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Category:    Home > Reviews > Musical > Comedy > Biopic > Romance > Backstage Musical > Tap Dancing > Baseball > Fantasy > Opera > Rock > Bi > Annie Get Your Gun (1950/MGM*)/Broadway Melody Of 1940 (MGM*)/Damn Yankees (1958*)/The Great Caruso (1951/MGM/*all Warner Archive Blu-rays)/Mean Man: The Story Of Chris Holmes (2020/Cleopatra**)/Chris

Annie Get Your Gun (1950/MGM*)/Broadway Melody Of 1940 (MGM*)/Damn Yankees (1958*)/The Great Caruso (1951/MGM/*all Warner Archive Blu-rays)/Mean Man: The Story Of Chris Holmes (2020/Cleopatra**)/Chris Squire: Fish Out Of Water (1975/Atlantic Records/Cherry Red U.K./Esoteric Recordings/**both MVD Blu-ray)

Picture: B+/B/B/B/B+/B- Sound: B-/C+/C+/B-/B/B Extras: C+/C/C-/C+/C/B Main Programs: C+/B-/B-/C+/B/B-

PLEASE NOTE: The Annie Get Your Gun, Broadway Melody Of 1940, Damn Yankees and Great Caruso Blu-rays are now only available from Warner Bros. through their Warner Archive series and can be ordered from the links below.

Here are some great music releases, from musicals to biographies to biopics and more...

George Sidney's Annie Get Your Gun (1950) took a while to get made, but it was one of MGM's biggest musical productions of the time as the Classical Hollywood Musical was peaking, telling the (exaggerated a bit?) tale of legendary shooting expert Annie Oakley and how she became a worldwide star. Featuring the music of Irving Berlin, including a few classics like There's No Business Like Show Business and Doin' What Comes Natur'lly, it is an energetic biopic and Rogers and Hammerstein actually helped with the stage production before going off on their own in one of the most prolific runs in musical history.

So any problems with the film? The casting works, including Howard Keel, Louis Calhern, Keenan Wynn, J. Carrol Naish and Edward Arnold. The money is on the screen, including lush three-strip Technicolor and the costumes and sets to match. The sound recording of the time was as state of the art as it got (stereo was about to surface, though) and the cast has chemistry. So anything left? Yes. Its portrayal of Native Americans is hideous and all over the place, which is why it was pulled from circulation in 1973 until its 2000 home video release. It is a problem when Judy Garland (who left for health reasons) and Frank Morgan (who died during production) made it and it continues to be so here, much like all versions of Show Boat have their racism issues. Thus, it is a marred work of cinema that has its moments, but will not be easy for many to watch. Outside of that, the film still has biopic limitations that limit the biography and paint the lead unrealistically in some saintly terms. Otherwise, it is worth a look if you can overlook its issues.

Extras include several outtakes (many with the film footage intact) of Judy Garland's original work on the film before she dropped out, all remarkable, some Betty Hutton outtakes (in stereo), a 2000 DVD intro by legendary TV soap opera actress Susan Lucci for the film at a time she played Annie in a hit Broadway revival and an Original Theatrical Trailer.

By the time Fred Astaire made Norman Taurog's The Broadway Melody Of 1940 at MGM, he was one of the biggest movie stars in the world and his series of dance musicals with Ginger Rogers at RKO were legendary. His contract at RKO was over at this time and MGM was still the top Hollywood studio, known for lavish musicals like no other. One of their top stars was the amazing dander, tap dancer and actress Eleanor Powell, so the pairing of the two was bound to cause a stir and it did.

Astaire plays a performer who gets a job unexpectedly that leads to him meeting a successful dancer and singer (powell) and a courtship ensues, set to the music of Cole Porter, used to fine effect here. Whether together, on their own or otherwise (Astaire and George Murphy have a comical early number) work so well and there has just been always something between Astaire and Porter's work (as in Donen's Funny Face (1956) that just meld together so well. Astaire and Powell have excellent chemistry together and their numbers together are amazing. This is my favorite musical here and on the list of titles we covered this time out and is a must-see for all fans of serious musical, dance, vocal and music films. Frank Morgan leads the rest of the solid supporting cast.

Extras include (in low definition, 1.33 X 1) the hilarious Our Gang short film The Big Premiere in which the gang try to make a movie so they can have a glamorous premiere like the big Hollywood stars (the camera cannot do sound, so they have to fill that in too, along with not knowing how to handle concrete!) that has aged well, the great Ann Miller hosts the featurette Cole Porter: In Hollywood: Begin The Beguine, the beautiful Technicolor MGM animated cartoon short The Milky Way and an Original Theatrical Trailer.

George Abbott and Stanley Donen's Damn Yankees (1958) was a huge stage musical hit when the Hollywood Musical was starting to go into decline. The story is an odd one, a fantasy comedy that combines baseball and satanism (not a stretch since baseball always has come with some superstitions) but sometimes, a film is so odd, you cannot believe it as you watch, though having two directors (including Donen, just coming off of his brilliant Funny Face with Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn) but having an odd density that would foreshadow the non-musical TV sitcom.

