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page added: 6/6/12

The Spin Sheet

DVD-R review by Barrie Maxwell of The Digital Bits

The Maisie Collection: Volume 1 (DVD-R)

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The Maisie Collection: Volume 1
1939-1941 (2012) - MGM (Warner Archive)
Released on MOD DVD-R on May 8th, 2012

Dolby Digital

Film Rating: B+ (collective average for all 5 films)
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B-/D

Movie series were a staple of both minor and major studios in classic Hollywood. Columbia was probably the most prolific of any in this regard with the likes of Ellery Queen, Boston Blackie, The Lone Wolf, Blondie, and The Whistler, but others were active too. For example, MGM had Andy Hardy, Maisie, Thin Man, and Dr. Kildare. Universal had Sherlock Holmes, Ma and Pa Kettle, and Francis the Taking Mule.

Paramount had Henry Aldrich. 20th Century Fox had the Cisco Kid, Charlie Chan, Michael Shayne, and Mr. Moto. RKO had Hildegarde Withers, The Falcon, The Saint, and Mexican Spitfire. The studio system was ideal for such fare. It had a requirement for shorter second features to fill the lower half of theatre double bills and it had the means to turn them out efficiently due to its need to keep contract players busy as well as provide opportunities for breaking in newly-signed performers. Standing sets for major productions were also handy for use in the B series productions too.

MGM's Maisie films began in 1939 when the studio released Maisie, a black and white production that starred Ann Sothern as a sort of showgirl who manages to survive on her ready wit and chutzpah. By the time the series ran its course in 1947, nine additional films were made. The first five are available in the new WB Archive MOD release here under review, and presumably the remaining five titles will grace a Volume 2 Archive collection not too far down the line. Here are brief mentions of the plots in the first volume:

Maisie (1939) - Maisie's adventures on a Wyoming ranch involving romance and a murder charge. Robert Young co-stars.

Congo Maisie (1940) - Maisie gets involved with a doctor during an African native uprising. John Carroll c-stars.

Gold Rush Maisie (1940) - Maisie gets involved with a poor family trying to find gold. Lee Bowman and Virginia Weidler costar.

Maisie Was a Lady (1941) - Maisie straightens out the personal lives of a well-to-do family. Lew Ayres co-stars.

Ringside Maisie (1941) - Maisie disrupts a boxer's training. George Murphy and Robert Sterling co-star. Look for Maxie Rosenbloom.

Of these five films, Maisie, Congo Maisie and Maisie Was a Lady are marginally the better entries - compact, comfortable B entertainments with typically deep classic studio supporting casts. Ringside Maisie just slightly outstays its entry with a 96-minute running length.

Beyond their wealth of MGM studio resources, the Maisie films owe their success mainly to Ann Sothern's personality. Even when the scripts weren't the best, she seemed able to maintain the audience's grip with the infectiousness with which she invested the character. Her work in the Maisie films and other MGM titles of the 1940s enabled her to parlay her popularity into a success on TV in the 1950s with such series as Private Secretary (1953-57) and The Ann Sothern Show (1958-61).

The five films are available in a very welcome release from the Warner Archive. It's a 5-disc set with each film given a separate MOD (manufactured-on-demand) disc. Though the films have not been restored, the image quality (1.37:1 as originally released) is very good and almost uniformly so across the five films. Maisie (1939) is slightly softer-looking than the later four titles each of which (and particularly Ringside Maisie) offer reasonably deep blacks, contrast that's above average, and only some speckles and the odd scratch intruding. Image sharpness and detail should be pleasing to most viewers. The mono sound is also in good shape on all titles, with hiss and distortion minimal. Dialogue is consistently clear. There are no subtitles. The supplements consist of the theatrical trailers for all five films.

It's great to see Warner Bros. delivering the B series films in its Archive. We've had series of Tim Holt westerns, various entries in the Falcon and Saint series, a Mexican Spitfire set, some Andy Hardy, and now The Maisie Collection: Volume 1 has arrived, to much appreciation. Highly recommended.

Barrie Maxwell

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