Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2019) on… The Band Wagon (1953)

If you’re not going your way by yourself, then let’s all get on The Band Wagon, the classic 1953 musical starring Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse!

Washed-up movie actor Tony Hunter (Fred Astaire) decides to leave Hollywood and go to New York City to do a Broadway show written by his friends Lester (Oscar Levant) and Lily (Nanette Fabray) Marton. Lester and Lily have convinced actor/ director Jeffrey Cordova (Jack Buchanan) to do their show, and he quickly signs ballet dancer Gabrielle Gerard (Cyd Charisse) as the leading lady, along with her boyfriend/ manager Paul Byrd (James Mitchell) as the show’s choreographer. However, Tony and Gabrielle don’t hit it off well at first, and Jeff quickly gets out of control making the show quite different than what Lester and Lily had written. When the show opens out-of-town, they find just how badly out-of-control Jeff had gotten, and they all regroup to figure out how to salvage the show.

Similar to the previous year’s classic musical Singin’ In The Rain, The Band Wagon is a celebration of the music of composers Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz. The movie shared the title of the final Broadway show that Fred Astaire did with his sister Adele, but the movie was far different, being given a plot, instead of being a musical revue. Only a few songs from the show were retained for this movie: “I Love Luisa,” “Dancing In The Dark” and “New Sun in The Sky.” All the other songs were pulled from other stuff that Dietz And Schwartz did (with the exception of the song “That’s Entertainment,” which was written for this movie). However you look at it, the movie has a lot of wonderful music and dancing, including the song “Shine On My Shoes,” which featured Fred working with a real dancing shoeshine man, Leroy Daniels, and many others (I plan on commenting on some of the others in another post).

As much as I enjoy Fred Astaire’s films, this is one that took multiple viewings before I appreciated it. But I do believe it to be a wonderful movie, with a lot of songs and dances that certainly grow on you over time. For some, it is considered to be as great as Singin’ In The Rain. Personally, I think it’s better! I will agree most heartily with the iconic status of both the “Dancing In The Dark” and “Girl Hunt Ballet” dance routines, as they both leave me wanting to get up and dance myself (although that last part is just as true for a lot of the other music, too)! Yeah, the film’s ending is a little off, but, honestly, I’m not bothered by it that badly, and I would EASILY recommend this movie to anybody interested!

This movie is available individually on Blu-ray and DVD and on Blu-ray as part of the four film Musicals Collection from Warner Home Video and is one hour, fifty-two minutes in length.

My Rating: 10/10

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What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2019) with… The Thin Man (1934)

If you’re ready for mystery mixed in with a bit of screwball comedy (not to mention one that works at Christmastime, too), then look no further than The Thin Man from 1934, starring William Powell and Myrna Loy!

Dorothy Wynant (Maureen O’Sullivan) announces to her inventor father Clyde Wynant (Edward Ellis) that she plans to marry her boyfriend Tommy (Henry Wadsworth) just after Christmas. Clyde says he has a business trip (which he refuses to discuss), but he promises to return before Christmas. However, when he doesn’t show up by Christmas Eve, Dorothy begins to worry. At a party, she runs into an old family friend, former detective Nick Charles (William Powell), who is in New York for the holidays with his wife, Nora (Myrna Loy), and their dog Asta. She tries to convince him to look for her father, but he doesn’t want to become involved. After Clyde’s mistress Julia Wolf (Natalie Moorhead) is discovered murdered, Nick can’t help but get dragged into the case, pushed along by his wife. After a thug is murdered and another body is discovered in Clyde’s laboratory, Nick and Nora gather all the suspects together at a dinner party, where the murderer is revealed.

