Fulvue Drive-In.com
Current Reviews
In Stores Soon
In Stores Now
DVD Reviews, SACD Reviews Essays Interviews Contact Us Meet the Staff
An Explanation of Our Rating System Search  
Category:    Home > Reviews > Musical > Drama > Religion > Show Business > Comedy > Backstage > Singing > Dancing > Biopic > Great Depress > Warner 20 Film Collection: Musicals (1927 - 1988/DVD Set)

Warner 20 Film Collection: Musicals (1927 - 1988/DVD Set)


Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: C+     Films: B



For their 90th anniversary, Warner Bros. is issuing several genre-oriented DVD box sets with 20 films from their catalog they think exemplifies the genre over the decades.  Here, we get to look at their set for Musicals that comes from two of the three big major movie studio catalogs they own.


Warner broke sound into the industry and it not only made them into a major studio permanently, but gave them the leg up on Musicals over every studio in town including MGM and Paramount, who had the most extravagant films around.  Warner’s films, including their Musicals, would have a darker edge and comparatively more realism.  They also had some classic songs in their many hit Musicals, though ironically, those songs are now more known for being sung by their Looney Tunes & Merrie Melodies characters like Bugs Bunny and Tweety than the stars that were making millions of dollars for them and for themselves.


Warner not only has all of their motion pictures, that also own all the MGM films up to 1986 and virtually all the RKO films ever made.  However, despite classics like Top Hat and so many more, this set omits that studio’s entire output, so Warner has instead chosen to mix MGM and Warner films for this collection.  Some may note other omissions like My Fair Lady (1964) which they produced and distributed, but rights have reverted back to stage owners CBS (you can see our Blu-ray coverage elsewhere on this site) so that is why it is not in this set.


Of course, the whole set could have been warner-only releases, especially when you consider they made so many other musicals.  Auntie Mame and Gypsy immediately come to mind as later examples, while films included here might be pushing it like Wizard Of Oz (not completely a Musical by the definition of the genre) and Viva Las Vegas (a so-called ‘Elvis Musical’ and one of the few good films he made as such formula films nearly ruined his entire career and legacy before his 1968 comeback) and not even including Rock Musicals, Warner’s catalog is rich with many choices, but the set it what it is.


As we go down the list, links will be included when we have covered a given film before and in a few cases, alternate versions.  Overall, this is a nice, comprehensive set but it is a shame a Blu-ray version is not available.



We start with the original Jazz Singer (1927) which we just covered on Blu-ray at this link:




That includes a further link to the DVD box set we covered a few years ago and this set only includes the first DVD of that release.  The Al Jolson film is still considered racist due to his blackface moments, but it broke in sound and made the genre possible, even if it is not totally a sound film.  Nice transfer too.




MGM’s Broadway Melody (1929) was the first of several such backstage musicals that hit big for the studio, including a Best Picture Academy Award as two best friends (Anita Page, Bessie Love) try to break into what is an obvious clone of the Ziegfeld Follies and it is a comical look at showbiz life with plenty of sarcasm, one-liner gags and big production numbers with some classic songs.  Charles King also stars in this surprisingly enduring classic that is still very entertaining.  You can read about some of the follow-up films (Broadway Melody Of 1936 and Broadway Melody Of 1938) in this great third DVD volume of Classics From The Dream Factory issued by Warner at this link:





Warner had their own success on the same level with 42nd Street (1933) that also includes choreography by Busby Berkeley, the studio’s very talented in-house genius who made the Warner musicals as grand as any studio around, as well as dark and even bizarre on occasion, but this one also holds up very well with its own wit and look at backstage show business.  Warner Baxter, George Brent, Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell are among the legendary names that made this a Depression-era classic and cemented Warner’s position as a premiere factory for Musicals.



MGM upped the idea of making a film in the genre by combining it with a biopic (biographical film) with The Great Ziegfeld (1936) telling the actual story of the legendary producer (played here by William Powell) from his early days doing sideshows at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1896 to making big production on Broadway a permanent phenomenon.  Running 3 hours, it is a bit long, but with co-stars like Myrna Loy, Luise Rainer, Ray Bolger and Fanny Brice (sometimes the stars play themselves); it works more often than not and is worth revisiting when you have the energy.



Of course, Bolger did even better for himself in The Wizard Of Oz (1939) which did not do well when it first came out, but as you know everyone caught up with it.  Also issued on Blu-ray (including in a nice limited edition gift box; DVD boxes were also issued), we covered the latest DVD edition at this link:




This set only includes the single fist DVD, but we all know it takes more than that to cover this film.