The film opens as an older husband (ignoring his wife) is watching the latest New York Yankees game on his big black and white analog TV (color had barely been invented, so it is a sort of separate world from the color of the film, as we see a few times) and wishes he was young again so he could help them win. Suddenly, he becomes young (now played by Tab Hunter) and becomes a new national baseball star out of nowhere. How? Well, the intervention of The Devil himself (played with glee by the great Ray Walston, who would later stretch the possibilities of the TV sitcom as the title character in the hit TV sitcom My Favorite Martian, reviewed elsewhere on this site) with the help of a perfect seductress (the dynamic Gwen Verdon in her early prime) named Lola.

Add the stunning choreography by Bob Fosse (isn't that him in that one scene?) and you get as faithful an adaptation as possible, which also serves as more of a time capsule of the time than expected. So on the one hand, the 111 minutes covers all the bases (ha ha) it needs to in the plotting and story, but it also has the problem of some of the ideas being obvious and repetitive, like some lesser pre-All In The Family sitcoms (Jean Stapleton is actually here in a hilarious supporting turn) get long and drawn out with their obviousness (which led to two of the worst TV comedy series ever: My Mother The Car and Me And The Chimp) means it is the songs, acting and dancing that help lift this above some other issues.

The result is a mixed bag showing how the feature film version of the musical was getting played out (and not just because of the arrival of Rock N Roll music) but also pointed to new possibilities we would see later. This one is worth a good look, no matter what you land up thinking of it.

An Original Theatrical Trailer is the only extra.

Richard Thorpe's The Great Caruso (1951) takes singer Mario Lanza (a hugely successful singer of the time critically and commercially, singing opera (!!!) at the time) and rightly casts him as the legendary Enrico Caruso, who Lanza loved and is still considered one of the greatest opera singers of all time. It is a biopic, but with 27 songs, it is also enough of a Backstage Musical that it counts as a musical just the same.

Ann Blyth plays his love interest (the film was based on a book by Caruso's wife) and it is what you would expect, done with some serious money, Technicolor values and a pace that works just well enough to save it from convention. Opera fans will always consider it a film that keeps the art alive, though we now see operas coming out on disc every month, keeping opera alive in the face of new music (Rock was on the way) is always an ambition of this high art and the film honors it as well as it can in its 109 minutes.

Lanza is convincing and the supporting cast is good, but the story is what you would expect and not much more, plus we do not know what the film had to exclude from the book because of censorship of the time., However, none of that could have amounted to any great scandals. Despite the lack of depth in telling the true story, it is worth a look and opera fans will say more so.

Extras includes an Original Theatrical Trailer and featurette Mario Lanza: Singing To The Gods that shows us his massive recording career and why he was the only choice at the time to play Caruso.

A chaotic but fun film centered on the life of legendary W.A.S.P guitarist Chris Holmes, Mean Man: The Story of Chris Holmes (2020) paints an interesting portrait of the musician who is a has been in the rock world of America, but is given a new opportunity in Cannes, France to start over from scratch with a new band. The film tells of Holmes' famous years and the ones that were not so much, and is ultimately a cinematic piece that is aimed at inspiration for those who dare to dream to hold a spot in the music industry.

The film features Holmes himself along with Pierre-Anthony Allard, Catherine-Sarah Holmes, Dani Filth, Scott Ian, Johnny Rob, Gian Zamparelli, Bob Nalbandian, and is directed by Antoine de Montremy and written by Laurent Hart.

Special Features:

Trailer, Image Slideshow and Bonus Footage.

Last but definitely not least, a Blu-ray audio edition of the first solo album of one of the greatest bassists, musicians and vocalists in Rock music history, the co-founder of the greatest of all Progressive Rock music: Yes. Chris Squire: Fish Out Of Water (1975) arrived as the band was releasing their most epic album, Tales From Topographic Oceans, a double album with four sides, each side a single song. Like all great bands, some of its members have material that just do not make the group's actual albums and this is an example of that. The five tracks that makes up this release include:

1. Hold Out Your Hand

2. You By My Side

3. Silently Falling

4. Lucky Seven

5. Safe (Canon Song)

Though Yes members Bill Bruford and Patrick Moraz appear on some of the tracks here, it is still very much a solo album and gives you a chance to hear Squire singing on his own in a way that shows how big his contribution to Yes always was. The music also sounds like the band without sounding like a ripoff or lesser version (or imitator, of course) of the band and has the same love of music his work with the band does.

Though none of the songs are a standout for me, I always thought this was a decent album and is a bit underrated. Now that you can hear it with much higher resolution than ever before (save choice vinyl copies for fans of that format) that it deserves a second look and listen like many of Jon Anderson's solo works.

