Fred Astaire, Bob Fosse, Doris Day and Gene Kelly. Four movie musical icons brought together in this one collection. All four of the films featured here are classics, three have been newly restored with Warner Brothers Motion Picture Imaging process, two are making their Blu-ray debut, and one is considered the greatest movie musical of all time.
The Bandwagon (1953), directed by the legendary Vincente Minnelli, is a “backstage” musical staring Astaire. It takes viewers through the stages of a Broadway musical, from the writing, casting, choreography, rehearsals, failure on the road and eventual triumph on the Great White Way. Astaire plays Tony Hunter, star of many musical comedies, who fears that his career is waning. Lucky for him his close friends Lester (Oscar Levant) and Lily (Nanette Fabray) have written the perfect vehicle for him. Tony signs up, even though the show’s director decides to turn the original light production into a dark interpretation of the Faust legend. It’s up to Tony to take control and save the musical.
Astaire is marvelous to watch in memorable numbers like “By Myself,” “A Shine On Your shoes” and “The Girl Hunt Ballet.” The latter features Astaire dancing with Cyd Charisse, another dancing legend. If you’ve never seen The Bandwagon, it’s one of the essentials. Now that the film has been fully restored in high def, it’s fresh for a new generation of movie lovers. The Blu-ray comes with commentary by Liza Minnelli, a 1973 TV special about her father, Vincente, two short films and the theatrical trailer.
Cole Porter’s play, Kiss Me Kate, is based upon Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. It was a hit on Broadway, sweeping the 1949 Tony Awards, and made its way to the silver screen in 1953 – in 3D, no less, That’s right, Kiss Me Kate is that rare musical that was filmed to give audiences the most realistic movie experience possible.
Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson star as musical theater actors once married – now divorced – starring in a musical based on The Taming of the Shrew. They hate each other, and their arguments are threatening to have the show closed. There’s nothing they’d like more than to call off the play, but there are debts to be paid, in particular to a couple of gangsters played by Keenan Wynn and James Whitmore. The film is filled with plenty of sight gags, romance, and of course Porter’s classic music.
Hermes Pan, who worked with Astaire and Ginger Rogers on many of their classic films, choreographed Kiss Me Kate. The legendary choreographer allowed one of his dancers, Bob Fosse, to add his own steps to the climactic “From This Moment On” number. Not only does Fosse’s work electrify the screen, but this dance number signals a turning point in the career of Fosse, who world go on to direct Chicago on Broadway and Cabaret in the movies.
The Blu-ray for Kiss the Kate features two film shorts and the theatrical trailer. It also contains the 3D and 2D versions of the film, both restored with the MPI process.
Calamity Jane, also released in 1953, stars Doris Day in one of her most memorable roles. Critics praised the actress’ work as some of the best in her career, and the movie gave her the song that would become one of her signature tunes, “Secret Love.” That song would go on to win the Best Original Song Academy Award.
Day plays the titular character, an Indian fighting, bullwhip cracking tomboy who likes to break into song. Her best friend/enemy is Wild Bill Hickok (Howard Keel – him again) who does his own share of cowboy rowdiness while pursuing the more “lady-like” chanteuse played by Allyn McLerie. Through songs, dance, feuds and gunplay, Jane and Bill eventually realize that they’ve meant for each other.
Day is a powder keg full of energy, showing the full range of her great talent. If you’ve only ever seen her in romantic comedies, you have to watch Calamity Jane, She’s one of the musical genres true greats and this role puts all of her talents on display. The Blu-ray is crisp and alive with color. It comes with two Warner Brothers shorts, including the 1953 Daffy Duck cartoon, “Duck Dodgers in the 2442 Century.”
Rounding out this collection is the Blu-ray for Singin’ in the Rain, the quintessential movie musical starring Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds. This is the same Blu-ray disc that was released in 2012. I reviewed that luxurious box set back then and you can read the review here. Warner Brothers has a history repackaging films in special collections like this one. However, the inclusion of Singin’ in the Rain with these three newly remastered films is an added bonus and makes the collection all the more special.