Proving he could play more than gangsters, James Cagney played George M. Cohan in Michael Curtiz’s Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) at warner Bros. which also combined the Musical with the Biopic and another big hit resulted.  Made in black and white (yes, those other copies were hideous colorized editions since banished (for good we hope)) was a change of pace some thought Cagney could not pull off.  He did and it made him a legend.  It can also be long and a bit predictable, but it has some great music and slid moments making it more than worth revisiting.



Back at MGM, the rise of Gene Kelly was in full swing and Vincente Minnelli’s An American In Paris (1951) was a smash hit with its dramatic tale punctuated by amazing musical numbers that tend to take place in a hyper-reality that goes beyond the storyline.  Leslie Caron (also in MGM’s Gigi, a candidate for this set that did not make it) co-stars with a fine cast and many extra dancers that represented the peak of the original cycle of the genre before the 1950s saw it continue, but often in either larger remakes or deconstructive variants.



In that respect, MGM has made Show Boat several times, but Warner has included the 1952 George Sidney version with Ava Gardner, Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel that tones down but cannot get away from the racial issues the work has always had.  Along with Jazz Singer, this is the most difficult of the films to watch for that reason from the slaves being a little too happy to pick cotton to other odd moments you have to see to believe.  There are classic songs here too, but this remake is sometimes still born as compared to similar variants in other MGM films of the hit.



Stanley Donen teamed up with Gene Kelly for Singin’ In The Rain (1952) which is a tale of Hollywood going from the silent to sound era, is a comedy and includes many past classic MGM hit songs including the ever-present tune that became the title of this film.  Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor also have some prime moments co-starring, but everyone is good here and for many, this has become the greatest musical ever because it grasped the essence of what made the genre come alive to begin with.  I may not think it is the greatest, but it is up there and has aged very well.



The producers of Seven Brides For Seven Brothers (1954) had Donen direct and wanted to take the same approach in using songs from the past for the cast to sing, but Donen got Johnny Mercer (hitmaker and founder of Capitol Records) to write new songs and they are not bad, but the film tends to be slow and a little belabored despite good work from Jane Powell, Howard Keel and choreographer Michael Kidd (Oklahoma!) tries to bring this to life.  It has always been a mixed bag for me and still is, but maybe having to shoot it at 1.33 X 1 as well as in this CinemaScope version that is the one that was released hurt the production’s energy.  Either way, it was a hit and MGM keep the genre going in despite it showing serious wear.



George Cukor has made A Star Is Born twice before he did this CinemaScope version with Judy Garland in 1954 for Warner and it was a big hit, though Garland was counting on it to be her comeback and not winning the Best Actress Academy Award shocked more than a few (Groucho Marx called it the greatest robbery since The Brinks Job) but was a tour de force and groundbreaking widescreen film also made in CinemaScope.  It has been issued in a terrific Blu-ray and we covered the DVD set included in this box set at this link:





Less Musicals were being made by 1962 as TV and Rock Music kicked in, bit Warner felt the 1957 stage hit The Music Man could work as a film and they were right.  With Robert Preston playing the title role as he had on stage, the film was long, but a hit.  We covered the Blu-ray edition at this link:





George Sidney continued to make films well after the 1952 Show Boat remake and one of them was Viva Las Vegas (1963), one of the few Elvis Presley Musicals that did not make him look trapped in a formula.  We reviewed the Blu-ray at this link:





Warner hired Joshua Logan to make a three-hour film out of Camelot (1967) with Richard Burton, Vanessa Redgrave, David Hemming, Franco Nero, Lionel Jeffreys and Lawrence Naismith among others and the result was a hit, but one that did not always work or justify its length.  Still, it was a hit and haunted by one event that happened since the stage version opened in 1960, the Assassination of JFK.  Slow and sometimes too set-bound, it is worth seeing once just to see what works, but have patience and energy because you’ll need it.


Burton reprised the role for a 1982 taping I liked more that you can read more about at this link:





Mel Stewart’s Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (1971) despite some watering down of the original Roald Dahl book remains superior to the hit Tim Burton/Johnny Depp remake and we reviewed the Blu-ray edition at this link:





Paramount originally issued the film, but Warner now has the rights, something that also happened with Bob Fosse’s film of Cabaret (1972) which was originally an Allied Artists film (co-produced with ABC Films) whose rights bounced around for a while (Fox reissued it in theaters at one point) but it has only recently been restored and issued on Blu-ray.  This is an older DVD pressing with some extras that features Liza Minnelli as singer Sally Bowles, Joel Grey as the Master of Ceremonies sometimes joining her at a popular club in Germany at its pre-Nazi peak and as the Nazis start to slowly take over the country.


