Random Thoughts on This and That

The Beacon Theatre on 74th Street and Broadway has been selected for this season’s Tony Awards ceremony. Originally it was said the Apollo Theatre was being considered, but it turned out to be one of several venues under consideration.The New York Times Arts Beat tweeted “The Bad News: It’s Small. The Good News: It’s Actually on Broadway.”

I have wished that the Tonys would return to an actual Broadway house for years. There is an argument that Broadway shows couldn’t accommodate the television event, but for over thirty years they were. How often does a televiewer get to see the inside of a Broadway theater on television? The use of Radio City Music Hall allows the American Theatre Wing and Broadway League to make more money from ticket sales, but as I’ve said before, it loses intimacy and becomes another bloated event that becomes more and more joyless each year. Performances are shorter, celebrities with little to no affiliation with Broadway are given front seats in order to draw ratings. (CBS, let’s face it, the Tonys will never be a ratings winner). I know that Radio City is a landmark, but I’d rather go see How the West Was Won than any live stage show there. The effect comes across on television. If you compare Tony telecasts from the past, there is an immediacy in earlier years that comes as close as possible to putting the show in viewers’ living rooms. But this is least it’s a step in the right direction. The Beacon Theatre is half the size of the Music Hall and should translate better on television. But I have to beg: next year in a Broadway house! (Or see if we can get the Times Square Church out of the glorious Mark Hellinger).

I’m currently reading Budd Schulberg’s What Makes Sammy Run?, a scathing look at studio era Hollywood with its infamous main character Sammy Glick. Starting out as a copy boy in a NY newspaper, Glick steals, cheats and writes his way into Hollywood power without any talent – except for self-promotion. The film made Schulberg something of a pariah in Hollywood – his own film executive father told him he’d never work in the town again (though he would later win an Oscar for the screenplay of On the Waterfront). Executives were enraged. Insiders were enraged. But the book was a phenomenon, one that continues to be read and studied. Bette Davis later told Dick Cavett that it was the most accurate depiction of Hollywood life she’d ever seen.

A film version was never made, but it has been seen on TV and on Broadway as a musical. The original cast album of What Makes Sammy Run? was just issued by Sony’s Masterworks Broadway in its stereo debut. An overpriced mono CD had been available from star Steve Lawrence‘s personal label (along with his ’68 flop Golden Rainbow). Sony brings the score back to the forefront at a cheaper cost. I’ve yet to get the CD, but it’s on my to-do list. Plans for a film version surface every few years, but it has never come to fruition.

A few days ago, I mentioned that Auntie Mame was getting a DVD reissue. Warner Bros. first released the Oscar nominated classic in 2002 but I have held back on getting it until now. It’s a bizarre OCD quirk of mine, but I really hate the “snap cases” in which DVDs made their premiere in 1997. It’s a minor idiosyncrisy of mine, I know, but since WB has been reissuing these films in the preferable keep case format, I’ve held out on many titles for years. There was a double issue of Auntie Mame and The Shop Around the Corner in 2008, but that was quickly deleted from the catalog. I cannot wait to pop it; if you haven’t seen the film you must as soon as possible. See Lucy in Mame only if you’re having a drinking party (for the record, I’ve not bought that disaster either).

Today is Veterans Day.Yesterday was the United States Marine Corps’ 235th birthday. As the son of a Marine, I want to wish all members of the USMC a Happy belated Birthday! (It was also my parents’ 37th anniversary. Much to my amusement, they chose to celebrate the Corps’ birthday). But to all veterans, I wish you well and thank you for your service. If you are overseas in an area of combat, I hope you get to come home soon. For those of you returning from Iraq, Afghanistan – anywhere, really, welcome home. Not just today, but every day, the federal government should be doing more for our troops coming home. Some need rehabilitation, life-long medical care, help finding jobs or coping with PTSD, etc. After all they’ve done for us, we should do something in return – and it shouldn’t be a partisan issue or cause for debate. We should do everything we can to help these men and women.

