THE ASTAIRE AND ROGERS
When you think Hollywood musical star, the names Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers are at the top of just about everybody's list. As for the ten films they made together, these timeless classics have endured in the minds of movie buffs for more than seven decades. Not only do these ten films endure, they also have the ability to attract new generations of fans, which is a credit to Fred and Ginger, who together, were and are pure cinematic magic. Following up on their first release of classic Fred and Ginger movie musicals, Warner Home Video has released THE ASTAIRE AND ROGERS COLLECTION: VOLUME 2 ($60) for the enjoyment of the duos countless fans. Containing the remaining five musicals, in which Fred and Ginger appeared together, THE ASTAIRE AND ROGERS COLLECTION: VOLUME 2 is another box of pure movie magic.
FLYING DOWN TO RIO
FLYING DOWN TO RIO is the film that launched the screen team of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. However, in this initial outing, the duo relegated to the background, while a love triangle featuring Dolores Del Rio, Gene Raymond and Raul Roulien takes center stage. If it were not for the presence of Astaire and Rogers FLYING DOWN TO RIO would be largely forgettable, because every moment the duo is on the screen, it lights up and comes to life. Perhaps I am being unfair to FLYING DOWN TO RIO, as it does have one other memorable aspect- a musical number staged on the wings of an airplane.
THE GAY DIVORCEE
THE GAY DIVORCEE is the one movie in the Astaire and Rogers series that is so funny, that it could probably survive without the musical numbers. Ginger is a woman looking for a divorce and Fred gets mistaken for a professional co-respondent in the wonderfully absurd, albeit slightly dated plot. Numbers include Night And Day and The Continental. The cast of THE GAY DIVORCEE also features terrific comic support from Eric Blore, Alice Brady and Edward Everett Horton. Horton is at his befuddled best and is an absolute scream. In fact, Horton is so good that he is able to steal almost every scene, in which he appears.
Based upon the Broadway show, ROBERTA finds Fred portraying bandleader Huck Haines, who takes a gig in Paris, where his best pal John Kent (Randolph Scott) inherits a fashion house from a distant aunt. Irene Dunne portrays Johnís new partner, an exiled Russian Princess named Stephanie, while Ginger feigns being Polish nobility to further her theatrical fortunes as Comtesse Scharwenka. Numbers include I Wonít Dance, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Lovely to Look At. The cast also features Helen Westley, Claire Dodd, Victor Varconi, Luis Alberni and Ferdinand Munier.
In CAREFREE, Fred is a psychiatrist and Ginger is his patient- a reluctant bride whom he hypnotizes into marrying his best friend (Ralph Bellamy). Unfortunately, Fred discovers almost too late that he has fallen for his patient. The movie is very funny, and plays more like a screwball comedy, than a musical. In fact, this movie proves to be rather weak in the musical number department, especially for Fred and Ginger movie, which pretty much signaled that their partnership was approaching the end of the line. Musical numbers include I Used To Be Color Blind and Change Partners. The cast of CAREFREE also features Luella Gear, Jack Carson, Clarence Kolb and Franklin Pangborn.
THE STORY OF VERNON AND IRENE CASTLE
THE STORY OF VERNON AND IRENE CASTLE marked Fred and Gingerís final pairing at RKO. Fred and Ginger do a really nice job in this musical biography portraying the title characters, the famous husband and wife ballroom dancing team that were an international sensation in the years leading to the First World War. Chronicling the careers and personal lives of Vernon and Irene Castle from the time he was a comic and she a schoolgirl, through the days of their rising fame, to the time they take their final bows together. THE STORY OF VERNON AND IRENE CASTLE is also something of a more somber film than the Fred and Ginger's usual pairings, since it is a film biography, whose real life basis did not end on the happiest of notes. The cast of THE STORY OF VERNON AND IRENE CASTLE also features Edna May Oliver, Walter Brennan, Lew Fields.
Warner Home Video has made all five films that comprise THE ASTAIRE AND ROGERS COLLECTION: VOLUME 2 available on DVD in 4:3 full screen transfers that presents each black and white film in its proper 1.37:1 aspect ratio. With some variation, image quality for each of the films is very solid, and in general, this batch of movies has a somewhat stronger appearance than those in the first collection. Not surprisingly, FLYING DOWN TO RIO is the oldest film in this collection and doesn't appear quite as snappy as the rest, but the presentation is still aces in my book. Across the set, sharpness and detail are generally quite good, but again, the Hollywood glamour photography of yesteryear does introduce some mild softness. Blacks are deep and the whites are usually crisp and completely stable. Overall, contrast is quite good on all five films and the grayscale nicely varied. Mild blemishes and scratches show up on each of the films to varying degrees, but considering their age, all of the films are well preserved. Film grain is noticeable across the board, but digital compression artifacts are never a problem.
All five movies contained in THE ASTAIRE AND ROGERS COLLECTION: VOLUME 2 come with Dolby Digital monaural soundtracks. Warner has again done a fine job cleaning up these vintage recordings for modern presentation, without the digital processing taking the shine off the musical numbers. To a great degree, background hiss and surface noise has been cleaned up in the mastering process, leaving each film with a generally smooth sonic quality. Fidelity has all the expected limitations of recordings that are now beyond sixty and seventy years of age, but the musical numbers hold up well enough. Dialogue is cleanly rendered and is easy to understand. 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. FLYING DOWN TO RIO includes the vintage comedy short: Beer And Pretzels that features Ted Healy and His Stooges, plus the classic cartoon: I Like Mountain Music and a Theatrical Trailer. THE GAY DIVORCEE includes two vintage musical shorts: Show Kids and Star Night At The Cocoanut Grove, plus the classic cartoon: Shake Your Powder Puff and a Theatrical Trailer. ROBERTA includes the vintage musical short: Starlit Days At The Lido, plus the classic cartoon: The Calico Dragon, audio-only bonus: Hollywood On The Air radio promo and a Theatrical Trailer. CAREFREE includes the vintage musical short: Public Jitterbug No. 1, plus the classic cartoon: September In The Rain. THE STORY OF VERNON AND IRENE CASTLE includes the vintage musical short: Happily Buried, plus the classic cartoon: Puss Gets the Boot.
Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers are the kind of silver screen legends the like of like of which will never come this way again. As for THE ASTAIRE AND ROGERS COLLECTION: VOLUME 2, this is a box of pure magic that is certain to delight film buffs and movie musical fans to no end. Warner has done their usual terrific job with the presentations; the DVDs are the best that the films have looked in quite some time. If you love Fred and Ginger, then adding THE ASTAIRE AND ROGERS COLLECTION: VOLUME 2 to your personal film library is a no brainer. Highly recommended.
reviews are Copyright © 2006 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied
or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.