Ah, yes, the movie that was the beginning of a franchise (and yet, in making it, who knew that would be the case). MGM had gotten the rights to the novel, written by Dashiell Hammett (who had also written The Maltese Falcon, amongst other novels). Director W.S. Van Dyke, himself a fan of detective novels, wanted to do it. And he wanted William Powell and Myrna Loy to do it, after working with them on the 1934 film Manhattan Melodrama and seeing how well they had gotten along on that film behind the scenes. However, the MGM executives were against the idea. At most, they were willing to let William Powell do it, since he had already portrayed some other detectives, but they weren’t as thrilled with Myrna Loy, supposedly only giving in if the movie could be done within three weeks so she could start her next film. Of course, Van Dyke (known to some as “One-Take Woody”) ran with it, getting the movie finished within twelve to eighteen days, and the movie became a big classic, spawning five sequels, many copycats and a two season TV series in the late fifties starring Peter Lawford and Phyllis Kirk, not to mention seven more films (besides the already mentioned Manhattan Melodrama) that paired up William Powell and Myrna Loy.

Going into the recent Blu-ray release, this was my first time seeing this movie. It turned out to be a wonderful and very enjoyable surprise! While the mystery itself was fun, it was very much secondary in this movie. Instead, the focus was on the relationship of William Powell’s Nick Charles and Myrna Loy’s Nora. For a film that was shot in a very short period of time, they give us such a rich relationship! Their banter alone makes the film fun (with some lines definitely showing the movie to be a pre-Code).  And, of course, they clearly make good use of the then-recent repeal of Prohibition, considering how much they imbibe martinis and other alcoholic drinks. But the comedy works, and for that alone, I have absolutely no trouble whatsoever with recommending this movie to anybody!

Of course, as with a lot of older movies, being a popular film proves to be just as much a curse as it is a blessing. Due to its popularity, the studio made so many release prints off the original camera negative that it was in bad shape, and was essentially destroyed back in the late 1960s. Partly because of that, this movie has apparently never looked that great on home video. But in preparing this movie for Blu-ray, the good people working for the Warner Archive Collection made use of a safety fine grain film stock (made before the original camera negative was gone) and a dupe negative in place of some sections that were in bad shape to restore this movie. All I can say is that, in my opinion, their hard work has paid off, resulting in one of this year’s best film restorations (so far)! So I would definitely recommend WAC’s recent Blu-ray release of this great film! The movie is one hour, thirty-one minutes in length.

My Rating: 10/10

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Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2019) on… You Can’t Take It With You (1938)

And now for my entry in the Fifth Annual Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon, we have the 1938 screwball comedy You Can’t Take It With You, starring Jean Arthur, Lionel Barrymore, James Stewart and Edward Arnold!

Banker Anthony Kirby (Edward Arnold) is trying to create a monopoly on munitions by buying up all the property around a competitor. However, he can’t get his hands on one home, which infuriates him. That home belongs to Grandpa Vanderhof (Lionel Barrymore), who refuses to sell at any price. His granddaughter, Alice Sycamore (Jean Arthur) works for Kirby’s son, Tony (James Stewart) and has fallen in love with him. Alice insists on Tony’s parents meeting her family, but Tony purposely brings them over for dinner the day before, in order for his parents to see what her family is really like. However, things go wrong, and they are all arrested. When Alice sees how much Tony’s mother doesn’t like her family, Alice decides to break off the engagement and disappears.

Well, since I’m doing this for a blogathon on the Barrymore family, I suppose I should have *SOMETHING* to say about Lionel Barrymore. 😉 At the time, his arthritis was really bothering him, leaving him so stiff he could hardly walk, and required hourly shots to help ease the pain. But he wanted to do the part of Grandpa Vanderhof, and decided to try doing it on crutches. It was written into the script for the movie that his character had injured his foot sliding down a bannister on a dare from his granddaughter, and, considering how well Lionel does with the part, I believe it! Sadly, even on crutches, he was still in a lot of pain, and would mainly be using a wheelchair for the remainder of his career. Like many, I mainly associate Lionel with his role as the cranky Mr. Potter in It’s A Wonderful Life, and his role here is certainly quite different from that one!

