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Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers were one of the greatest screen teams in the history of the musical cinema.  Their films together have endured in the memories of movie buffs for more than seven decades simply because they are pure cinematic magic.  As for DVD fans, the films Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers have remained a highly sought commodity, one that has eluded movie buffs since the formatís debut.  Fortunately, Warner Home Video has heard the pleas of cinema-philes and has made THE ASTAIRE AND ROGERS COLLECTION: VOLUME 1 ($60) available for their enjoyment.  Containing five of the duos wonderful musicals, THE ASTAIRE AND ROGERS COLLECTION: VOLUME 1 is literally a box of silver screen joy.

Starting things off in the collection is 1935ís TOP HAT, which is certainly one of Astair and Rogers best.  TOP HAT offers a Shakespearian styled romantic plot of mistaken identity, built around a delightful Irving Berlin score that includes Top Hat, White Tie And Tails and Cheek To Cheek.  The engaging supporting players of TOP HAT include Edward Everett Horton, Erik Rhodes, Eric Blore and Helen Broderick. 

1936ís SWING TIME is another absolute gem that has romantic sparks flying between Fred and Ginger after they form a professional dancing partnership, despite the fiancťe he left behind and his hopes of becoming a professional gambler.  The Jerome Kern/Dorothy Fields score features such classics as Pick Yourself Up, A Fine Romance and the Oscar-winning The Way You Look Tonight.  The cast of SWING TIME also features Victor Moore, Helen Broderick, Eric Blore, Betty Furness and Georges Metaxa.

Also released in 1936, FOLLOW THE FLEET broke from the usual musical comedy formula of a typical Astaire and Rogers pairing. FOLLOW THE FLEET found Fred trading in his usual formalwear for a Navy uniform, in addition to the supporting comic players seemingly being lost at sea.  However, Fred and Gingerís dancing plus the charming Irving Berlin musical numbers that include We Saw The Sea and Let's Face The Music And Dance more than make up for any unfulfilled expectations.  Randolph Scott, Harriet Hilliard, Astrid Allwyn, Betty Grable, Harry Beresford, Russell Hicks, Brooks Benedict, Ray Mayer and Lucille Ball have also been enlisted in FOLLOW THE FLEET.

1937ís SHALL WE DANCE moves closer to formula, although it emphasized the singing aspects (as opposed to the dancing aspects) of the sublime George and Ira Gershwin score.  However, SHALL WE DANCE certainly got the comedy aspects right, with its story of a renown ballet dancer and popular musical stage star who stage a very public wedding and divorce to squash rumors about their personal lives.  Songs include Letís Call the Whole Thing Off and They Canít Take That Away From Me.  The cast SHALL WE DANCE also features Edward Everett Horton, Eric Blore, Jerome Cowan, Ketti Gallian, William Brisbane, Ann Shoemaker and Harriet Hoctor.

Somewhat underrated in their cannon of films, 1949ís THE BARKLEYS OF BROADWAY re-teamed Astaire and Rogers over at MGM after the duo had been last seen together on the screen at RKO.  The Betty Comden and Adolph Green screenplay finds Fred and Ginger as a married showbiz couple at odds, when she decides to pursue a serious dramatic role, instead of sticking with the type musicals that made both their careers. Songs include a reprise of They Canít Take That Away From Me. Oscar Levant, Billie Burke, Gale Robbins, Jacques FranÁois and George Zucco lend their support to THE BARKLEYS OF BROADWAY.

Warner Home Video has made all five films that comprise THE ASTAIRE AND ROGERS COLLECTION: VOLUME 1 available on DVD in 4:3 full screen transfers that frame each film in their proper 1.37:1 aspect ratios.  The four RKO films are presented in black and white, while the lone MGM film, THE BARKLEYS OF BROADWAY is in color. As much as one would have hoped for it, none of the films have been given a frame-by-frame digital clean up.  There are some issues with blemishes and scratches on each of the films, which would have benefited from some additional digital magic, but considering their age, all of the films look pretty darn impressive.

Each of the films has fairly solid image quality; sharpness and detail is generally quite good, but the nature of vintage Hollywood glamour photography does introduce some softness.  Additionally, there are stronger and weaker moments in each of the films and occasional brief instances where the image can take on a "dupey" quality.  Blacks are generally inky and the whites are stable.  The contrast and grayscale are usually quite good on the black and white films.  The colors on THE BARKLEYS OF BROADWAY hold up well and give one more than an inkling of what a Technicolor print might have looked like.  Of course, there are some inconsistencies in the colors, as well as some mis-registrations but they are never particularly bothersome.  Film grain is noticeable in each of the films, but is never distracting.  Digital compression artifacts are well concealed on each of the films.

All five movies that comprise THE ASTAIRE AND ROGERS COLLECTION: VOLUME 1 include a Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack.  By no means perfect, Warner has made to audio portion of these films sound as good as possible, without the sonic cleanup taking the sparkle of the musical numbers.  A great deal of the background hiss and surface noise has been cleaned up in the mastering process, which leaves each film with a generally smooth sounding track. Fidelity is decidedly limited on these sixty and seventy plus year old tracks, but oneís enjoyment of the musical numbers wonít be.  Dialogue is crisply rendered and remains totally understandable.  No other language tracks have been included on the DVDs, but English, French and Spanish subtitles are provided. 

Music underscores the basic interactive menus, which allow one access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the supplemental features included on each of the discs.  TOP HAT includes a running audio commentary by Fred Astaireís dughter, Ava Astaire McKenzie, as well as a Film Dance Historian Larry Billman, in addition to the eighteen-minute featurette On Top: Inside The Success Of Top Hat, the comedy short subject Watch The Birdie featuring Bob Hope and vintage cartoon Page Miss Glory.  SWING TIME includes a running audio commentary by John Mueller, the author of Astaire Dancing, plus the fifteen minute featurette The Swing Of Things: Swing Time Step By Step, the musical short subject Hotel A La Swing and vintage cartoon Bingo Crosbyana.

FOLLOW THE FLEET includes the fourteen-minute featurette Follow The Fleet: The Origins Of Those Dancing Feet, plus the musical short subject Melody Master: Jimmie Lunceford And His Dance Orchestra and vintage cartoon Let It Be Me.  SHALL WE DANCE includes a running audio commentary by Kevin Cole and Hugh Martin, plus the fifteen-minute featurette They Canít Take That Away From Me: The Music Of Shall We Dance, the musical short subject Sheik To Sheik and vintage cartoon Toy Town HallTHE BARKLEYS OF BROADWAY includes the thirteen-minute featurette Reunited At MGM: Astaire And Rogers Together Again plus the musical short subject Annie Was A Wonder and vintage cartoon Wags To Riches featuring Droopy.

As I stated above THE ASTAIRE AND ROGERS COLLECTION: VOLUME 1 is literally a box of silver screen joy that is certain to enrapture fans and movie buffs of all age groups.  Warner has done a rather nice job with the collection, offering solid presentations of these six and seven decade old films, plus some enjoyable supplemental features.  Very highly recommended.



Astaire & Rogers Collection, Vol. 1 (Top Hat / Swing Time / Follow the Fleet / Shall We Dance / The Barkleys of Broadway)



DVD reviews are Copyright © 2005 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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