Aug 27, 2019

Pre-code on DVD: Robert Montgomery and Sally Eilers in Made on Broadway (1933)

I’m delighted that Warner Archive has kept its promise to continue regularly releasing pre-code titles after the conclusion of its Forbidden Hollywood series. Its recent DVD release of Made on Broadway (1933) is definitely the kind of film that would have fit perfectly into one of those boxed sets. It’s a fast-moving comedy of deception with Robert Montgomery at his charming best.

Montgomery is a public-relations man who owns a club exclusively patronized by potential clients who drink free with the understanding that they will likely later be paying much more for his services. He fancies himself a clever guy who gets all the angles. However, he finds himself humbled when he rescues a young working class girl (Sally Eilers) who throws herself into the river.

Instead of batting eyes at her hero, Eilers tells the press that she saved Montgomery. Impressed by her wit and nerve, he decides to build her up as a socialite, with the help of his remarkably helpful ex-wife (Madge Evans). As he falls for his creation, Eilers finds herself in trouble, and keeps him on his toes with her unpredictable and increasingly bold schemes.

Montgomery knows that he has gotten himself mixed up with a trickster, but he can’t back away, because he seems to understand on some level that he has finally found the woman he deserves. It’s amusing to watch him essentially face his own chicanery through the eyes of love. It is the perfect use of his “can’t be bothered” pre-code persona.

You never know if the volcanically-voiced Eugene Pallette is going to be working class or a millionaire; here he is the former as Montgomery’s butler. Jean Parker rounds out a charming supporting cast (Bess Flowers and Billy Gilbert also make brief appearances) and Evans projects the perfect exhausted elegance as a woman who is used to dealing with problematic men. Though mostly forgotten today, Eilers was a reliable presence in early talkies; her under-the-radar charms works well in this role where surprise is of the essence.

This is a fun, snappy entry in the pre-code universe.

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.

Aug 22, 2019

On DVD: Doris Day in The Pajama Game (1957)

I’ve always viewed The Pajama Game (1957) as an oddity among musicals. How else can you look at a romance blossoming among workers’ strikes and labor negotiations? Compounding that is a soundtrack which mixes utterly forgettable tunes with some of the greatest classics of the genre and one outstanding dance number, choreographed by a young Bob Fosse and featuring the remarkable dancer and choreographer Carole Haney. I recently re-watched this Doris Day classic on a new DVD release from Warner Archive.

Day stars as an employee of a pajama factory who is also a leader in the employee union. Her life becomes more complicated when the employees organize to fight for better wages just as she is falling for the new superintendent (John Raitt). The workers resist, Day and Raitt tangle, and everything is resolved amidst high kicks and enthusiastic production numbers.

The Pajama Game originated on the stage and much of the original cast appears in the film, with the most notable exception being Day taking on Janis Paige’s role. You can feel that play-to the-rafters stage performer energy throughout the film. It keeps the momentum rolling through the more lackluster songs. Those tunes with sparkle are an eclectic bunch: the slinky Hernando’s Hideaway, the precision pop of Steam Heat (both led by edgy pixie Haney), and the dreamily wistful Hey There, which is good enough for two renditions: one by Raitt one by Day.

Day is reliably charming in the lead, she belts out songs with enthusiasm and alternates pleasingly between romance and indignation, but Haney is the stand-out in Pajama Game. The actress won a Tony for originating her role on Broadway and by the time she appeared in the film, it fit her like a body stocking. Of the eight films the mostly stage bound dancer made, this would be one of her only opportunities to take center stage (another notable film appearance: her featured dance with Bob Fosse in Kiss Me Kate [1953]).

Haney had been assistant choreographer to Gene Kelly early in her career, working on (and sometimes appearing in) films including On the Town (1949), Summer Stock (1950), and An American in Paris (1951). You can see a bit of Kelly’s elegant grace in her style, but it is secondary to her full embodiment of choreographer Bob Fosse’s tightly-wound, cool cat style. She displays this to marvelous effect as part of a dance trio in the show-stopping Steam Heat, a number so sharply modern that it hardly seems a part of the same film.

The film is an interesting mix of the nostalgic and the cutting edge, where a cheerfully corny picnic can coexist with writhing bodies in lockstep formation. It’s clearly a late-studio age musical, with a toe in the past and an eye to the future.

Special features on the DVD include a theatrical trailer and the deleted song, The Man Who Invented Love.

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.

