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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What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2019) with… The Glass Bottom Boat (1966)

All right, everybody, it’s time to get on board The Glass Bottom Boat with Doris Day, Rod Taylor and Arthur Godfrey.

Doris Day plays the widowed Mrs. Jennifer Nelson, who has just started working in public relations for a company developing technology for space travel. Her boss, Bruce Templeton (Rod Taylor), takes an interest in her after he accidentally snags her mermaid tail swimsuit while he was fishing. He promotes her so that she is working more directly with him while he tries to get his technology ready in short order. Problems arise when the chief of security, Homer Cripps (Paul Lynde) overhears her calling her dog Vladimir on the phone and assumes she is a Russian spy. Bruce doesn’t want to believe it, but when she accidentally overhears a conversation between him and some of his colleagues who do believe she is a spy, she decides to turn the tables on them.

Sound absurd? It should, considering the movie was directed by Frank Tashlin, who had been an animator and director for a number of cartoons, including a few Looney Tunes, so the cartoonish elements of this movie certainly fit right in (including a few futuristic gadgets that seem like they might fit in on The Jetsons). This movie features many stars from the small screen, including Eric Fleming (Rawhide), Dick Martin (Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In), Dom DeLuise (in one of his earliest movie roles) and several from Bewitched, including Paul Lynde, George Tobias and Alice Pearce (the latter two of which essentially seemed to be playing the same type of characters as a married couple that they had on Bewitched). But Doris Day herself is the driving force of this movie, managing to pull off both physical comedy and verbal, and making a lot of moments work well that might not have in lesser hands.  I’ll admit, some jokes and other concepts haven’t aged well, but at one hour, fifty minutes in length, I still think this movie is worth a few good laughs just the same!

This movie has been available on DVD, first through Warner Home Video and then reissued through Warner Archive Collection, but it is the recent Blu-ray release from Warner Archive Collection that is the best version to see! Their new high definition transfer is gorgeous, allowing the colors to pop as they should! While I admit to having no prior experience with this movie before the Blu-ray, I can definitely say that the Warner Archive Collection’s reputation for stellar transfers made it an easy choice to try this movie out (having Doris Day in it didn’t hurt either), and I wasn’t disappointed!

My Rating: 7/10

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TFTMM on… The “Road To…” Series (1940-1962)

Just for fun, now I would like to talk about the seven film Road series with Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and their frequent co-star Dorothy Lamour. I do admit, I could easily do a post on them as a screen team (whether it be all three of them together, Bing & Bob or Bob & Dottie), but most of their other appearances together are minor (mostly cameos that might spoil some movies), so I’ll just stick to this series. Of course, with that many movies in the series, I’ll link to the individual reviews for each of them.

The first film in the series, Road To Singapore, was almost a different beast entirely. Originally, the script went by the title The Road To Mandalay, and it was planned for different stars, including George Burns and Gracie Allen, and possibly a few others, all of whom turned it down. How it came to Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, who knows, as there have been many different stories of how that came to be. However, what is known is that Bing and Bob had worked together previously, on stage and at a racetrack opening, so they had established some kind of relationship, that eventually resulted in them being paired together for Road To Singapore, where they mostly “ad-libbed” their way through (much to the dismay of the film’s writers but the enjoyment of the film’s director, Victor Schertzinger).

Road To Singapore (1940)

My Rating: 9/10

Few at Paramount had any idea how big Road To Singapore would turn out to be. The movie’s success prompted them to look at another property for them to do. What would become Road To Zanzibar came from a script called “Find Colonel Fawcett” that they had turned down before due to its similarity to another movie. Reworked, it became the next film in the Road series. With Victor Schertzinger returning as director, the boys were given the same freedom they had enjoyed before, with “ad-libs” thrown around, and an increase in breaking the fourth wall, with many winks to the audience. Of course, their characters and their relationship onscreen became more defined, and less dramatic than the movie before.

Road To Zanzibar (1941)

My Rating: 8/10

Coming off the success of the first two movies, they were finally given a script written specifically for them. Victor Schertzinger was slated to be the film’s director, but his sudden passing left the film’s reins being passed to David Butler. With a script written for them, even more hilarity was allowed, whether it be talking camels (with animated lips and eyes but otherwise realistic bodies) or songs that fit their style of comedy, like the title song. And then there’s the start of a trend for the remaining films, in which stuff happens that, in other films, would be considered goofs or plot holes in other movies, but are done on purpose. For example, in Morocco, the boys are tied up and left behind stuck in nets in the desert, trying to hop their way after the villains in one shot, and in the next are completely free, and they openly state they won’t tell the audience how they got out).