Upcoming DVDs and Blu-rays of Note

A couple years ago, I would regularly check in with some interesting “DVDs of Note” that I thought seemed interesting. I’m going to bring that back on a monthly basis and have a look at some of the releases of the month that I want or at least want to have a look at (now expanded to include the ever growing world of Blu-ray).

While much of the focus this week has been on the 45th anniversary Blu-ray premiere of The Sound of Music (which I’ll be looking at early next week), 20th Century Fox also gave Chitty Chitty Bang Bang the Blu-ray treatment this week, with a bonus standard DVD and new features. Paramount also released the Blu-ray edition of White Christmas, which seems to receive a brand new release every year.

On November 9, 20th Century Fox will be releasing The Elia Kazan Collection, an 18-disc DVD box set featuring his most well known films, with cooperation from Warner Bros and Columbia. The films included in the collection have been selected by Martin Scorsese and will feature his new documentary A Letter to Elia which was recently seen in various film festivals and on PBS “American Masters” series. Five of the films are making their first appearance on DVD: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Man on a Tightrope, Viva Zapata!, Wild River and America, America. There are no plans at present to release these films individually. The set retails for $199.98. Having just seen America, America for the first time earlier this year, I am quite pleased that it’s finally receiving a DVD debut.

That same day, Warner Bros. will be reissuing the 1958 comedy classic Auntie Mame in a brand new keep case package. The film, whose original 2002 release went out of print about a year ago, is a perennial favorite and is based on the hilarious stage play by Lawrence and Lee. Star Rosalind Russell and featured actress Tony winner Peggy Cass reprise their stage roles for the screen. The film was a huge hit, garnering six Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Actress (Russell), Supporting Actress (Cass). The new packaging isn’t as exciting, but it’s worth it just to keep the film in print. No word on any Blu-ray edition. Yet.

November 16, Image Entertainment releases Sondheim: The Birthday Concert on DVD and Blu-Ray. The NY Philharmonic concert, which took place on March 15 & 16, will feature a combination of performances from both evenings. Hosted by David Hyde Pierce, the concerts presented the best of Broadway. The first act consists of the songs for which he wrote only lyrics, as well as a parade of original performers recreating their signature numbers. The second act contains the now-legendary red dress segment, in which Sondheim divas, decked out in spectacular red gowns and outfits deliver showstopping renditions of some of his biggest numbers.

November 30: Disney Home Entertainment is going to release the documentary The Boys: The Sherman Brothers’ Story, which chronicles the professional and personal lives of Richard Sherman and Robert Sherman, arguably the most prolific songwriters in Disney history. The very personal story of their estrangement belies the music that has brought joy to millions. Their sons made this film in an effort to both try to understand the personal relationship while celebrating the professional collaboration. Also that day, Disney will be bringing Fantasia and Fantasia 2000 out of its vault for with a DVD reissue and Blu-ray premiere.

Film: “The Sound of Music” turns 45

Remember 2005? There was a lot of hullabaloo over the 75th birthday of Stephen Sondheim, Spamalot somehow bested three superior shows for Best Musical at the Tonys. Meanwhile, the film versions of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s State Fair, Oklahoma! and the iconic The Sound of Music were celebrating their 60th, 50th and 40th anniversaries, respectively. Special 2 disc editions of the films with never-before-seen features and footage were released and there requisite press appearances by the various cast members who are still with us. It’s hard to believe five years have passed and like any good American institution, it’s time to celebrate another landmark anniversary with style.

Now as The Sound of Music hits its 45th year, 20th Century Fox and the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization have taken it up themselves to celebrate with the latest in digital video technology: Blu-ray. A brand-spanking new edition of the film, newly restored and remastered for high definition is being rolled out in early November. There have been some glimpses into the process and the film looks better than ever. The film is more than just a blockbuster; it is a cultural phenomenon. While it was a big hit in its 1959 stage incarnation, the movie took off into the stratosphere upon the release in 1965. The Sound of Music won five Oscars including Best Picture and made a mountain of money – in terms of grosses adjusted for inflation, it ranks third behind Gone with the Wind and Star Wars on the all-time list. The movie ran for several years in its first release and continues to grow in popularity. And like many others around the world, I hold a special place for the film.

