Click here to learn more about anamorphic widescreen!
Go to the Home Page
Go to The Rumor Mill
Go to Todd Doogan's weekly column
Go to the Reviews Page
Go to the Trivia Contest Page
Go to the Upcoming DVD Artwork Page
Go to the DVD FAQ & Article Archives
Go to our DVD Links Section
Go to the Home Theater Forum for great DVD discussion
Find out how to advertise on The Digital Bits

Site created 12/15/97.

The Digital Bits logo
page created: 5/26/04

Classic Coming Attractions by Barrie Maxwell

Barrie Maxwell - Main Page

Classic Reviews Roundup #5 - May 2004

This edition focuses on ten recent releases from Columbia and Paramount. From Columbia, we have A Man Called Sledge, The Gene Krupa Story, Baby, the Rain Must Fall, Down to Earth, and You Were Never Lovelier. From Paramount, the lineup includes The Greatest Show on Earth, The Molly Maguires, My Side of the Mountain, Posse, and The Tin Star.

You Were Never Lovelier (1942)
(released on DVD by Columbia on May 25th, 2004)

In 1941, Fred Astaire was without a dancing partner having departed RKO and his partnership with Ginger Rogers in 1939. His most recent outing had been Second Chorus in which he was paired with Paulette Goddard whose dancing efforts were strictly second rate in comparison. That all changed, however, when he signed to do two musicals for Columbia with Rita Hayworth. Hayworth soon proved to be one of Astaire's best partners in You'll Never Get Rich, leading to great hopes for their second film. That came in the form of You Were Never Lovelier, released in 1942. The setting was nominally Buenos Aires although it could have been anywhere and Astaire as dancer Robert Davis gets entangled in a plan by Edouardo Acuna (Adolphe Menjou) to get his daughter Maria (Rita Hayworth) married.

You Were Never Lovelier

Buy this DVD now at Amazon!

The film, though predictable in its storyline, is a delight throughout and captures much of the flavour of the Astaire-Rogers musicals. The dialogue is snappy, has sufficient humour to please, and is well-delivered by the seasoned cast. Astaire is in rare form, and Hayworth confirms her dancing pedigree while the two of them work their way through a very pleasant score with music by Jerome Kern and lyrics by Johnny Mercer. "I'm Old Fashioned" and "Shorty George" are the highlights with "You Were Never Lovelier" and "Dearly Beloved" not far behind. Astaire has a great tap-dance number in Acuna's office. The film was well-received at the time of its original release and helped to confirm Rita Hayworth's stardom. Rita later looked on her two films with Astaire (and Cover Girl with Gene Kelly) as the only jewels of her film career.

Columbia has delivered a very fine-looking transfer of You Were Never Lovelier on DVD. The full frame image (in accord with the original aspect ratio) is crisp and clear with deep blacks and very good shadow detail. There is some speckling, a scratch or two, and modest grain but overall, the disc exhibits a very film-like image. The mono sound track is in good shape and the music is delivered clearly though without any great presence, as one might expect. English and Japanese subtitles are provided. The only supplement consists of several trailers lumped together as previews which come on automatically at the start of the disc, but can be skipped over. This appears to be a new Columbia annoyance on its classic discs to go along with the high prices. Nevertheless, the film itself shines through. Recommended.

Down to Earth (1947)
(released on DVD by Columbia on May 11th, 2004)

After a gap of several years, it seemed, Columbia appears to making an effort to issue more of the talented and beautiful Rita Hayworth's films on DVD of late. Within the past year we've gotten Cover Girl, Fire Down Below, You'll Never Get Rich, You Were Never Lovelier, with They Came to Cordura forthcoming. Somewhat lost among these titles is the lesser-known 1947 musical, Down to Earth, which Columbia has just released. Of course there's a reason that it's lesser known. It's not particularly good.

Down to Earth

Buy this DVD now at Amazon!

