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CLASSIC COMEDIES COLLECTION

BRINGING UP BABY

BRINGING UP BABYIf one were to look up the term screwball comedy up in the dictionary, it would most assuredly say: see BRINGING UP BABY ($27). Directed by Howard Hawks, BRINGING UP BABY has got to be the screwiest screwball comedy of all time. BRINGING UP BABY stars Katharine Hepburn as madcap heiress Susan Vance, who crosses paths with staid paleontologist Dr. David Huxley (Cary Grant) and literally turns his existence upside down in the course of two days. Hoping to acquire a million dollar grant that is being offered by Susan’s aunt, David gets caught up in Susan’s latest scatterbrained enterprise- one that involves transporting a tamed leopard named baby up to her aunt’s country home, which results in David nearly losing his mind, in addition to his identity, his dignity, his fiancé, as well as a valuable dinosaur bone. The cast of BRINGING UP BABY also features Charles Ruggles, Walter Catlett, Barry Fitzgerald, May Robson and Fritz Feld.

Warner Home Video has made BRINGING UP BABY available on DVD in a truly fine looking black and white transfer that frames the film in its proper 1.37:1 full screen aspect ratio. Considering its age, BRINGING UP BABY looks remarkably good; producing a sharp and rather well defined image. Blacks are inky, whites are clean, plus contrast and grayscale are quite good. There is some graininess to remind one they are watching a vintage film, but it is never excessive. Blemishes and other signs of age are modest. The Dolby Digital soundtrack is free from distortions and noticeable hiss at average listening levels. Dialogue is crisp, wholly understandable and thoroughly enjoyable. No other language tracks are provided, but English, French and Spanish subtitles have been included.

Supplements on this two-disc set include: disc one’s audio commentary with director Peter Bagdanovich, who talks about Howard Hawks the film’s stars and his general love for BRINGING UP BABY. There is also a Howard Hawks Trailer Gallery on disc one. Disc two features: Cary Grant: A Class Part runs almost ninety minutes and provides a candid look at the screen legend. The Men Who Made The Movies: Howard Hawks is shy of an hour and examines the career of a director who excelled in just about every genre. The musical two-reeler Campus Cinderella is also featured on disc two, as is the animated short A Star Is Hatched.

*****

THE PHILADELPHIA STORY

THE PHILADELPHIA STORYAfter having seen this classic more times than I can count, THE PHILADELPHIA STORY ($27) remains one of my favorite movies of all time and one of the reasons that I feel that old movies are the best movies. THE PHILADELPHIA STORY features three of the silver screen’s greatest screen legends in top form, Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, and James Stewart, all of whom deliver sparkling, sophisticated and delightfully amusing performances. THE PHILADELPHIA STORY is the film version of Katharine Hepburn’s Broadway success, and the motion picture that marked the actress’ triumphant return to the screen after a period in Hollywood in which she was labeled as "box-office poison."

This marvelous screen adaptation of Philip Barry’s wonderfully witty play finds socialite Tracy Lord (Hepburn), on the eve of her second marriage. On hand to help stir things up is Tracy’s ex-husband C. K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant), who plans to teach his ex-wife a lesson in humility and humanity. With the arrival of this unwanted wedding guest, Tracy discovers that Spy Magazine is prepared to publish a scandalous article about her father, however Dex assures his former wife the magazine is willing to forego that story, if they can offer exclusive coverage of her wedding. With little choice, Tracy allows the reporters into her home and into her life. James Stewart earned him an Academy Award for his engaging portrayal of Macaulay (Mike) Connor, a legitimate author, who begrudgingly works as a reporter for Spy Magazine, out of the necessity of earning a living. Director George Cukor stages the action for maximum comic effect, plus he keeps the pacing snappy and coaxing marvelous performances from his leads. The sterling supporting players of THE PHILADELPHIA STORY feature Ruth Hussey, John Howard, Roland Young, John Halliday, Mary Nash and Virginia Weidler.