Ever since I can remember, there was an annual airing of the film around Easter. The first time I was introduced to it, I was genuinely surprised to see Mary Poppins dressed down as a blonde tomboy twirling in the Austrian alps. (I was about four years old).  As a very young child, I wasn’t allowed to stay up for the whole thing (it was a Sunday airing and there was school the next day). In fact, it wasn’t until I was almost ten I even knew the Captain and Maria even got married! But every year, I got to see a little more and a little more of the film until I eventually saw it all. I was even given a souvenir program from the initial engagement. When I was in 8th grade, there was a big to-do over a new VHS edition remastered by George Lucas’ THX which placed the 175 minute musical epic on one video cassette for the first time. I still have that copy. The first DVD I ever bought was – surprise, surprise – The Sound of Music. I have the soundtrack on LP as well as three CD editions. I even upgraded to that 40th anniversary DVD edition. I’ve kept them all.

Part of the reason is my father. He’s not someone that’s really into the movies or theatre, but he loves The Sound of Music. He saw it when it first came out and for some reason it just clicked with him. In fact, his first date with my mother was to the 1973 theatrical reissue, the last time the film was given a nationwide release. Twenty-three years later, we went to Salzburg, Austria to look at real locations from the Trapp family’s life, as well as those locations used in the film. We were inside the Nonnberg Abbey, visited the Mirabell Gardens (where the “Do-Re-Mi” finale was shot), plus two of the three houses used as exteriors as well as the actual Trapp villa (which is lovely). But I was also struck with the extraordinary beauty of the city; it is a place I really want to revisit again sooner rather than later.

To coincide with this celebratory DVD/Blu-Ray release, R&H and Fox have planned a series of events, including an entire episode of Oprah dedicated to the film, which will air on October 29 (check local listings!) My father asked when that was happening; I’m not even sure he knows who Oprah is. And I’m not being facetious but that’s the sort of pull this film has with him. However, the event that has me most excited is the upcoming theatrical re-release of the film. On October 19 & 26 (which are both Tuesdays) the film will be shown at 6:30PM. Click here to purchase tickets and to find the location nearest you.  It’s not very often that a classic film buff like myself gets the opportunity to see one of his favorites on the big screen. Just that itself is enough reason to rejoice. Ultimately the restored and remastered film will be released in both a Blu-Ray/DVD combo and a limited collector’s edition box set, as well a new reissue of the soundtrack on November 2.

Some Classics Not on DVD

Last night, I decided to pop in the recently reissued DVD of the 1961 classic Splendor in the Grass, which starred Oscar nominee Natalie Wood and the ever-bland Warren Beatty, in his film debut. This edition marked the second release of the film, as part of a new Natalie Wood boxed set (with titles also available individually). Then I remembered that another one of her classics had yet to be released on DVD which started the ball rolling on this entry. So starting with that film, I compiled a short list of some notable classic movies that are not on DVD. All but one have never been available on Region 1 DVD.

Love with the Proper Stranger.
This 1963 romantic comedy drama rather charmingly tells the story of a one-night stand that leads to pregnancy. Natalie Wood, in another Oscar nominated performance is the girl from a strict Italian Catholic family who finds herself in the family way, with Steve McQueen as her suitor. Daring for its time in its depiction of pre-Roe v. Wade abortions, the film finds a suitable balance between the funny and the poignant. Tom Bosley is incredibly endearing in his film debut.

The African Queen. One of the most famous action adventure films of all time, for some reason John Huston’s classic (from the novel by C.S. Forester) about a boorish boatman and upright missionary drifting downstream in the Congo has never been released on DVD in Region 1. Humphrey Bogart won his only Academy for his performance as Charley Allnut while Katharine Hepburn takes one of the many spinster roles that defined her film career in the 1950s. The film thrives on the personality clash of its stars and is aided by some lush Technicolor cinematography shot on location. Hepburn was given one minor piece of direction by Huston that completely helped her find her character: think Eleanor Roosevelt. She later claimed it to be “the best piece of direction I have ever heard.”