Getting into the movie itself, it’s a screwball comedy directed by Frank Capra, one of the best directors for the genre. And the movie is crammed full of many wonderful actors and actresses who can all handle the comedy well! From Charles Lane’s quick appearance as an IRS agent trying to find out why Grandpa Vanderhof hasn’t paid any income tax to James Stewart and Jean Arthur running into his parents at the restaurant to many other such wonderful moments! Of course, Edward Arnold deserves some mention, too, for portraying the redemption of his villainous Anthony Kirby, a rarity in Capra’s films. While the movie definitely deviates from the Pulitzer Prize-winning play it is based on, I like some of the changes that were made! And, of course, I have a hard time getting through this movie without getting the song “Polly Wolly Doodle” stuck in my head (but you won’t hear any complaints from me on that)! All in all, a movie I would highly recommend!

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment and is two hours, six minutes in length.

My Rating: 9/10

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TFTMM 2019 & WOIANRA 2018 on… Home From The Hill (1960)

Next up, we have the 1960 drama Home From The Hill starring Robert Mitchum, Eleanor Parker, George Peppard and George Hamilton.

Wade Hunnicutt (Robert Mitchum) is a big man in town. However, his son Theron (George Hamilton) is a bit of a “mama’s boy.” After some of the men in town play a prank on Theron, Wade decides to teach him to be more of a “man’s man,” much to the dismay of his mother Hannah (Eleanor Parker). Wade has Rafe Copley (George Peppard) help Theron learn to hunt. Theron learns hunting quickly, and becomes a town hero after he single-handedly kills a wild boar that has been terrorizing the area. Theron also asks Rafe for help in asking out Libby Halstead (Luana Patten). While her father doesn’t approve, she likes Theron, and they go out together. However, when Hannah tells Theron that Libby’s father didn’t want Theron dating his daughter because Wade had a reputation of sleeping around (a fact Hannah had tried to keep hidden from Theron), then he tries to go off on his own, which results in even more trouble.

Coming off my first time seeing this movie, one word kept going through my mind : “Wow” (and I mean that in a good way). For the most part, I’ve never really gone in much for melodramas, but I enjoyed this one! The cast alone is fantastic! Robert Mitchum gives a wonderful performance as a flawed but powerful man who usually gets what he wants (except from his own wife). Eleanor Parker is wonderful as his hate-filled wife, angry with him ever since… wait, I didn’t mention it in the plot description, so I better shut up, but still, it is such a departure from the main role I associate her with, that of the baroness in The Sound Of Music. George Hamilton as Theron does well as a son who wants his father’s approval, but the constant hate between his parents has driven him to improve himself on his own. But George Peppard has the greatest presence, as a guy who has had to work hard his whole life and live in a less than ideal situation, all the while still making the best of things. All wonderful performances, which easily make this a movie I would highly recommend!

I tried this one mainly after seeing Warner Archives announce it for Blu-ray (also available from them on DVD).  I had some recognition of some of the cast members from other movies that I’ve seen over the years, not to mention director Vincente Minelli, so I thought it would be worth trying (and it was). As usual, Warner Archive has given us a first-rate transfer, and it just helps bring to life a fantastic story! This movie is two hours, thirty minutes in length.

My Rating: 9/10

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What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2019) with… Footlight Parade (1933)

“By a waterfall, I’m calling you-hoo-hoo-hoo” so we can get into the classic 1933 Busby Berkeley musical Footlight Parade starring James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell!

Chester Kent (James Cagney) has been producing musical shows on the stage, but with the advent of talking pictures, he finds audiences don’t want to see them. After his producing partners show him a prologue (short little stage shows shown in between movies) and he stops at a chain drugstore for some aspirin, he gets the idea that producing prologues for many theaters would be cheaper than producing for one, and his partners like the idea. Their studio becomes a success, but Chester’s partners have no trouble cheating him out of the profits while he is continually trying to come up with ideas for prologues, especially when the competition is stealing his ideas through spies in the company. His secretary, Nan Prescott (Joan Blondell), is secretly in love with him, and does what she can to help get him out of trouble. They are given the opportunity to sign with Appolinaris (Paul Porcasi), who would use the prologues in many of his theatres, but they have to come up with three different prologues to test on audiences before he will sign.

