS Tape)
If you don't like Gilbert and Sullivan, you should avoid TOPSY-TURVY; clocking in at about two hours and forty minutes, it would probably be a torturous experience. For everyone else, however, I give this movie my highest recommendation. TOPSY-TURVY concerns itself with a period during which Gilbert and Sullivan find themselves at a professional impasse. Their inability to agree on a suitable story for collaboration eventually leads to their most popular operetta, "The Mikado." Director Mike Leigh's object, however, is to tell the story behind the story; he lets us peek into the professional and personal lives of Sullivan, Gilbert, and the D'Oyly Carte Company. Jim Broadbent anchors the film with his tremendous performance as W.S. Gilbert; he is infuriating and arrogant, yet plagued with self doubt and even occasionally gentle. Alan Cordeneur does well as Arthur Sullivan, yet his performance is less involving and we don't get to know him that well; but perhaps that was the point. Leslie Manville is quite touching as Gilbert's long suffering wife, Kitty. The D'Oyly Carte performers are played with just the right combination of humanity and theatricality; in particular, Timothy Spall as Richard Temple (bewildered and hurt that his role as the Mikado might be whittled to almost nothing!) and Dorothy Atkinson, charming and alluring as Jessie Bond, are outstanding. There are generous musical excerpts from "The Mikado," "The Sorcerer," "Princess Ida," and Sullivan's non-Gilbert music. There is so much more worth praising in TOPSY-TURVY, but instead I'll just close by saying: DON'T MISS IT!

The Horn Blows at Midnight [Import]
The Horn Blows at Midnight [Import]
VHS
4 used & new from CDN$ 26.99

3.0 out of 5 stars No Classic, But Lots Of Fun, May 4 2000
For years, THE HORN BLOWS AT MIDNIGHT was the butt of numerous jokes on Jack Benny's radio show. Thanks to those jokes, the film has gained a terrible reputation in many circles. But in fact, while it doesn't rank as a classic, HORN is a highly entertaining comedy fantasy that is virtually a live action cartoon. When radio musician Benny falls asleep on the job, he dreams that he is an angel charged with blowing the trumpet that will signal Earth's demise. The well-meaning but naive angel is constantly sidetracked from his task by various mortals and a pair of fallen angels. The film is good natured silliness that in lesser hands could have been dismal. But Jack, Alexis Smith and their outstanding supporting cast (including Guy Kibbee, Reginald Gardener, Mike Mazurki, and Margaret Dumont) make the most of their opportunities and seem to be having a ball. Franklin Pangborn is a standout as a prissy hotel detective. Allan Joslyn and John Alexander make a good team as the fallen angels; interestingly, they had only a couple of years earlier costarred on Broadway in ARSENIC AND OLD LACE.

Abbott & Costello: Meet Keystone Cops [Import]
Abbott & Costello: Meet Keystone Cops [Import]
VHS

2.0 out of 5 stars Not Top Drawer, but Amusing, April 26 2000
Bud Abbott and Lou Costello were nearing the end of their reign as Universal's top comedians by the time MEET THE KEYSTONE KOPS was made, and it did indeed seem as if the bottom of the barrel were being scraped to find ideas for the boys' films. While hardly a classic, KEYSTONE KOPS at least has an interesting concept that appears to be partly inspired by Lou's early career as a movie stuntman. There is more slapstick than usual for A&C, and a few hair raising stunts, which is appropriate for a comedy set in Hollywood circa 1912. Fred Clark gives the film a real boost as a swindler turned movie director; he is an excellent foil for Bud and Lou. Comedy legend Mack Sennett makes a welcome and all too brief appearance as himself. Keep an eye out for veteran Keystone comedians Herold Goodwin, Hank Mann, and Heinie Conklin. Lou's daughter Carole does a brief bit with her dad at the beginning of the film. Recommended for kids, die hard A&C fans, and anyone wanting to relax with some nostalgic nonsense.