Road To Morocco (1942)

My Rating: 8/10

With Road To Morocco proving to be a big success, the fact that another movie would come was inevitable. However, Road To Utopia went through a number of delays. The writers had a hard time coming up with a script that all three of the leads would agree to. Consequently, it is the odd duck in the series, with us being introduced to Dorothy Lamour’s character as soon as the boys (the only time in the series that she was introduced that soon instead of making her first appearance nearly twenty minutes into the movie like in the other five she starred in). Once finished, the movie would still be delayed, partly due to the success of Road To Morocco (since movies stayed in theatres longer then), as well as giving Bing room for success with his Academy Award winning role in Going My Way.

Road To Utopia (1945)

My Rating: 7/10

Road To Rio (1947)

My Rating: 9/10

With Road To Rio, the series began bringing in celebrities for various cameo appearances. The Andrews Sisters joined Bing for the song “You Don’t Have To Know The Language,” and Jerry Colonna was the leader of the cavalry trying to come to the rescue at the end of the movie. Road To Bali brought in a few more celebrities (borrowing footage from The African Queen for Humphrey Bogart’s appearance). Another change for Bali was the change to color, as the previous entries had all been filmed in black-and-white. However, this would also be the last movie in the series done at Paramount Studios.

Road To Bali (1952)

My Rating: 7/10

After a decade (and the ends of their contracts with Paramount), Bing and Bob came back for The Road To Hong Kong. This time, the movie was back to being black-and-white, but now was in widescreen for the first time. At Bing’s insistence, they brought in a new, younger female co-star. Dorothy Lamour wanted in, and Bob Hope tried to make a push for her to be, so as a compromise, she was given a cameo and a song of her own. However, the series and its stars was showing its age, even if they did try to make it more modern by parodying spy movies and the space race, and it ended up being the final movie in the series (although there were plans for another that were squashed partly by Bing’s death).

The Road To Hong Kong (1962)

My Rating: 4/10

I would have to say, these are the movies that helped start my fondness for classic movies. Prior to watching these, I mainly had seen the animated Disney movies and maybe one or two of the really big classics, but I really wasn’t interested, otherwise. When my family first upgraded to a DVD player and subscribed to Netflix, these were some of the movies my parents tried to rent. We didn’t see them in the order they were made, but they ended up being an enjoyable treat, and one I have enjoyed ever since. If possible, I know I would recommend seeing the series in the right order, as some jokes about the series work better if the series is viewed from the start. My own opinion is that the first six films are the ones most worth seeing, and The Road To Hong Kong can more or less be ignored. While I have grown older and started to see how politically incorrect some of these movies can be, they are still always worth a good laugh for me, and I have no trouble whatsoever recommending this wonderful series!

And click on any of the following images to go to Amazon and buy any of these movies (or anything, for that matter), and help support this blog!

Road To Singapore
Road To Zanzibar
Road To Morocco

Road To Utopia
Road To Rio
Road To Bali

The Road To Hong Kong

Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2019) on… The Road To Hong Kong (1962)

Here we are for the seventh and final movie in the Road series, the 1962 movie The Road To Hong Kong, with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope returning, and joined this time by Joan Collins.

This time, Bing is Harry Turner and Bob is Chester Babcock, a pair of con men. When Chester ends up in an accident during one of their cons that causes him to lose his memory, they go to a lamasery that holds the potential to restore his memory. While at the airport on their way there, Chester is mistaken for an agent of the Third Echelon, and is given a secret rocket formula by Diane (Joan Collins). After Chester regains his memory at the lamasery, he is also given an herb that would allow him to remember word for word anything that he reads after being shown it. When they return, Harry unknowingly has Chester memorize the formula, and burns the paper they were on. Harry makes a deal with Diane, and they go to Hong Kong to meet the leader of the Third Echelon. They have no luck, and they get sent up on a rocket. I could easily keep going, but I need to stop at some point!

Since I should discuss movies I DON’T have as high an opinion of (or otherwise, I may run out of movies eventually), we’ll discuss what I think of this movie. As the seventh and final movie in the Road series, this one shows indeed that the series was running out of steam. The story is somewhat convoluted, and seems at times like the movie is trying to be a “greatest hits” of their material. That would be fine, except Bing and Bob were both nearly sixty at the time they made this movie, and their timing (and physical abilities) show it. I don’t know what the problem is (possibly just the material they were given), as I have seen them together in one of Bing’s TV specials made about the same time to promote the movie, where I thought they were far funnier together.