Following the success of both 42nd Street and Gold Diggers Of 1933, Footlight Parade was put into production. James Cagney, who had been a song-and-dance man on the stage but had quickly become typecast as a gangster in the movies after his role in The Public Enemy, campaigned hard to get a role in this movie after seeing the success of the previous films. Obviously, he got the part, and he was teamed up with his then-frequent co-star Joan Blondell, a pairing that had worked since they both came to Hollywood a few years earlier to do Sinner’s Holiday (which they had done on Broadway). Of course, continuing on from the previous two films onscreen were Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell and Guy Kibbee, with 42nd Street director Lloyd Bacon returning. And, of course, Busby Berkeley, trying to figure out what to do next after his work on the previous films.

Personally, I consider this movie the best of the Busby Berkeley movies from the thirties for two reasons: James Cagney and the song “By A Waterfall.” “By A Waterfall” was Berkeley’s big number for this film, making use of an 80-by-40 foot swimming pool, and lighting that helps emphasize some of the various formations that the swimmers do. Of course, the song itself is a lot of fun and quite catchy, too! And getting to see another James Cagney musical is just as fun! Here, we get to see his style of dancing, as opposed to when he was trying to dance like the real George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy. Honestly, my biggest complaint with this movie is that we don’t get to see enough of him dancing! He mainly does most of his dancing to demonstrate what he wants with the different prologues, and his only musical number is the final “Shanghai Lil” (which I would say is probably the second best song in the movie), in which he dances with Ruby Keeler for about a minute and is otherwise doing some of the formations choreographed by Busby Berkeley (word of warning, though, as Ruby Keeler is made up to look a bit more Chinese for “Shanghai Lil”). For the most part, the movie is mostly a comedy more than a musical, as there is maybe one song before the final half hour (which is almost entirely comprised of three big musical numbers). Overall, a very fun movie and highly recommended!! (of course, as a pre-Code, there are enough elements in this movie that there is a little room for debate about how kid-friendly it is, but adults should definitely be able to enjoy this movie)!

This movie is available on Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection. Regarding the transfer for this new release, it looks FANTASTIC!! Seriously, I don’t know what else to say, as the team at WAC has done their usual phenomenal work here, and I only hope it sells well enough for them to work on the rest of the Busby Berkeley films (not to mention some of their other 30s musicals)! The movie is one hour, forty-three minutes in length.

My Rating: 10/10

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Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2019) on… Robin And The 7 Hoods (1964)

“Oh gee, I’m a hood! I’m a hood! Ho!” – Allen A. Dale (Bing Crosby)

“That’s a hood?” – Six Seconds (Hank Henry)

We now have another take on the Robin Hood legend. This time, the story has been transplanted to late 1920s/1930s Chicago in musical form (with music provided by Sammy Cahn and James Van Heusen), and features Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Bing Crosby in Robin And The 7 Hoods.

When gangster Big Jim (an uncredited Edward G. Robinson) is gunned down by all the gangsters in town, Guy Gisborne (Peter Falk) takes over, charging everyone for “protection” provided by the sheriff. Robbo (Frank Sinatra) and his men don’t want to go along with that. In their feud, the two groups end up destroying each other’s nightclubs. Meanwhile, a young lady named Marian (Barbara Rush) (who turns out to be Big Jim’s daughter) wants Big Jim’s murder avenged by Robbo (who doesn’t want to do it). When Guy offs the sheriff for not preventing the destruction of his own nightclub, Marian tries to pay Robbo. Wanting nothing to do with the money, he orders it to be given away. It ends up going to an orphanage, and the resulting publicity, started by Allen A. Dale (Bing Crosby), who worked at the orphanage, turns Robbo into a popular celebrity in Chicago. This makes Guy mad, and he tries (and fails) to take Robbo down.