This release marks the third time THE PHILADELPHIA STORY has been issued on DVD, and is certainly the best looking of the three. The previous Warner and MGM releases of the film appeared to be taken from the same master, which was pretty good by its own right. This appropriate 1.37:1 full screen release offers a somewhat stronger looking black and white picture with improved sharpness and detail. Blacks are stronger on this release, whites appear cleaner and the contrast provides the biggest improvement of all. Film grain is noticeable through much of the proceedings, while blemishes are modest. The Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack is strong for a film of this vintage and is pretty much free from background hiss surface noise. The dialogue maintains full intelligibility and continues to sparkle. No other language tracks are provided, but English, French and Spanish subtitles have been included.

Supplements on this two-disc set include: disc one’s audio commentary with Jeannine Basinger, as well as a George Cukor Movie Trailer Gallery and an award listing for THE PHILADELPHIA STORY. Disc two features: the seventy-minute documentary, Katharine Hepburn: All About Me – A Self Portrait, hosted by the actress herself, this is a must see for any fan of the legendary star. The Men Who Made The Movies: George Cukor runs under an hour and profiles the man who was probably the greatest "woman’s director" of all time. That Inferior Feeling is a great comic short featuring Robert Benchley. The Homeless Flea is an amusing animated short that is also included on disc two, while two radio adaptations of THE PHILADELPHIA STORY close out the supplemental contents.

*****

TO BE OR NOT TO BE

TO BE OR NOT TO BEStarring Carole Lombard, in her final screen role and Jack Benny at his absolute comic best, TO BE OR NOT TO BE ($20) is a marvelous screen comedy that also benefits from that unique "Lubitsch touch" of its director. As Polish stage star Joseph Tura, Benny is an absolute delight as the kind of self-absorbed actor who put the ham in Hamlet. TO BE OR NOT TO BE opens on the eve of the German invasion of Poland, with Tura starring as the Danish Prince, whose soliloquy allows for the actor’s lovely wife Maria (Lombard) to receive the flattering attentions of Lt. Stanislav Sobinski (Robert Stack) a young Polish aviator, who is enamored with the actress. However, once the German’s invade Poland, both Mr. and Mrs. Tura, as well as the rest of their acting troop find themselves putting their thespian skills to the test, to prevent a Nazi spy from exposing members of the Polish underground. The cast of TO BE OR NOT TO BE also features Felix Bressart, Lionel Atwill, Stanley Ridges and Sig Ruman.

TO BE OR NOT TO BE has been given a very nice black and white full screen transfer. The image is bright, sharp and rather nicely defined. Blacks are pretty accurate, whites are crisp and the contrast is rather good. The film elements are in good shape for their age, although the reel changes are the points at which most of the blemishes and other signs of age are present. There is a noticeable grain structure during much of the presentation, but it is never excessive. The Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack is decent for a film of this vintage. Most of the hiss and background noise has been cleaned up, but the fidelity is decidedly limited, and there are some mild distortions to the film’s musical component. No other language tracks are provided, but English, French and Spanish subtitles have been included. Supplemental content features The Rounder an amusing Jack Benny two reeler, as well as a Buy Savings Bonds promo featuring Benny.

*****

LIBELED LADY

LIBELED LADYLIBELED LADY ($20) is another absolute screwball comedy gem that makes this reviewer wish that every film that featured William Powell and Myrna Loy were available on DVD. Powell and Loy were absolute screen magic in all of their pairings and I hope well soon see a Thin Man box set, as well as their remaining films on DVD sometime soon. In LIBELED LADY, Myrna Loy portrays the title character, heiress Connie Allenbury, who sues a newspaper after they mistakenly print an article about her, without first checking the facts. William Powell is Bill Chandler, a former employee brought in by the newspaper’s desperate editor Warren Haggerty (Spencer Tracy) to get the heiress to drop her libel suit against the paper. In an elaborate ploy that involves marrying Haggerty’s fiancée Gladys Benton (Jean Harlow) off to Chandler, then having Chandler woo the heiress, everyone gets more than they bargained for when both women take the bait. The cast of LIBELED LADY also features Walter Connolly, Charley Grapewin, Charley Grapewin and E.E. Clive.