It hurts even more that they have a much younger female co-star, Joan Collins, instead of Dorothy Lamour, their co-star in the previous six movies (reduced to a cameo here as a compromise, since Bing and a number of others apparently thought she was getting too old, even though she was about ten years younger than Bob and Bing, and wanted somebody much younger, but Bob wanted her in the movie). However you look at it, though, the lack of chemistry shows, and the brief few minutes with Dorothy Lamour are far better than the rest of the movie with Joan Collins.

Now, in spite of what I have said, I do enjoy this movie. I admit, I am only really likely to watch it when I am either watching through the filmographies of Bing or Bob (at least, those I have on disc), or when I am watching the Road series. It is worth a few laughs, but sometimes it depends upon my mood when I watch it. I can’t quite recommend it to anybody else, though, hence my more negative review (if you have read this review and still want to try it, I am still providing Amazon links as usual).

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Olive Films, and is about one hour, thirty-two minutes in length.

My Rating: 4/10

Audience Rating:  

Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2019) on… At The Circus (1939)

Personally, I’ve always found that one of the best places to find a group of clowns would be At The Circus, and what better group of clowns to do it than the three Marx brothers, Groucho, Chico and Harpo?

Circus owner Jeff Wilson (Kenny Baker) is finally able to pay back his debt to John Carter (James Burke). However, Mr. Carter wants the circus itself, and so gets some of his allies to rob Jeff. Jeff’s buddy Antonio (Chico Marx) figured on trouble and brought in lawyer J. Cheever Loophole (Groucho Marx). Along with Antonio’s buddy Punchy (Harpo Marx), they try to find the money. When they fail, Loophole goes to Newport to find Jeff’s aunt, Mrs. Dukesbury (Margaret Dumont), and, behind her back, arranges for Jeff to bring the circus to her big society party.

Personally, I do think that the Marx brothers’ best movies were behind them at this stage. It doesn’t help that the studio they were under contract to, MGM, didn’t really know how to handle them (or really care), as their main benefactor in coming over to MGM was Irving Thalberg, and he had passed away partway through filming A Day At The Races. Without him, the Marx brothers were being poorly handled, which apparently was a problem the studio had with comedians (case in point, silent film comedian Buster Keaton had been reduced to coming up with gags for different movies, including being assigned to this one, although his ideas didn’t make it into the movie, since the Marx brothers had a different style of comedy). I do think this movie was better than some of the later Marx brothers movies, with the main exception of Go West (but I’ll get into that one for another time). The music here isn’t particularly memorable, outside of Groucho’s rendition of “Lydia The Tattooed Lady” (and the less than politically correct song “Swingali” doesn’t help matters, either). Not to mention some of the various circus stunts seem obviously faked when some of the leads are supposed to be doing them.

As I said, though, this movie does have some bright spots.  Personally, I think most of them belong to Groucho and some of his exchanges with Chico.  Whether it be when he tries to get on the circus train but Chico won’t let him without a badge (even though he sent for him) or when Groucho is trying to interrogate some of the circus performers and Chico bluntly accuses them. I think Chico and Harpo have a few good moments together, mostly with the two of them trying to “re-destruct” the crime or Harpo trying to point out a clue that Chico was obviously missing. Like I said before, I do think this was one of the weaker Marx brothers movies, but I don’t think that it had quite fallen far enough for me to not recommend it. So, if you are in the mood for a decent circus movie, give this one a try!

This movie is available as part of a Marx Brothers double-feature with Room Service on DVD from Warner Home Video, and is one hour, twenty-seven minutes in length.

My Rating: 6/10

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Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2019) on… Road To Bali (1952)

We’re hitting the Road again, this time with the sixth film Road To Bali, once again starring Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour!

While in Australia, vaudevillians George Cochran (Bing Crosby) and Harold Gridley (Bob Hope) find themselves on the run to avoid a pair of shotgun weddings. They hire out to Prince Ken Arok (Murvyn Vye) of Batou as deep sea divers to go after sunken treasure. When they get to the island of Batou, they meet Princess Lalah (it’s Dorothy Lamour, so you know the boys will fall for her). Lalah is against them going diving for the treasure, because she knows about the killer squid living down there, and she tells George about it. So of course he cons Harold into going after it. Harold manages to survive the squid and get the treasure up, and so George, Harold and Lalah try to flee to Bali. While there’s a lot more that happens after that, it’s as good a place as any for me to stop.

