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Classic Musicals Collection: Classic Musicals from the Dream Factory (1946 - 1955)

Cast: Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Dan Dailey, more...
Director: Charles Walters, Stanley Donen, Roy Del Ruth
    see all cast/crew...
Studio: Warner Home Video
Genre: Classics, Musicals
Running Time: 559 min.

Synopsis

Ziegfeld Follies: The presence of William Powell as legendary showman Flo Ziegfeld at the beginning of Ziegfeld Follies might lead an impressionable viewer from thinking that this 1946 film is a Technicolor sequel to the 1936 Oscar-winning The Great Ziegfeld. Not so: this is more in the line of an all-star revue, much like such early talkies as Hollywood Revue of 1929 and Paramount on Parade. We meet a grayed, immaculately garbed Ziegfeld in Paradise (his daily diary entry reads "Another heavenly day"), where he looks down upon the world and muses over the sort of show he'd be putting on were he still alive. Evidently Ziegfeld's shade has something of a celestial conduit to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios, since his "dream" show is populated almost exclusively by MGM stars. Vincente Minnelli is given sole directorial credit at the beginning of the film, though many of the individual "acts" were helmed by other hands. The Bunin puppets offer a tableau depicting anxious theatregoers piling into a Broadway theatre, as well as caricatures of Ziegfeld's greatest stars. The opening number, "Meet the Ladies", spotlights a whip-wielding (!) Lucille Ball, a bevy of chorus girls dressed as panthers, and, briefly, Margaret O'Brien. Kathryn Grayson and "The Ziegfeld Girls" perform "There's Beauty Everywhere." Victor Moore and Edward Arnold show up in an impressionistically staged adaptation of the comedy chestnut "Pay the Two Dollars". Fred Astaire and Lucille Bremer (a teaming which evidently held high hopes for MGM) dance to the tune of "This Heart is Mine." "Number Please" features Keenan Wynn in an appallingly unfunny rendition of an old comedy sketch (performed far better as "Alexander 2222" in Abbott and Costello's Who Done It?) Lena Horne, strategically placed in the film at a juncture that could be edited out in certain racist communities, sings "Love". Red Skelton stars in the film's comedy highlight, "When Television Comes"-which is actually Skelton's classic "Guzzler's Gin" routine (this sequence was filmed late in 1944, just before Red's entry into the armed services). Astaire and Bremer return for a lively rendition of "Limehouse Blues". Judy Garland, lampooning every Hollywood glamour queen known to man, stops the show with "The Interview". Even better is the the historical one-time-only teaming of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly in "The Babbitt and the Bromide". The excellence of these sequence compensate for the mediocrity of "The Sweepstakes Ticket", wherein Fanny Brice screams her way through a dull comedy sketch with Hume Cronyn (originally removed from the US prints of Ziegfeld Follies, this sequence was restored for television). The film ends with a water ballet by Esther Williams. Excised from the final release print (pared down to 110 minutes, from a monumental 273 minutes!) was Judy Garland's rendition of "Liza", a duet featuring Garland and Mickey Rooney, and a "Baby Snooks" sketch featuring Fanny Brice, Hanley Stafford and B. S. Pully. A troubled and attenuated production, Ziegfeld Follies proved worth the effort when the film rang up a $2 million profit. - Hal Erickson

I'ts Always Fair Weather: Cooked up by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, It's Always Fair Weather could well have been titled On the Town Ten Years Later. Like 1949's On the Town (also a Comden/Green collaboration), this MGM musical follows the exploits of three servicemen buddies, played by Gene Kelly, Dan Dailey and Michael Kidd. The difference here is that the threesome has just been discharged from service. The boys agree to get together again exactly ten years after their parting. Flash-forward to 1955: Kelly, who'd dreamed of being a show biz entrepreneur, is a small-time boxing promoter, heavily in debt to the Mob; Dailey has abandoned his plans of becoming an artist in favor of a stuffy, grey-flannel existence as an ad executive; and Kidd, who'd aspired to being a master chef, is running a modest diner. On behalf of TV-personality Dolores Gray, network-staffer Cyd Charisse contrives to reunite the three men on a This is Your Life style TV special, but all three are hostile to the notion. - Hal Erickson

Summer Stock: Summer Stock represented Judy Garland's swan song at MGM. Garland plays the owner of a New England farm which entrepreneur Gene Kelly hopes to convert into a summer theatre. Gloria DeHaven, a member of Kelly's troupe, also happens to be Garland's sister. Aware that the farm is having financial difficulties, DeHaven talks the recalcitrant Garland into allowing the troupe to set up shop in the barn. All sorts of romances wind their way through the summer air as Kelly mounts his production. In the long-anticipated finale, Garland herself steps into the leading-lady slot vacated by her petulant sister DeHaven, and of course the show is a smasheroo. To watch Garland joyfully perform such numbers as "Friendly Star," "If You Feel Like Singing, Sing," and her legendary "drag" specialty "Get Happy," you'd never suspect that she was on the verge of a nervous breakdown (the film opened while Garland was recovering from a suicide attempt). Adding to the overall exuberance of Summer Stock are such dependable supporting players as Eddie Bracken, Phil Silvers, Marjorie Main and Hans Conried (cast as the troupe's resident romantic baritone!) - Hal Erickson