Also, it about time their solo work got the high resolution treatment the Yes catalog has received lately (though the Japanese Super Audio CD editions were hit and miss, the out of print Audio Fidelity version of Yes' Going For The One is amazing) and though produced by a separate entity, this region-free Blu-ray audio belongs on the same shelf as the several Yes concerts on Blu-ray, plus the remarkable Blu-ray audio editions of the classic Yes albums The Yes Album, Fragile, Going For The One and Relayer that are still in print and though unreviewed, are very highly recommended as well.

I also have to add that hearing Squire sing in such higher resolution shows that he deserves more credit as a singer as much as he does as being one of the all-time bassist. This Fish Out Of Water Blu-ray is more of the best evidence yet of that in his defense.

Extras include an illustrated booklet with lyrics, tech info and two essays, while the disc adds an audio commentary on the album (a world's first) by Squire that is longer than the album and additionally has him on camera, something we have only seen on a music video collection (Pat Benatar) resulting in a pleasant surprise, plus a vintage two-song film of Squire performing with a band and orchestra on full length versions of Hold Out Your Hand and You By My Side (color, 1.33 X 1) to promote the album. This makes for a nice package overall.

Now for playback performance. The 1080p 1.33 X 1 black & white digital High Definition image on Broadway has few flaws and looks as glossy and great as you would expect from an older MGM musical, from what looks like a new scan from the negative and offering detail and depth that make it all the more impressive to watch. The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 2.0 Mono lossless sound mix has been cleaned up and restored as well as possible, but it still shows its age in ways it cannot help. However, you can hear the dialogue and tapping well enough.

The 1080p 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Yankees can also show the age of the materials used in a few places, but the color is still fine and decent, though some moments (optical printing moments) are not always as rich, but at its best, this can look amazing. Despite being relatively a newer production, the DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 2.0 Mono lossless sound is a bit more compressed and limited than expected, so something might have happened to the sound or it was just recorded in an unusual way that has not aged well.

Both Annie and Caruso are 1080p 1.33 X 1 digital High Definition image transfers are also restorations that look great, especially for films that were major productions issued by MGM in dye-transfer, three-strip Technicolor prints, so the money was in these films along with superior uses of color throughout. Caruso has some fine demo shots, but Annie is the best performer of all releases on this list and its Technicolor is exceptional and stunning throughout with every scene either a stunner or even jaw-dropping. This looks amazing!

Both also offer DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 2.0 Mono lossless sound mixes, but they sound the best of the four theatrical monophonic releases here, well restored, preserved and as good as they ever will. The combinations in both cases are a real pleasure to take in.

By default, the menus on the Chris Squire Blu-ray is in 1080p 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition and montages of the album art play as you hear it, but the audio commentary on the album is here in the standard digital video it was shot in and the two song filmed music performances look like an HD master that could use a little work. Color is fine there and it looks the better of the two.

Of course, the sound is the main attraction here, with the album offered in four sonic versions. You get a new sound mix by Jakko Jakszyk, intended to bring out details and even unheard parts of the surviving soundmasters (24 and 48 tracks) for clarity nad posterity. The three mixes that result are PCM 2.0 96/24 Stereo, PCM 5.1 96/24 surround and DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 sound, all lossless. They all offer an alternate version of the album that will surprise fans who are used to the original album, yet despite the new details, still lack the kind of density and synergy you would get from the original album or any progressive rock music of the time, Yes included. Thus, the lossless PCM 2.0 96/24 Stereo version of the original album still sounds best and richest and most authentic. Sometimes new mixes work too, along side the original(s) and we have encountered that, but the new ones are not meant to supplant the original one.

Additionally, some albums are just not meant to be more than stereo, including albums up into the 1980s (Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones could never find a 5.1 mix for Thriller that they thought would work or sounded good, so they skipped it) and Squire was not around to do a 5.1 himself, so this is all the honest versions we will ever get or need of the album. When Universal released their audio only Blu-ray of Tears For Fears brilliant album Songs From The Big Chair (unreviewed, but highly recommended) as part of their series of albums getting the higher sonic treatment, they also included new stereo and 5.1 mixes of the album, but included (as an extra?!) original stereo tracks of the original album and they sounded easily the best without the new mixes offering alternate points or details. Outside of a Super Audio CD, I doubt Fish Out Of Water will ever sound any better.

Mean Man: The Story of Chris Holmes is presented in 1080p high definition on Blu-ray disc with a widescreen aspect ratio of 1.78 X 1 and a lossy English Dolby Digital 2.0 mix. For being a documentary-style film, it looks and sounds fine on Blu-ray disc and consistent audio throughout the interviews and narrative.

To order any of all of the four Warner Archive Blu-rays reviewed above, go to this link for them and many more great web-exclusive releases at:


- Nicholas Sheffo and James Lockhart (Mean)



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