The film has a flimsy plot about New York producer and musical performer Danny Miller who is developing a play about the nine Greek muses. Terpsichore, one of the real muses high in the heavens on Mount Parnassus, is unhappy with what she views as a rather vulgar portrayal of herself and seeks to return to Earth in order to destroy the show. There are various complications with a gangster to whom Danny owns money and of course, Danny and Terpsichore fall in love. The film also tries to trade on the success of Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941), by utilizing a couple of its characters as a vehicle for returning Terpsichore to Earth. Edward Everett Horton is on hand as Messenger 7013, but unfortunately Claude Rains (as Mr. Jordan) isn't.

Fortunately for the film, on hand is Rita Hayworth and she gives the film much of the luster that it has. She dances and acts with ease and assurance, and beautifully gowned and well photographed, she simply lights up the screen every minute she's on it. The film's other major virtue is its use of Technicolor which stays away from the typically vibrant reds to concentrate on a somewhat more sophisticated array of silver, green, and gold. Less satisfactory is the film's other major lead, Larry Parks who, shed of his Al Jolson impersonation, reveals himself to be little other than a very average song and dance man. As a musical, the film has no numbers that have managed to stand the test of time.

Columbia has certainly managed to present the film in its best light on DVD. It has delivered a very fine full frame (in accord with the original aspect ratio) transfer that accurately presents the film's Technicolor palette. The image is bright and crisp with only some minor speckling and grain allowed to intrude. The mono sound track is quite adequate, delivering both dialogue and music clearly, unencumbered by age-related hiss or crackle. English and Japanese subtitles are also provided. There are three trailers, none of which are for Down to Earth. For Rita Hayworth fans only.

The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
(released on DVD by Paramount on April 6th, 2004)

The Greatest Show on Earth is one of those Best Picture Oscar winners that gets little respect nowadays. It was director Cecil B. DeMille's second last film and its subject - the circus - was tailor made for the DeMille approach. The film is a larger-than-life, spectacular display of showmanship with a massive cast that weaves a rather mundane story around the everyday life of what was still a very popular form of entertainment half a century ago.

The Greatest Show on Earth

Buy this DVD now at Amazon!

The circus acts on display are definitely first class. DeMille had the cooperation of the Ringling Bros-Barnum & Bailey Circus and all its real performers, and he gives them a first class presentation that alone makes the film worth seeing. Some of the detail showing how the circus grounds get set up and taken down each day is quite fascinating. Less compelling is the mixture of intrique and romance that the film's impressive cast is required to work its way through, including Charlton Heston, Betty Hutton, Cornel Wilde, Dorothy Lamour, Gloria Grahame, and James Stewart. Stewart, Grahame, and Heston come off best. One must admit, though, that DeMille manages to integrate the story and his principal players well into the various circus acts and daily circus routine. The heavy parts provided by Lyle Bettger and Lawrence Tierney are sadly underutilized although they do lead to quite an impressive train wreck sequence. DeMille films it all in more-colourful-than-life Technicolor, which seems to fit the subject to a "T".

Paramount really delivers with its full frame (in accord with the original aspect ratio) image transfer. Its fully saturated colours are remarkably rich and vibrant. Blacks are deep and glossy, whites are clean, and shadow detail is excellent. Skin colours are right on. There's no hint of edge effects. High marks to Paramount on this effort. The mono sound is adequate, although the nature of the film cries out for something with much more fidelity. A French mono track and English subtitles are provided. Unfortunately, there are no supplements at all. While this is standard practice for Paramount catalogue titles, surely the film's Best Picture status merited more than just the standard approach in this regard. Still, the disc is recommended on the basis of the image transfer alone.

The Tin Star (1957)
(released on DVD by Paramount on May 11th, 2004)

Anthony Mann is best known for a series of westerns he directed in the early1950s starring James Stewart, titles such as Winchester '73, Bend of the River, The Naked Spur, and The Man from Laramie. Equally as impressive, but more contained is the somewhat later 1957 film The Tin Star which provides an excellent opportunity for Henry Fonda as an ex-sheriff turned bounty hunter. The story focuses on a young temporary sheriff (Anthony Perkins) who turns to Fonda's character for advice and guidance in how to handle his new responsibilities in a town that wants law and order but fails to back him up when really needed. It was a similar situation that previously turned the Fonda character away from wearing a sheriff's badge.

