50 Movie Pack Classic Musicals, Disc 11

If it seems as though this set of reviews came fairly soon after Disc 10, the reason’s simple enough: Side A is, once again, movies that I’ve already reviewed in other Movie Packs–and the first movie on Side B was short.

Jack and the Beanstalk, 1952, color and sepiatone, Jean Yarbrough (dir.), Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Buddy Baer. 1:10. [1:21]

[Also in Family Classics pack, not rereviewed.] I’m not sure why IMDB lists this as 11 minutes shorter than the running time on the DVD, but an Argentine release was apparently somewhere in the middle. This was another pleasant surprise. The surround, in sepia, has Abbott and Costello trying to babysit a rotten kid. The middle, in color, is the book Costello reads to him—or, rather, has the kid read to Costello. It’s a vivid retelling with songs added (which don’t help), with Costello as Jack and Abbott as the greedy butcher (who also climbs up to the castle). Not a laugh a minute, but well done. The print’s good but the sound is a little harsh sometimes. As for the acting, it’s fine—except for the Handsome Prince, who—when supposedly courting the Beautiful Princess (both assuming the roles of commoners, both held by the Giant)—seems to be looking over her shoulder either in a mirror or at his boyfriend. All in all, though, pretty good. $1.50

The Road to Hollywood, 1946, b&w, Bud Pollard (dir.), Bing Crosby, Bud Pollard (narrator). 0:56 [0:53]

[Also in Family Classics pack, not rereviewed.] Bud Pollard, an exploitation director, came up with a stunt to make some quick bucks. He uncovered three comedy shorts made by Danny Kaye for Mack Sennett; when Danny Kaye hit it big in the movies, Pollard stitched footage from the three into a movie he called Birth of a Star—a perfect second feature for theaters that could advertise a big-name star. So Pollard did the same again, this time stitching together excerpts from four Mack Sennett two-reelers starring Bing Crosby, made in 1931 and 1932, with lots of Pollard narration and laudatory comments. The whole thing is just a different form of exploitation. The four short musical comedies on their own might be interesting; the composite is a mess. The print’s only so-so. $0.50

The Big Show, 1936, b&w, Mack V. Wright (dir.), Gene Autry, Smiley Burnette, Kay Hughes, Sally Payne, William Newell, Max Terhune, Sons of the Pioneers, the Jones Boys, the Beverly Hillbillies, the Light Crust Doughboys, Champion, Rex King. 1:10/0:54. [0:55]

The plot: Tom Ford’s making a movie with Gene Autry as his stuntman. Ford goes on vacation (and to hide out from $10,000 gambling debts) and the studio publicist says he’s needed at the Texas World’s Fair in Dallas (where most of this was filmed). Solution? Have Gene Autry don a fake mustache and impersonate Tom Ford. But Ford doesn’t sing—and that’s Autry’s big thing. Lots of music, lots of action with the gangster (who decides to blackmail the studio about the Autry-as-Ford thing, which doesn’t work well because the studio loves having a singing cowboy). Autry wasn’t that hot as an actor at the time, but since he was also playing Ford, he acted as well as Ford. More show biz than western, but plenty of music—and the Beverly Hillbillies were a western singing group a long time before it was a TV show. $1.50.

Black Tights (orig. 1-2-3-4 ou Les Collants noirs), 1960, color, Terence Young (dir.), Maurice Chevalier, Zizi Jeanmaire, Cyd Charisse, Roland Petit, Moira Shearer, Ballets de Paris of Roland Petit. 2:20/2:05 [2:03]

This one’s odd and tough to evaluate. It’s four dance performances—The Diamond Crusher, Cyrano de Bergerac, A Merry Mourning and Carmen—with Maurice Chevalier introducing them and providing some English narration. I have no idea how good the dances are (the costumes are fine and done by name designers), although they seemed enjoyable enough. I’d guess this isn’t world-class choreography. The print’s OK (not great), the sound’s OK as well. The big problem: This is a widescreen film, using “curtains” of sorts as black bars. It’s mediocre VHS quality. That means there just isn’t much picture detail to work with—maybe 2/3 of VHS’ 230 lines, if that. As a result, wide shots involving more than two people are so soft as to be uninteresting. A true DVD version (using all 480 lines of DVD, with anamorphic conversion for the widescreen) might or might not be more interesting. As it is, I’m almost reluctant to say $1.25.

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