I do have to say, with this movie, the series (and its stars) was starting to show its age. There is a slight “been there, done that” quality to the movie, with stuff like them avoiding a shotgun wedding (for the third time), them trying to swear off women (for however long that lasts), etc. Of course, as with most of the series, they do struggle with stereotypes of the various native people. Where some modern audiences might also object is the “wedding of the two grooms and no bride” (which was supposed to be Dottie’s Lalah marrying the two guys until the native chief decided to take her as his own wife), since their “volcano god” objects to it.

Don’t let my complaints fool you. I do like this movie, and think it does have many wonderful moments! The movie has a great many celebrity cameos, including Humphrey Bogart (although technically it’s borrowed footage from The African Queen), Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Bob’s Son Of Paleface co-star Jane Russell (wearing one of her costumes from that movie) and a couple others. There are also a few fun tunes, including “The Merry-Go-Run-Around,” which, to me, perfectly exemplifies the rivalry that Bing and Bob’s characters had shared for Dorothy Lamour’s characters throughout the series. And while it kind of veers into recognizing that “been there, done that” quality, Bob’s aside to the audience when the music begins for Bing’s big romantic song is certainly worth a good laugh. There are a few other wonderful moments in the movie, but, suffice to say, I enjoy this movie and would definitely suggest giving it a try!

The movie has fallen into the public domain, but for the best quality transfer, I would suggest either the Blu-ray or DVD from Kino Lorber. The movie is one hour, thirty-one minutes in length.

My Rating: 7/10

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What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2019) with… Road To Utopia (1946)

We’re back for the fourth road trip with Road To Utopia with Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour!

In flashback, we are told of how Sal’s (Dorothy Lamour) lawyer is murdered by two criminals, Sperry and McGurk, who steal a map to an Alaskan gold mine, and Sal gets on the first ship to Alaska to try to head them off. Meanwhile, a pair of song-and-dance con men, Duke Johnson (Bing Crosby) and Chester Hooton (Bob Hope), end up on a later ship to Alaska (after Duke cons Chester into going along). However, Chester shoves their money out a porthole (mistaking it for a safe), and they have to work their way over.  While cleaning the room occupied by Sperry and McGurk, they find the map.  Subduing the two criminals, they assume their identities to get off the boat. Sal, having already made it to the town of Skagway, has turned to her father’s friend Ace Larson (Douglas Dumbrille) for help (although he secretly wants the mine for himself). Duke and Chester also come to Skagway, where, as Sperry and McGurk, they are big men in town and gain Sal’s attention as she tries to get the map from them. However, Duke and Chester quickly find themselves on the run when the real Sperry and McGurk come gunning for them (not to mention some of Ace Larson’s goons, too).

While this may be the fourth movie in the series, the laughs are still coming hard and fast!  We get a second go-round of “talking” animals (achieved by mainly animating the lips).  Then we have the guys defining their relationship even further, with Bing’s Duke now even more willing to con Bob’s Chester (as exemplified by Chester feeling the need to count his fingers after shaking hands with Duke, or watching them pickpocket the same wallet from each other).  Then, of course, there are their quips, lampooning each other and a lot of other things, including the censors!  And who could forget Bob literally getting steamed up when Dottie is singing to him? Of course, these are just a handful of wonderful moments in a movie full of them.

A lot of what I’ve read seems to indicate that most feel that this movie is right up there with Road To Morocco as one of the best, if not the best, movies in the Road series. Personally, I disagree with that. I do like this movie, that I will admit. But at the same time, I do miss them doing their “patty-cake” routine (since this is the ONLY film in the series that they don’t do it at least once), and their reliance on the old “literally pull the rug out from under the bad guys” schtick instead of it just doesn’t work for me. That, and, to a degree, some of the movie’s suspense is removed just by the fact that the movie starts with the three leads (in old age makeup) as they tell the story of how they came to be separated for many years.  To be fair, these are minor quibbles, as I do still enjoy this movie.  This is the one in the series that modern viewers might have the easiest time with as it has the fewest issues with being politically correct (since it only takes place in Noth America, starting in San Francisco and moving to Alaska). So, yes, I would recommend this one for a good laugh!

The movie is available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber (and has been available on DVD from Universal for a number of years). As to the Blu-ray, I think it looks very good, possibly the best-looking transfer of the first four movies with few, if any, defects. Certainly the method of viewing I would recommend! The movie is one hour, thirty minutes in length.

My Rating: 7/10

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