The film elements for LIBELED LADY are in somewhat rough shape in places, displaying more blemishes and other signs of age than one would normally like to see, but overall, it isn’t too bad. The black and white full screen transfer itself looks quite good and the picture boasts a fine level of sharpness and detail. Blacks are accurate; whites are clean, while contrast and grayscale are both quite pleasing. There is appreciable grain throughout, but it only serves to remind one they are watching a film instead of a video. The Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack is free of hiss and other anomalies. Fidelity has the expected limitations, but the dialogue is always fully intelligible. No other language tracks are provided, but English, French and Spanish subtitles have been included. Supplemental content features a thirteen-minute Leo Is On The Air radio promotion for LIBELED LADY, as well as a theatrical trailer.

*****

DINNER AT EIGHT

DINNER AT EIGHTFeaturing an all-star cast and snappy dialogue, DINNER AT EIGHT ($20) is a captivating comedy drama based on the George S. Kaufman/ Edna Ferber play. DINNER AT EIGHT interweaves the stories of a large group of characters that culminates with the dinner party they are all scheduled to attend. Topping the guest list is retired actress Carlotta Vance (Marie Dressler), a longtime friend of Oliver Jordan (Lionel Barrymore), whose flighty wife Millicent (Billie Burke) is so wrapped up in the dinner party she is hosting, she fails to see the world crumbling all around her. Also schedule to attend is Larry Renault (John Barrymore), a fading actor who love of the bottle has been his undoing. Scheming businessman Dan Packard (Wallace Beery) and his unfaithful wife Kitty (Jean Harlow) also find themselves on the guest list. The cast of DINNER AT EIGHT also features Lee Tracy, Edmund Lowe, Madge Evans and Jean Hersholt.

DINNER AT EIGHT has been given a really nice black and white full screen transfer. The picture produces good sharpness and detail, as well as deep blacks, clean whites, a smooth grayscale and fine contrast. The film elements are in great shape for seventy two year old movie. There are modest blemishes and other mild signs of age, but there is relatively little to complain about. Film grain just about always noticeable, but it is completely appropriate to a film of this vintage. The Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack does have some mild background hiss, but it never becomes bothersome at average listening levels. Fidelity is adequate, with the music coming across as a bit thin and brittle. Fortunately, the dialogue is always completely understandable. No other language tracks are provided, but English, French and Spanish subtitles have been included. Supplemental content features the marvelous forty-six minute documentary Harlow: The Blond Bombshell hosted by Sharon Stone, as well as Come To Dinner, a two reeler spoofing DINNER AT EIGHT, plus a theatrical trailer.

*****

STAGE DOOR

STAGE DOORSTAGE DOOR ($20) is another comic treasure that also displays a rather serious side. Set in a boarding house that caters to actresses, STAGE DOOR tells the story of a group of hopefuls, as they go through their disappointments and their triumphs. Katharine Hepburn stars as Terry Randall, the newest arrival at the boarding house who comes from a well-to-do background that places her at odds with some of the other women. Ginger Rogers is Terry’s wisecracking roommate Jean Maitland, who knows her way around the business and is quite familiar with its disappointments. Although Terry makes a bad impression on Broadway producer Anthony Powell (Adolphe Menjou) and her talents turn out to be meager, the aspiring actress finds herself tapped to star in the Powell’s latest production with some surprising results. The terrific cast of STAGE DOOR also features Lucille Ball, Eve Arden, Ann Miller, Gail Patrick, Constance Collier and Andrea Leeds.

STAGE DOOR comes to DVD with a very nice black and white full screen transfer. While not as crisp as some other film from the same period, STAGE DOOR produces more than respectable sharpness and image detail. Blacks are inky, whites are stable, plus the picture boasts great contrast and grayscale. Blemishes are generally modest and certainly not out of line for a movie rapidly approaching its seventieth anniversary. There is a consistent film level of grain present, which adds character to the presentation. The Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack is just fine for a film from the late 1930s. Fidelity has the expected limitations, but virtually no distortions. Background hiss and surface noise appear to been cleaned up to a great extent, leaving the track with a fairly smooth quality. Dialogue is always crisp and understandable. No other language tracks are provided, but English, French and Spanish subtitles have been included. Supplemental content includes Ups And Downs- a Vitaphone two-reeler, plus a Lux Radio Theater Broadcast of STAGE DOOR and a theatrical trailer.

All I can say is that of you are a film buff, then every title that comprises Warner Home Video’s CLASSIC COMEDIES COLLECTION is a must have. Absolutely recommended.

 

 



 


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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