The Tin Star

Buy this DVD now at Amazon!

The film is a fine character study more than a conventional action western, although there is sufficient of the latter to satisfy any western fan. Fonda was very good at these sorts of roles and it was in The Tin Star that he really began to establish the persona of the older, experience-hardened westerner (gunfighter, sheriff, bounty hunter - whatever) that he brought to such films as Warlock (1957), the sheriff role in the 1959-1961 TV series The Deputy (inspired by The Tin Star), Firecreek (1968), and culminated in Once Upon a Time in the West (1969). Anthony Perkins hits the right notes with his portrayal of the eager rookie who has much to learn, but is willing to ask for advice. Fine support comes from the likes of John McIntyre, Neville Brand (one of the best at blustering bullies who fold up like a cheap suitcase when really challenged), Betsy Palmer, and in a small role, Lee Van Cleef. Anthony Mann moves the story along briskly and creates some classic images as he does so, including the one in which the doctor returns in his buggy to a town ready to celebrate his 50 years in practice, but particularly the opening sequence when Fonda first rides into town and the closing one which mirrors it.

Paramount provides a 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer of the black and white film. There's some evidence of speckling and minor debris, but otherwise this is a solid effort with deep blacks, clean whites, and a nicely-detailed gray scale in between. There are a few minor instances of edge effects, but not enough to detract from one's enjoyment. The film benefits from a pleasant score by Elmer Bernstein that has good presence as a result of the newly created Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track. A restored mono track is also provided as are English subtitles. There are no supplements. Recommended.

The Gene Krupa Story (1959)
(released on DVD by Columbia on May 18th, 2004)

Actor Sal Mineo had a career that was too short, ended as it was when he was robbed and stabbed to death in 1976. He debuted on screen in 1955 at the age of 16 and had early success with roles in Rebel Without a Cause (1955), Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956), and Giant (1956). Throughout the next 20 years he kept busy with a combination of stage work, television, and films, the latter including Exodus (1960), Cheyenne Autumn (1964), Krakatoa, East of Java (1969), and Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971). In 1959, Columbia gave him a role that really offered him a chance to shine and he made the most of it - playing the title role of the jazz and swing era drummer in The Gene Krupa Story.

The Gene Krupa Story

Buy this DVD now at Amazon!

As is standard for such biographies, there are the usual flights of Hollywood fancy when it comes to Krupa's life, but key aspects are correct including the drug conviction that almost derailed Krupa's career. More importantly, Mineo gives a spot-on, highly energetic impersonation of the Krupa drumming style and that synchronized with drumwork recorded by Krupa himself for the film results in a very convincing presentation of the various musical pieces. James Darren gives quietly effective support as a musician buddy, but the female co-stars make little impression (Susan Kohner as Krupa's small-town sweetheart, and Susan Oliver as a singer whom Krupa falls for). Jazz singer Anita O'Day and cornetist Red Nichols appear as themselves. But this is Mineo's film and he carries it with ease throughout, delivering one of his top film-career performances. Recommended on that basis alone.

Fortunately, Columbia also comes through with a very fine black and white DVD presentation. The 1.85:1 anamorphic image is in remarkably good shape, exhibiting very little in the way of debris or speckling. The results are sharp and clear virtually throughout, with only occasional modest grain in evidence. Blacks are deep and shadow detail is very good for the most part. There are no edge effects. The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track is quite clean, providing clear dialogue and most importantly, very good definition to the various drum solos. There are no subtitles provided. Three Columbia trailers lumped together as a "Previews" menu item start up automatically at the beginning of the disc, but can be skipped over. The trailers (which cannot be accessed individually) are for It Should Happen to You, Gilda, and You Were Never Lovelier.

On to Part Two

Barrie Maxwell - Main Page
E-mail the Bits!

Don't #!@$ with the Monkey! Site designed for 1024 x 768 resolution, using 16M colors and .gif 89a animation.
© 1997-2015 The Digital Bits, Inc., All Rights Reserved.