Dear Heart. This gentle romantic comedy is about the unexpected romance between maturing postmistress Geraldine Page and the uneasily betrothed Glenn Ford while Page is in NY for a convention. Shot on location in NY, it features some of the last footage of the old Penn Station before its upper level was demolished for the new Madison Square Garden. Angela Lansbury makes a spirited entrance in the film’s final act as Ford’s fiancee.

Wings. The first-ever Academy Award winner for Best Picture, this one’s about best friends (from opposite sides of the tracks) and World War I flying aces who find themselves competing for the affections of the same girl (Clara Bow). The film is especially notable for its air fight sequences, and also for being the only silent film to ever take top prize at the Oscars. Plus it’s got a young Gary Cooper in a supporting role. It’s one of two Best Picture winners not currently available on DVD. The other is the 1933 adaptation of Noel Coward’s Cavalcade.

Wuthering Heights. The 1939 adaptation of the Emily Bronte gothic novel was previously available from Samuel Goldwyn on VHS and DVD but has been long out of print. Directed by William Wyler, the film starred Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon as the passionate but star-crossed lovers in an adaptation that drives purists insane as it cuts the second half of the book (leaving out the entire parallel second generation). However, it remains a beautifully directed, shot and acted piece of film. And the only Best Picture nominee of that banner year of 1939 not on DVD at the present.

The Magnificent Ambersons. Orson Welles’ followup to Citizen Kane was to be even more ambitious: an epic adaptation of Booth Tarkington’s sprawling novel about the fall of a powerful Midwestern family. However, once Welles finished the film and left Hollywood, RKO took over preparations for the final cut. When it tested poorly, executives cut out 50 minutes and added an uplifting ending much to Welles’ displeasure. Still, the final film is incredibly well regarded in its 88 minute running time, with great performances from Joseph Cotten, Anne Baxter and an Oscar-nominated Agnes Moorehead.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. This adaptation of Betty Smith’s classic bildungsroman (thank you, English degree!) about a young girl and her family growing up in Brooklyn at the turn of the 20th century is absolutely beautiful, with an Oscar-winning turn by James Dunn as the ne’er-do-well father. Dorothy Maguire is the long-suffering mother, Joan Blondell the lusty lovable Aunt Cissy and Peggy Ann Garner’s sensitive portrayal of Francie (along with appearances in Nob Hill and Junior Miss) garnered her the special Juvenile Oscar for outstanding child actress of 1945.

Hopefully these films, and others will eventually find their way onto DVD. Until then, we have to rely on TCM and other stations for showings. Warner Home Video recently started the Warner Archive, a DVD on demand catalogue with obscure classics never before released burned onto a DVD-R for $19.95. The archive releases contain a digital transfer of the current film elements (no restoring or remastering) and have no special features. (That’s how I got my copy of Sunrise at Campobello with Ralph Bellamy recreating his Tony-winning performance as FDR). Also, Turner Classic Movies keeps a list of the viewer poll’s top 200 classics not currently available.

Are there any personal favorites you would like to see released…?

Upcoming DVDs of Note: The Hitchcock Edition

About a month ago I posted about some upcoming DVD releases, but I wasn’t complete. Since there are so many upcoming Alfred Hitchcock DVD reissues, I felt that it deserved its own post. Hitchcock has long been a favorite director of mine and it is usually easier for me to count the films I haven’t seen when talking about him.
Rebecca, Spellbound and Notorious were previously part of the Criterion Collection catolog but have long been unavailable (going for exorbitant sums on secondary seller sites online). However it appears that you have to buy the boxed set if you want the currently unavailable The Paradine Case, The Lodger, Sabotage and Young and Innocent. Those remastered titles aren’t being sold separately. Lifeboat was released individually about three years ago. Rear Window, Vertigo and Psycho have been available individually and also as part of a Hitchcock boxed set of all his Universal titles, but now these three are receiving a 2-disc Legacy series upgrade (which the studio has been giving to many of its classic titles over the past several years).
Some of these will be on my Christmas list this year….