Three Little Words: MGM's Three Little Words is a "twin" musical biopic, covering the lives and careers of songwriters Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby. Fred Astaire plays Kalmar, a frustrated magician, while Red Skelton is cast as Ruby, a wannabe baseball player. After "meeting cute" during a disastrous vaudeville show, the oil-and-water Bert and Harry become a popular songwriting team, dashing off such favorites as Who's Sorry Now?, Nevertheless, So Long Oo-Long, I Wanna be Loved by You, All Alone Monday and the title song (the film unfortunately skimps on Kalmar and Ruby's Gilbert-and-Sullivan style novelty ditties, with the exception of Hooray for Captain Spaulding, Groucho Marx' signature tune in Animal Crackers). Adhering more to MGM formula than the facts, the script contrives to have Kalmar and Ruby split up over a trivial misunderstanding, only to be reunited by their wives for an "all is forgiven" radio broadcast hosted by bandleader Phil Regan. Vera-Ellen co-stars as Kalmar's vaudevillian wife Jessie Brown, while Arlene Dahl portrays Ruby's movie-star spouse Eileen Percy. Gloria DeHaven is seen as her own mother, Mrs. Carter DeHaven; and Debbie Reynolds plays "boop-a-doop" girl Helen Kane, her singing voice dubbed in by Ms. Kane herself. Though not quite as humorous as the subject matter would seem to dictate (Red Skelton gets his biggest laughs in the scenes wherein he, as Harry Ruby, participates in spring training with his favorite baseball club) Three Little Words is an excellent example of MGM's musical unit at the height of its powers. - Hal Erickson

Till the Clouds Roll By: MGM's Till the Clouds Roll By is the musicalized, and highly fictionalized, life story of beloved composer Jerome Kern, who gave his blessing to the production shortly before his death in 1946. As played by a gray-templed Robert Walker, Kern is a likeable but none too exciting sort who expresses his emotions through his music. Constructed in the form of an extended flashback, the story proper begins at the turn of the century, as Kern tries to peddle his ditties to disinterested Broadway producers. His efforts to interest impresario Charles Frohman (Harry Hayden) go nowhere because Frohman is convinced that the only good music comes from Europe. Obligingly, Kern moves to London, where he meets and falls in love with his future wife Eva (Dorothy Patrick). On the verge of securing work with Frohman, Kern's hopes are dashed when the producer goes down with the Lusitania in 1915. Fortunately, Kern has developed such powerful U.S. contacts as Victor Herbert (Paul Maxey) and Oscar Hammerstein (Paul Langton), enabling him to find success as the composer of several "intimate" musicals for New York's Princess Theater. The film ends where it begins, with Kern's triumph as composer of the Broadway blockbuster Show Boat. Van Heflin weaves in and out of the proceedings as the obligatory best friend/severest critic, a musical arranger named Jim Hessler (purportedly based on longtime Kern associate Paul Sadler). No one in 1946 really cared about the dramatic passages of Till the Clouds Roll By; the film's biggest drawing card was its lineup of all-star MGM talent, performing Kern's most famous numbers. Judy Garland (as Marilyn Miller) sings "Look for the Silver Lining"; Dinah Shore performs "The Last Time I Saw Paris" before a back-projected "Gay Paree"; Kathryn Grayson does a Rita Hayworth imitation with "Long Ago and Far Away"; Virginia O'Brien deadpans "A Fine Romance"; Tony Martin warbles "All the Things You Are"; June Allyson and Ray McDonald team up for the title number; and Frank Sinatra, incongruously dressed in white tuxedo, runs through "Ol' Man River." In addition, other musical contributions are made by Van Johnson, Angela Lansbury, Cyd Charisse, Gower Champion, and Lucille Bremer (cast as Van Heflin's daughter). The film's high point comes at the very beginning with a Reader's Digest edition of Show Boat, featuring Lena Horne, as Julie (the role she was born to play, but never did again on screen), delivering a powerhouse rendition of "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man." Since lapsing into public domain in 1974, Till the Clouds Roll By has, along with Royal Wedding, become the most readily accessible of all MGM musicals. - Hal Erickson

The Collection Contains the Following Titles:

  • It's Always Fair Weather (1955)
  • Summer Stock (1950)
  • Three Little Words (1950)
  • Till the Clouds Roll By (1946)
  • Ziegfeld Follies(1946)



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