Minnelli and Astaire
Yolanda and the Thief (Warner Archive)
Every Hollywood studio made musicals in the 1940s and 1950s, but MGM made musicals big and glorious and, more often than not, classy. Vincente Minnelli was MGM’s resident master of grace under rhythm, a stylist of the highest order who used dance and song to define character while creating some of the greatest set pieces in musical history. Yolanda and the Thief (1945), a whimsical fantasy set in a fictional Latin American kingdom with Fred Astaire as a cynical con man working on a naïve young princess (Lucille Bremer), is built on one of the weakest scripts and lackluster scores of Minnelli’s career, but it’s not without its pleasures, notably a pair of extended musical sequences that take over the film. Astaire’s guilt-driven nightmare is a modern ballet in a twisted dreamscape of anxieties, while a bright carnival celebration segues into the film’s most joyous number, “Coffee Time,” where Minnelli’s color design adds dynamic splashes to the choreography and elegant camerawork.
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As reported on MSN Videodrone here, “ghosting” issues in a run of discs from the MGM Limited Edition Collection, a line of MOD (manufacture-on-demand) discs, were discovered a few weeks ago. Allied Vaughn traced the problem back to a faulty transcoder in the replication process and replaced it. The issue has been solved for all discs going forth and Fox Home Video promised that all faulty copies would be replaced through the vendors from which they were purchased.
Unfortunately, there has been some confusion with some of the vendors, who remained unaware of the issues with the discs and the promise from Fox, so Allied Vaughn has taken steps to honor replacements of affected discs directly.
You can contact Allied Vaughn directly by phone, at 1-800-759-4087, ext 5, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Marlowe (Warner Archive)
James Garner is Philip Marlowe in the 1969 adaptation of “The Little Sister” (the least of Raymond Chandler’s Marlowe novels, perhaps, but still a Marlowe novel), but it should come as no surprise that he more resembles a certain seventies TV private eye. When he quips, in perfect deadpan, “Does you mother know what you do for a living?” as a couple of thugs go to work on him, it sounds a lot more like the future Jim Rockford than the past Philip Marlowe.
Which actually makes Marlowe a lot of fun in its own right. Marlowe is the down-at-heels private detective in the modern L.A. of the late sixties, not quite old school and just a little bit of the urban tough guy in the swinging sixties, which looks more go-go than groovy baby in this incarnation. Hired to find a runaway brother by a young woman whose name—Orfamay (Sharon Farrell)—and drawl identify her as a rural hick in the big city, Marlowe gets tangles in a plot that encompasses gangsters, a movie star (Gayle Hunnicutt) and her protective stripper roommate (Rita Moreno), blackmail, murder by ice-pick, a doctor who laces the cigarettes he hands out to nosy PIs and Bruce Lee as a stylish thug who trashes Marlow’s office as a form of intimidation.
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DVD was once considered the savior of Hollywood. When it exploded with record sales and runaway growth in the early 2000s, it became the cash cow for Hollywood, often bringing in more money that ticket sales from the initial theatrical release.
The top selling DVD/Blu-ray of 2010
The growth in DVD sales ended a couple of years ago, not coincidentally around the time the economy took a dive. And now, a report from SNL Kagan (which monitors and reports on media and communications) shows the decline has picked up momentum in the last year, dropping 44% in wholesale earnings. The top-selling DVD of 2010 — Avatar, now the highest-grossing film of all time in unadjusted dollars — sold fewer copies than the 2009 champion Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, a film I can’t imagine anyone wanting to watch again
That’s not necessarily the death knell for the format — $4.47 billion in wholesale income is no small thing — but it will result in more cautious release slates from the studios, especially when it comes to classics and catalogue releases.
On the upside, Blu-ray is growing at a rapid clip — up 53% from last year, according to SNL Kagan — but not enough to make up the losses from DVD. And digital downloads, which many believe will ultimately supplant DVD as the primary home video format, has not grown enough to make up the difference.
What does that mean for consumers who embraced the format? New Releases will probably continue to roll out unabated and we will continue to see deluxe editions of the evergreen classics (the Casablancas and Gone With the Winds and Ben-Hurs and such), especially as they get upgraded to Blu-ray.
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Back in print on MOD
How I Won the War (MGM Limited Edition Collection)
John Lennon’s familiar face, unsmiling behind a pair of yellow-tinted glasses, stares out from the cover of the this release of Richard Lester’s 1967 anti-war farce How I Won the War. And though second billed in the credits, Mr. Lennon is not so much co-star as an impish member of the company, an ensemble of oddballs goofing behind the ineffectual strutting of Lt. Goodbody (Michael Crawford, from Lester’s earlier film The Knack… and How to Get It and later to star in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom Of The Opera”) spouting his memoirs to the sympathetic German officer that has taken him prisoner. Peace signs and psychedelic suggestion of the cover aside, this sixties satire is neither a Beatles-esque romp nor a counterculture blast, but a mix of British music hall lampoon, “Goon Show” whimsy and absurdity, gallows humor and grim anti-war imagery (some of it actual battle footage edited into the comically chaotic recreation of warfare).
The film shifts back and forth through Goodbody’s confused service with the sweetly stupid and misguidedly cocky upper-class twit of a college boy, promoted to officer by virtue of class rather than any talent, intelligence or aptitude for leadership, periodically turning to the audience to spin a narrative that has little to do with the incompetence and tomfoolery onscreen. His mission—to build a proper cricket pitch in North Africa—stands in for the absurdity of war as the men die in often brutally violent fashion for this misguided misadventure.
How I Won the War is a well-meaning misfire of curious bits and pieces awkwardly pieced together in an unbalanced mosaic. Lennon, who had worked with Lester on A Hard Day’s Night and Help!, is no comic genius but his good-natured goofing and mugging as Musketeer Gripweed adds a scruffily vulnerable touch to the more focused character comedy of Jack MacGowran (as the unit con man and self-appointed entertainment director) and Roy Kinnear. The gruesome and the goofy mix it up in scene after scene, but Lester’s grand plan of using farce for political commentary is sabotaged by his uncharacteristically clumsy handling of it all. It’s like a military burlesque with everyone too busy with their own act to notice that there’s a story here. Or there should be one, at least.
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