Some cast recordings and DVD releases

While I couldn’t care less about the impending CDs of The Little Mermaid or Ring of Fire, DRG is putting out three on March 4 that make me considerably happy.

Happy Hunting1956 OBC. Initially released by RCA Victor, the album has been long out of print and goes for a costly used fee on amazon.com or ebay. It’s the weakest of the post-WWII musicals to feature Merman. However, due to Merman’s audience appeal, she managed to keep the show running for a year, and allowing it to make a profit. Working with the inexperienced song-writers on this less-than-stellar project was the reason she nixed Stephen Sondheim as composer for Gypsy, demanding an established professional (Jule Styne) take the honors. So I guess we can thank Harold Karr and Matt Dubey for indirectly leading to the 1959 musical of musicals being the perfection that it is. “Mutual Admiration Society,” an upbeat mother-daughter charm duet, is the only song that had a life outside of the show (I enjoy the recording made by the late Teresa Brewer).

Annie Get Your Gun1962 studio recording. This one features Doris Day and Robert Goulet in the leading roles. I assume it’s not faithful to the stage orchestrations and it more of a curio than a document of the stage show. This is the first time the CD will be available in the US. This was originally supposed to be released on the Sony Masterworks series in the late 90s/early 00s (which appears all but dead).

Say, Darling1958 OBC. This is more a play-with-music than an actual musical. Loosely inspired by his experiences adapting his novel Seven and a Half Cents into The Pajama Game, Richard Bissell wrote Say, Darling which documented a musical going through its creative and rehearsal periods. The cast features Robert Morse, Vivian Blaine and David Wayne. Jule Styne, Betty Comden and Adolph Green supplied the score.

It’s good to have DRG keeping up on the neglected scores, especially with the market being anything but stable for lost treasures and curiosities. And while I’m on it, whatever happened to the CD premiere of my beloved guilty pleasure Illya, Darling?

DVD front: The 1961 film Fanny is being released on DVD for the first time on June 17. The film was an adaptation of the 1955 Harold Rome musical (which in itself was based on the Marcel Pagnol film trilogy of the 1930s). Directed by Josh Logan (who also co-wrote and directed the Broadway production) and starring Leslie Caron, Maurice Chevalier and Charles Boyer, the film adaptation eliminated the singing and adapted the musical themes as underscoring. I saw the film before I knew that, but it doesn’t have any impact on how much I enjoyed this Oscar-nominated and underrated classic. (A Best Picture nominee… it was lost in the shuffle of The Hustler, Judgment at Nuremberg and West Side Story). And while I’m on the DVD front, there are going to be DVD premieres of Kismet (and a handful of other musicals in a boxed set and individual) and Light in the Piazza (both from Warners). Criterion is issuing a boxed set of Ernst Lubitsch musicals of the early 1930s (including The Love Parade, Monte Carlo, One Hour With You and The Smiling Lieutenant). There will be restored reissues of The Music Man, Gigi, An American in Paris and The Great Ziegfeld. (the latter two may actually just be an upgrade from those awful cardboard snapcase DVD cases to the plastic keepcase, that is most prominent; I refuse to buy any of the card board ones, part of my OCD). The Member of the Wedding is going to be issued as a part of a Stanley Kramer boxed set, which is irritating because I already own Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and In the Heat of the Night and would prefer to purchase this one separately. There will also be a reissue of Ship of Fools in the set, and one hopes that they present it in its actual original aspect ratio.

I’m still waiting for DVDs of The Magnificent Ambersons, The Enchanted Cottage, Love With the Proper Stranger, The African Queen, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Wings. Also, it’s time that someone reissued Rebecca, Notorious, Spellbound (previous Criterions, long since deleted) and MGM should get Wuthering Heights w. Olivier and Merle Oberon back into circulation.