DVD of the Week – ‘Lubitsch Musicals’ – February 12, 2008

Ernst Lubitsch was the master of the silent movie comedy of high society manners and lusty passions and he crossed over to sound with the grace of his cultured characters, adding music and dialogue sparkling with veiled suggestion to his opulent romantic comedies of manners and mischief. Lubitsch Musicals presents four of the delicious, delectable, deft sex comedies, musicals as earthy and randy as they come, but presented with such wit and elegance that the innuendo isn’t dirty, it’s just fun. The rich and beautiful are just as lusty as the rest of us, but they have style, at least when Lubitsch is directing them

I review the four-disc set in my MSN DVD column:

One would be hard put to actually describe the legendary Lubitsch Touch – it’s as much attitude as style – but there’s no mistaking the smooth elegance, continental wit, and winking innuendo of his best films. This set, from Criterion’s no-frills Eclipse series, charts Ernst Lubitch’s first sound films with the DVD debuts of his first four playfully adult musicals, three of them starring the perfectly-cast Maurice Chevalier. “The Love Parade” (1929), starring Chevalier as a womanizing military attaché with eyes for American in Paris Jeanette MacDonald, was not just Lubitsch’s first talkie but a sophisticated musical at the birth of the cinematic genre. The film marked MacDonald’s film debut and she returned for Lubitch’s next musical, Monte Carlo (1930), playing a countess romanced by a sly count (Jack Buchanan) who poses as a hairdresser to get into her boudoir. How Lubitsch!

The set also features The Smiling Lieutenant (1931), a seductive triangle with Chevalier, Claudette Colbert and Miriam Hopkins, and One Hour With You (1932), a remake of Lubitsch’s silent masterpiece The Marriage Circle with Chevalier and MacDonald.

Another highlight this week is Academy Awards Animation Collection: 15 Winners, 26 Nominees, a three-disc collection of animated shorts from the libraries of MGM, Warner Bros., and the Fleischer Studios. I’m actually far more enchanted by the two discs of nominated films than the disc of winners, which is dominated by Hanna-Barbera “Tom and Jerry” cartoons. But then I’m a Chuck Jones guy, and most of his pieces (as well as work by Tex Avery and the Fleischers) are among the nominated films:

“From A to Z-z-z-z” (1954) is the first of only two cartoons featuring the unlimited imagination of schoolboy Ralph Philips, “High Note” (1960) is a memorable Merry Melody featuring a drunk musical note stumbling and hiccupping through “The Blue Danube,” and “Now Hear This” (1963) is a delightfully abstract tale of sound effects morphing into surreal imagery.

The set includes numerous cartoons released on previous sets (only 15 are new to DVD), but for those who haven’t invested a few hundred dollars in their animation collections, they make a great sampler of the best, the funniest, and the most creative cartoons from the classic age of studio animation.

Also check out the box sets Joan Crawford Collection Vol. 2 (which includes George Cukor’s A Woman’s Face) and Charlie Chan Collection: Volume 4 (which collects the first four features starring Sidney Toler, who took over from Warner Oland).

Ben Affleck’s directorial debut Gone Baby Gone highlights the New Releases this week.

It’s a PI movie with the feel of an indie drama, set in the working class neighborhoods of Boston and filled with characters that feel like they’ve lived on the streets all their lives, and defined by an ambiguity the film refuses to simplify. Ben creates a vivid sense of place and neighborhood and his little brother Casey is well cast as the local Boston guy turned missing persons detective, driven by a sense of moral justice that is put to the test as he discovers more to the story. It’s a low-key performance that helps define the quiet complexity of the story and the moral world around it.

Also in New Releases this week: Becoming Jane with Anne Hathaway as Jane Austen, No Reservations, a remake of the German romantic drama Mostly Martha starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, and John Turturro’s blue collar jukebox music Romance & Cigarettes.

New on TV DVD this week is HBO’s Tell Me You Love Me: The Complete First Season.

David and Katie (Tim DeKay and Ally Walker) are caring 40-something parents but after 12 years of marriage and despite a seemingly strong relationship, they have stopped having sex, much to Katie’s frustration. Palek and Carolyn (Adam Scott and Sonya Walger) are young and healthy and trying to get pregnant, except she’s trying harder than he is and he’s not really thrilled when it finally happens. Jaime (Michelle Borth) is engaged to Hugo (Luke Farrell Kirby) but leaves him over commitment issues that seem to hound her even after she leaves. Even by the standards of HBO’s shows of family dysfunction and messed up relationships, this is a tough, uncompromising, often hard to endure drama about communication breakdown and fears of emotional intimacy. Sexual intimacy, however, seems to be no problem for most of them (David and Katie excepted), and this show has the most frank sex scenes of sex on TV.

Also new this week is Edward Woodward in The Equalizer: Season One, the Spike TV series Blade: The Series with Kirk “Sticky” Jones, and Route 66: Season One, Volume Two.

The fifteen episodes of this four disc set (in an unusual digipak design with hinged wings) completes the first season of the classic TV road show starring Martin Milner (as college boy Tod), George Maharis (as street wise ladykiller Buz) and a Corvette convertible. It was kind of a “Playhouse 90” on the road, with Tod and Buz as hosts and eternal guest stars in the stories they discover driving across the country looking for work, and every episode opens against the landscape of their new location with Nelson Riddle’s jazzy theme song providing the continuity.

I love this series and this set looks a bit better than Infinity’s first release, but I’m frustrated by the way they have reframed the academy ratio image to fill widescreen TVs. This is classic TV, folks. Please treat it with the respect it deserves.

The weekly column goes live every Tuesday on MSN Entertainment.

[Note: click on DVD cover to find it on Amazon]







Author: seanax

I write the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website (www.streamondemandathome.com). I'm a contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies Online, Keyframe, Independent Lens, and Cinephiled, and the editor of Parallax View (www.parallax-view.org).. I've written for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Weekly, GreenCine.com, Senses of Cinema, Asian Cult Cinema, and Psychotronic Video, among other publications, and I am a contributing editor to Parallax View. I currently live and work in Seattle, Washington, with my two cats, Hammet and Chandler.

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