Like Gene Kelly, Fosse was bringing in a new style to Musicals it needed badly and is now a permanent part of its language (as the films All That Jazz and recent hit Chicago prove) in one of the darkest and most ironic of all backstage musicals.  Also a remedy of sorts to The Sound Of Music (1965, reviewed on Blu-ray elsewhere on this site), Michael York is impressive as Bowles’ love interest and a stylized recreation of Pre-WWII Germany as counterculture makes the film as relevant as ever.



Actually nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award, That's Entertainment (1974) is a documentary hosted by some of Hollywood’s biggest names looking at the Musical legacy of MGM.  It became a trilogy and we looked at all three films in the now-defunct HD-DVD format (they’ve since been issued on Blu-ray in the same HD masters) at this link:





Though known by the 1980s for his comedies, Blake Edwards’ Victor/Victoria (1982) was a much-needed hit for the newly formed MGM/UA and featured Julie Andrews as a woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman in a good, but overrated Musical Comedy that hit a nerve and along with Tootsie the same year had transgendered roles a surprise trend.  Robert Preston, Leslie Ann Down and James Garner are also here, but this was more of a hit and miss film for me despite Andrews now looking like Annie Lennox and I can at least say it has aged well for what does work.



Based on a 1960 black & white B-movie with Jack Nicholson, David Geffen turned Little Shop Of Horrors (1986) into a period comedy about Skid Row, the 1960s and music styles of the time with Rick Moranis dealing with man-eating plants from outer space.  There are some star turns (Steve Martin and John Candy work) as well as some star singing (Levi Stubbs of The Four Tops), but this too was hit and miss for me and never cohered for me.  Frank Oz did a decent directing job, but it is only so memorable.



Finally we have John Waters’ Hairspray (1988) which is really more of a soundtrack-driven non-musical versus the 2007 film of the all out stage musical we covered on Blu-ray at this link:




The original version is more successful at capturing and doing something with 1960s culture than Little Shop, though I like the 2007 film better and wonder why it was not included instead.  The story of how Tracy (a young Ricky Lake) becomes accepted in a society on the verge of change is as valuable now as ever and acting turns by Debbie Harry, Ruth Brown, Jerry Stiller and soul legend Ruth Brown help this original film endure.  By this time, only Westerns were more of a dead genre and either way, Warner has found an appropriate title to end the set on.




The DVDs look about as good as they can, though a few are older and could look better.  Cabaret’s 1.85 X 1 image is letterboxed unfortunately, but all the widescreen films from the CinemaScope films to date are anamorphically enhanced.  The 1.33 X 1 black and white films (all films to 1942, save Oz) look as good as they are going to in this format and come from decent prints thanks to the care Ted Turner took with them when he owned the catalog.  All the full color films from Oz to Cabaret (except Viva Las Vegas in MetroColor) were issued in three-strip, dye-transfer Technicolor and save Seven Brides (shot in AnscoColor and in a faded print here) and Show Boat (a transfer that is not refined) comes from pretty good prints.  All color films after also look good, if not with the color range of the earlier classics.


The lossy Dolby Digital sound on all the DVDs hold the films back a bit, with the monophonic films only in 1.0 Mono, but Oz, Rain, Brides, Star and all films after save Cabaret (this copy is only in 2.0 Stereo!) offer 5.1 mixes.


Extras include a nicely illustrated booklet on the films including brief informative text while every film offers a trailer.  Outside of extras repeated from our previously covered films with links, Melody adds Musical Shorts from MGM, 42nd Street has text on Berkeley and documentary shorts connected to the film, Ziegfeld adds a newsreel and making of featurette, Dandy adds a solid feature length audio commentary track by film scholar Rudy Behlmer, Technicolor Bugs Bunny cartoon, newsreels and vintage featurettes connected to the film, Paris has the classic Technicolor MGM cartoon Symphony In Slang, Paris On Parade Technicolor live action short from the FitzPatrick Traveltalks short and an amazing feature length audio commentary track that compiles audio interviews and new recordings with many people involved with the film, Rain has a similar commentary but more of the audio is newly recorded, Brothers has a trailer gallery for Stanley Donen films and detailed feature length audio commentary track by Donen himself, Music Man has a Shirley Jones into and making of featurette, Camelot has five trailers and two featurettes, Cabaret has four vintage featurettes (one documentary length), Victor has a feature length audio commentary track by Andrews & Edwards, Horrors a feature length audio commentary track by Director Frank Oz and Outtakes (though not the footage accidentally included in the first DVD pressings) and Hairspray a feature length audio commentary track by Waters and Lake.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


 Copyright © MMIII through MMX fulvuedrive-in.com