Show Boat
Show Boat
VHS
3 used & new from CDN$ 45.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Adaptation of a Theatrical Landmark, March 29 2000
This review is from: Show Boat (VHS Tape)
Jerome Kern's and Oscar Hammerstein's SHOWBOAT is a landmark Broadway musical. It was brought to the screen in 1936 by Universal Studios with most of it's drama, joy, and heartbreak intact. James Whale (BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, THE INVISIBLE MAN) might seem an odd choice for this project, yet his direction hits the mark: realistic and gritty when it needs to be, stylized and theatrical when it can afford to be. The film is blessed with a magnificent cast, most of whom had previously played their roles on stage: Irene Dunne played Magnolia in the 1927 touring company, Allan Jones appeared as Ravenal in summer stock, and Paul Robeson starred as Joe in the 1928 London production and then again in the 1932 Broadway revival. Charles Winninger, Helen Morgan, and the underrated Sammy White starred in the 1927 and 1932 Broadway productions and understand their characters thoroughly. White's eccentric dancing is hilarious and Morgan's turn as the tragic Julie may well have you fighting back tears. While some favorite songs are missing, three were written specifically for the movie; one of them,"I Have The Room Above Her," found it's way into the recent Broadway revival directed by Harold Prince. SHOWBOAT isn't perfect: Hammerstein's screenplay unnecessarily alters the final section of the story, and Irene Dunne's performance in blackface of "Gallivantin' Around" might possibly offend some in this day and age. But SHOWBOAT has so much to delight and engage the viewer that these minor flaws can, and should, be overlooked. By the way, keep an eye open for Eddie "Rochester" Anderson in the opening scenes.

Buster Keaton the Three a
Buster Keaton the Three a
VHS
3 used & new from CDN$ 97.47

4.0 out of 5 stars Surreal, Wacky Comedy!, Feb. 18 2000
THE THREE AGES is Buster Keaton's parody of D.W. Griffith's INTOLERANCE. Buster and Wallace Beery star as romantic rivals for the hand of pretty Margaret Leahy. The twist is that the story is told thrice by intercutting between three time periods: prehistoric, Ancient Rome, and Modern Times (1920's). The gags are fast and furious and many are truly surreal; highlights include caveman Buster attempting to woo Amazonian Blanche Payson, a Roman chariot race hindered by snow(!), and a beautifully constructed chase sequence with Buster escaping from a police station and inadvertantly returning there a few minutes later. The Kino source print has apparently been pieced together from the best available materials and with a few minor exceptions is sharp and clear. It also has a nicely done music score conducted by Robert Israel. As a sidenote, many filmographies list Oliver Hardy in the cast. The actor in question is in fact a near-Hardy lookalike named Kewpie Morgan.

Mikado/Sorcerer
Mikado/Sorcerer
Offered by Vanderbilt CA
Price: CDN$ 65.41
4 used & new from CDN$ 24.03

5.0 out of 5 stars Nothing Could Possibly Be More Satisfactory!, Feb. 15 2000
This review is from: Mikado/Sorcerer (Audio CD)
THE MIKADO is likely Gilbert and Sullivan's best loved operetta and it's heard here in a splendid recording. True, there is some surface noise, as this was originally released as a set of 78 rpm records, but the sound is sharp and clear and the surface noise doesn't distract. Best of all, this 1926 recording preserves superb musical performances by many members of the D'Oyly Carte Company (With one ad-libbed exception, there is no spoken dialogue). Henry Lytton (Koko), Leo Sheffield (Pooh Bah), and others (before or behind the microphones) had the good fortune to work with Gilbert and/or Sullivan, so we can assume the performances are generally faithful to the Savoy tradition. Also included is an abreviated 1933 recording of THE SORCERER. It's also an excellent recording, but only a few D'Oyly Carte principals appear. The comic lead of John Wellington Wells is taken by George Baker, a singer who was never a member of the DOC, but gives a performance worthy of any Savoyard (In the MIKADO section, he sings the role of Pish Tush). After hearing this "highlights" version of THE SORCERER, you may well wonder why it isn't staged more often.

