Classic Musicals Collection: Classic Musicals from the Dream Factory, Vol. 2 (7 Discs) (Widescreen) product details page

Classic Musicals Collection: Classic Musicals from the Dream Factory, Vol. 2 (7 Discs) (Widescreen)

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After his classic films with Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire went through quite an array of partners. Vera Ellen, his teammate for The Belle of New York, is one of his very finest in terms of technique -- and she's not a bad match for him overall, either. True, there's a substantial difference in their ages, but this was often the case with Astaire and his co-stars. While not a great actress, Vera Ellen has an attractive personality that plays well off of Astaire, who is in his usual superb form as the debonair playboy (not a stretch). The two stars have three marvelous dances that allow them to strut their stuff together, but it's two Astaire solos that are especially memorable. "I Wanna Be a Dancing Man" is a traditional Astaire signature number and "Seeing's Believing" is an amazing trip across the rooftops of New York City. Comedienne Alice Pearce also gets a few chances to shine, especially in "Naughty But Nice." Unfortunately, the screenplay is a letdown, with a terribly thin plot and leaden dialogue. This prevents the movie from being something special, but the highlights are noteworthy. Astaire's next film would be one of the classics of the film musical, Band Wagon. Craig Butler, All Movie Guide

The Pirate is an entertaining example of the quality work brought to fruition at MGM by producer Arthur Freed. A favorite of Judy Garland fans, the film features a fine collection of Cole Porter songs, highlighted by the closing number, "Be a Clown." There's little substance other than the musical numbers, and The Pirate sags somewhat when no one is singing or dancing. Though she portrays an innocent young girl unwise in the ways of love, Garland had lost some of her ability to convey Dorothy-like purity in the decade since The Wizard of Oz. Fortunately, her voice was still in full form. Gene Kelly is superb as usual, as is the well-chosen supporting cast. Freed would later loosely translate "Be a Clown" as "Make 'Em Laugh" in 1952's Singin' in the Rain. Richard Gilliam, All Movie Guide

That Midnight Kiss launched the film career of operatic tenor Mario Lanza in a big way, despite the fact that the plot, as flimsy as it is, is borrowed from dozens of other films. The most notable is Forty-Second Street, and that should tell any viewer familiar with the film all they need to know about the story and whether they are going to be able to sit through its trite predictability and unimaginative dialogue to enjoy the parade of musical numbers. Lanza is probably an acquired taste to modern audiences; if his acting is not quite as stiff as many other opera stars, it still is not as pliable as it needs to be to come across as an ordinary Joe who just happens to have a professionally trained voice. His singing is also a matter of taste, although it must be said that he is in perhaps his finest voice in Kiss. Kathryn Grayson also sounds quite good and she does the best she can with the schmaltzy script. The stars are given a sumptuous production, with lavish sets and costumes and musical arrangements that point out their assets very well. The supporting cast, with the likes of Ethel Barrymore and Keenan Wynn, are overqualified for their roles, but they don't let that stop them from turning in very fine performances. If That Midnight Kiss is less than a great musical, it does do a good job of giving "legit" lovers a chance to revel in some "grand" singing. Craig Butler, All Movie Guide

After his classic films with Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire went through quite an array of partners. Vera Ellen, his teammate for The Belle of New York, is one of his very finest in terms of technique -- and she's not a bad match for him overall, either. True, there's a substantial difference in their ages, but this was often the case with Astaire and his co-stars. While not a great actress, Vera Ellen has an attractive personality that plays well off of Astaire, who is in his usual superb form as the debonair ****** (not a stretch). The two stars have three marvelous dances that allow them to strut their stuff together, but it's two Astaire solos that are especially memorable. "I Wanna Be a Dancing Man" is a traditional Astaire signature number and "Seeing's Believing" is an amazing trip across the rooftops of New York City. Comedienne Alice Pearce also gets a few chances to shine, especially in "Naughty But Nice." Unfortunately, the screenplay is a letdown, with a terribly thin plot and leaden dialogue. This prevents the movie from being something special, but the highlights are noteworthy. Astaire's next film would be one of the classics of the film musical, Band Wagon. Craig Butler, All Movie Guide

It's a little hard for most modern audiences to know what to make of movies like The Toast of New Orleans. The story is absurd and predictable, the characters at times are actively annoying, and contrivance is usually the order of the day. In its own time, the attraction of Mario Lanza and Kathryn Grayson made any such flaws beside the point, but opera -- which was even then not food for the masses -- has become so marginalized culturally that few today can appreciate either the voices or the style of the singers. However, for those willing to listen, the songs and arias presented herein hold a great deal of appeal, and Lanza, at least, is in superior voice. Grayson comes off a bit shrill at times, and inferior recording techniques sometimes affect the quality of her upper register. For non-opera fans, there's still a delicious David Niven, and Lanza, though a bit stiff, has virility and a certain flair. For her part, Grayson certainly knows how to do the imperious bit, and the two do have a nice oil-and-water chemistry. Overblown and kitschy in places, there's still an undeniable, schmaltzy appeal to much of New Orleans, especially the classic "Be My love" sequence and the big finale aria from Madame Butterfly. Craig Butler, All Movie Guide

Hollywood biopics have justifiably been criticized for playing fast and loose with the facts, especially when dealing with composers and lyricists. Words and Music is an extreme example of this, the historical accuracy of which is practically nil. This wouldn't have really mattered had the resulting screenplay been more palatable, blessed with more interesting characters, or possessed of witty and sparkling repartee. Unfortunately, it's a clichéd story with lines the viewer can finish before they're out of the characters' mouths. Matters aren't helped by the leads; Tom Drake is dull and Mickey Rooney annoying. What saves the film are the songs and their performers. Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart wrote some of the finest songs of their day, each imbued with Rodgers' incredible melodic facility and Hart's astounding wordplay, and most of the interpreters present do them full justice. Judy Garland and Lena Horne win highest marks, with a vigorous "Johnny One Note" and a blazing "The Lady Is a Tramp," respectively. "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue" is truncated somewhat, but danced brilliantly by Gene Kelly and, cast surprisingly well against type, Vera Ellen. Even June Allyson, singing "Thou Swell," turns in a superior performance. Production values are high, as expected of an MGM musical of the period, and the vocal arrangements are a lot of fun. Words and Music would be followed the next year by Night and Day, a film about Cole Porter that was also largely fictionalized. Craig Butler, All Movie Guide