Aug 15, 2019

On Blu-ray: Mark Hamill and Annie Potts in Corvette Summer (1978)

A year after Star Wars (1977) brought Mark Hamill lasting fame he starred in the exponentially more modest Corvette Summer (1978). Despite the dramatic difference in setting, he plays a similarly na├»ve, but principled young man on a quest. It’s as if Luke Skywalker dropped into a high school auto shop after a journey from a galaxy far away. I recently revisited the film on a new Blu-ray from Warner Archive.

Hamill is Kenny, an earnest shop student on the verge of high school graduation. The big class project is a souped-up, cherry-colored Corvette Stingray, which the kids (among them an adorable Danny Bonaduce) are eager to take for a test run. They are devastated when the car is stolen mid-drive and no one more so than Kenny, who decides he must find it at all costs.

He gets a tip that the Corvette is on display in a Las Vegas casino, so he hitches his way across the desert. Instead of finding the car, he meets scrappy aspiring call girl Vanessa (Annie Potts). Though she has a slick trick van, she’s not much older than Kenny and clearly isn’t prepared for the dangerous world of hooking on the strip. When she can’t convince him to become a client, she helps him instead, as hookers with a heart of gold do in the movies.

While much of the action is played lightly, Kenny falls into disturbing territory. He becomes acquainted with violence and corruption beyond his ability to process and his confusion clouds his judgment. You might think that would be the juicy part of the proceedings, but it’s actually when the film begins to lose steam.

Hamill leaps through his early scenes with the earnestness of a half-trained puppy. He’s full of enthusiasm and only somewhat prepared for adult life. While his single mother has given him a taste of the rot in the world, he’s still endearingly eager and the energy he exudes keeps the first part of the film lively, especially when he meets Potts, who nearly steals it all away from him.

The plot begins to drag on the pair though, who really only need each other to engage an audience. Instead, they are required to march through a series of events that fail to be novel or intriguing. They’d have been ideal together in a story with less crime, more screwball action.

As it is, Hamill and Potts are worth the watch and overall the film has the warm feeling of a flick you'll always love because you saw it for the first time when you were twelve.

Bonus: Beloved character actor Dick Miller makes one of his most endearing cameos as a lucky man who is happy to spread the wealth.

The sole special feature on the disc is a trailer for the film.

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.

Aug 6, 2019

On Blu-ray: Jack Lemmon and Anne Bancroft in The Prisoner of Second Avenue (1975)

Jack Lemmon and Anne Bancroft are well matched as a married couple navigating chaotic city life in The Prisoner of Second Avenue (1975), Neil Simon’s adaptation of his own stage play. They both play from the soul, with a lack of artifice that enables them to express the complications of human nature with great clarity. I enjoyed seeing these two play off each other in a new Blu-ray release of the film from Warner Archive.

Lemmon and Bancroft are settled into empty-nester life in their fourteenth floor New York apartment when suddenly everything seems to turn sour. Lemmon loses his job, their apartment is burglarized, and the crowds, crime and noise of the city begin to overwhelm them. To top it off, on the same day the building elevator and the water service both break down. Bancroft manages to keep her cool for the most part, but Lemmon veers towards a nervous breakdown.

Throughout their trials with rude neighbors, criminals, suspected criminals (Lemmon chases a suspect, a young Sylvester Stallone, in an amusing scene in Central Park), and meddling family, Bancroft and Lemmon remain endearingly devoted to each other. Even when they fight, there’s a powerful undercurrent of love between them. In a film full of great visuals, with a sparkling script and sharp supporting cast, these two are the overwhelmingly moving, beating heart of it all. They have created loving, funny characters that have clearly grown together in their years as a couple, to the point where they are a single unit. It’s a great portrayal of a marriage.

While The Prisoner of Second Avenue taps into timeless fears about change, urban living, and the frustration of lacking control of your own circumstances, it is a fascinating time capsule as well. Though it is for the most part filmed in few locations and reflective of its roots on the stage, there are several great sequences featuring 1970s New York City. It’s worth watching just to catch a glimpse of the cars, fashion, and feel of the city in that time.

Special features on the Blu-ray include a theatrical trailer, the vintage featurette The Making of the Prisoner of Second Avenue, and a segment from The Dinah Shore Show where the host interviews her friend Anne Bancroft. That last feature is a fascinating bit of classic talk show elegance, with its odd mix of personal chatter and professional promotion.

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.