For me personally, this movie has always felt like it had two halves. The first half mainly features the feud between Robbo and Guy. While it certainly has comedic elements to it, they mostly take a back seat to the action. Then, a little before the halfway point, Bing Crosby shows up as Allen A. Dale and the comedy aspects come to the forefront. Personally, I have always enjoyed the second half more because of Bing Crosby, as I think he got some of the movie’s better songs (even if Frank did come out of this movie with the song “My Kind Of Town,” which seems to be the film’s big hit).

One of those songs that I like is the song “Style.” Apparently, Bing Crosby was colorblind, and was generally known for wearing some loud outfits because of that. With this song (or rather, the stuff they are doing while singing it), it seems like they are poking a little fun at Bing for that. But the real fun here is getting to hear Bing, Frank and Dean Martin singing together (and, of course, the song itself is fun and catchy, too)!

Next up is the song “Mr. Booze.” For one scene, Guy, out of frustration, wants to destroy Robbo’s newly rebuilt club, this time through an official police raid. However, Robbo made sure the new architect made preparations for such an event, and they turn the club into a room for a “revival” meeting. With Bing’s Allen A. Dale “acting” as the reverend leading the meeting, they end up going into the song “Mr. Booze.” It’s just a hilarious song (and I can’t help but laugh when they show some of the raiding policemen really getting into the meeting)!

The last song I want to mention is “Don’t Be A Do-Badder.” This song seems to be the theme for the character Allen A. Dale, as it seems to accompany him in the background for some of his appearances. When it is done as a full musical number, it is done with him and all the kids in the orphanage. Apparently, they were going for a similar staging to the Oscar-winning song “Swingin’ On A Star” from the Bing Crosby movie Going My Way. While it wasn’t quite that effective, I still think it was fun!

These were the three main songs that I enjoyed in this movie (although I believe it has many more wonderful moments)! I think one half is better than the other, but I like the whole movie and would easily recommend it!This movie is available individually on Blu-ray and DVD, and as part of the five film Frank Sinatra Collection from Warner Home Video, and is two hours, three minutes in length.

“Take it from me, don’t be a do-badder…”

My Rating: 9/10

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Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2019) on… Ocean’s 11 (1960)

Now we have one of the movies that featured the “Rat Pack,” the classic Ocean’s 11, starring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and Angie Dickinson.

Spyros Acebos (Akim Tamiroff) wants to rob the Las Vegas casinos, but, due to his criminal record, he can’t get in without raising suspicion. So he hires Danny Ocean (Frank Sinatra) to do the job. Danny recruits some of his buddies from the 82nd Airborne unit of paratroopers to pull it off. After getting the men together, they make plans to pull the job at midnight on New Year’s Eve. By New Year’s Eve, they are ready and in position to pull off the heist. Everything goes as planned, but after the job is done, one of the men suffers a fatal heart attack. Then a few other problems start to crop up.

I will admit, this is one of those “Is it or is it not a holiday movie” types. Particularly in starting off the movie, we do get a sense that the Christmas season is upon them, and it maintains a presence, at least in the background, for a good deal of the movie. Then, of course, the heist itself takes place on New Year’s Eve. Personally, I have a hard time wanting to classify this movie as a Christmas film, just due to the main concept. However, I do feel like it at least fits in as a New Year’s movie, since they do more solidly celebrate it, not to mention some of the unforeseen events that occur within the new year.

I will say, this is a movie that I have come to enjoy.  My first viewing didn’t leave me feeling that impressed, but after some time between, I enjoyed it more the second time around.  For me, the cast makes it work, with so many familiar faces.  Admittedly, the “not quite a musical but wants to go in that direction” aspect of the movie still bothers me (especially since Frank doesn’t even do any singing), but for a movie set in Las Vegas, I can live with it. But like I say, I like the cast here, which makes it more fun (just don’t expect me to try the remake or the franchise it started). So, yes, I do recommend this movie!

This movie is available individually on Blu-ray and DVD and on Blu-ray as part of the five-film Frank Sinatra Collection from Warner Home Video, and is two hours, eight minutes in length.

My Rating: 8/10

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