Laurel & Hardy: From the Forties Forward
Laurel & Hardy: From the Forties Forward
by Scott MacGillivray
Edition: Paperback
16 used & new from CDN$ 7.36

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Book and Long Overdue, Jan. 27 2000
Stan Laurel and Babe Hardy didn't have many good things to say about their Fox and MGM films of the 1940's. So the legend has persisted that these films, with a couple of possibleexceptions, are unspeakable horrors and hardly worth the trouble of taking them out of the film can. Of course, at the big movie "factories," the boys were denied the kind of creative freedom they had enjoyed at the Hal Roach Studios, and their work suffered accordingly. But the time has finally come for a reevaluation of these later films. Scott MacGillivray has done just that in FROM THE FORTIES FORWARD. While Scott doesn't shy away from criticizing the weaknesses, he demonstrates that these films are frequently much better than their reputations would lead you to believe. There is also excellent coverage of Stan and Babe's European tours, the Robert Youngson compilations, the sometimes maze-like process of film reissues, and Laurel and Hardy on television. An essential book for Laurel and Hardy fans, and an excellent companion piece to both THE MAGIC BEHIND THE MOVIES and LAUREL OR HARDY.

Cocoanuts [Import]
Cocoanuts [Import]
VHS
2 used & new from CDN$ 27.49

4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and Historically Significant, Jan. 12 2000
This review is from: Cocoanuts [Import] (VHS Tape)
THE COCOANUTS is historically significant as one of the first all-talking, all-singing musical films. It's also significant for unleashing the Marx Brothers onto the movie going public. THE COCOANUTS gave filmgoers a taste of what had Broadway audiences rolling in the aisle and while the film suffers from the static production typical of early musicals, it remains very entertaining thanks to the brothers' anarchic comedy. Director Robert Florey did use some innovative camera shots to help overcome the staginess (i.e. part of Chico's piano solo is shot head-on through the raised piano lid; a novel touch at the time). For many years, THE COCOANUTS was only available in generally awful prints with muddy soundtracks; recently portions of the film in mint condition have come to light, so while it's not a complete restoration, the film looks and sounds better than it has in years. For all it's faults, including an oddly forgettable Irving Berlin score, THE COCOANUTS still provides plenty of laughs.

Buck Privates
Buck Privates
VHS
Offered by vidsale
Price: CDN$ 19.49
5 used & new from CDN$ 3.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Your In The Army Now!, Jan. 9 2000
This review is from: Buck Privates (VHS Tape)
Made for peanuts, BUCK PRIVATES was a tremendous hit for Universal studios and firmly established Abbott and Costello as movie stars. Bud and Lou's routines are among their best; indeed, the film is really not much more than a string of burlesque routines held together by a simple plotline. "The Dice Game," "The Drill Routine," "You're 40, She's 10," and several others burlesque bits are here to keep you laughing. The romantic triangle plot is rather forgettable, although one can certainly understand why both Lee Bowman and Alan Curtis are pursuing lovely Jane Frazee. The Andrews Sisters contribute some great songs, including the immortal "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy." Dated but still very entertaining, BUCK PRIVATES delivered just what the movie going public needed in 1941. And it still delivers today.

Bonnie Scotland
Bonnie Scotland
VHS
5 used & new from CDN$ 15.00

4.0 out of 5 stars Hoot mon!, Jan. 8 2000
This review is from: Bonnie Scotland (VHS Tape)
While BONNIE SCOTLAND doesn't qualify as a classic, it's still lots of fun for Laurel and Hardy fans. The film's main problem is it's uncomfortable grafting of the boy's comedy onto a melodramatic B-picture storyline. June Lang and William Janney are the romantic leads, but unfortunately their roles are rather shallow and unsympathetic. Thankfully, Stan and Ollie's scenes are good enough to keep the film moving and enjoyable. Highlights include the boys innocently wreaking havoc in a Scottish boarding house, their improvised dance to "One Hundred Pipers," and Stan's constant inability to keep in step with the rest of the Scottish army unit! There are also good comic moments from James Finalyson, Mary Gordon and diminutive Daphne Pollard (hilarious as a cockney chambermaid). The picture and sound on this video transfer are sharp and clear.

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