The DVD Report #684

Girl Crazy was the last and best of the four MGM musicals that Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland made between 1939 and 1943. It was the second of three film versions of the 1930 Broadway musical starring Ginger Rogers and introducing Ethel Merman.

Unlike the 1940 Rooney-Garland musical Strike Up the Band, which only utilized the title song from the George and Ira Gershwin original, substituting in songs by other composers, all but one of the songs in 1943’s Girl Crazy was written by the Gershwins for the 1930 Broadway version. The one added song (“Fascinating Rhythm”) is from another Gershwin score. Who needs substitutions when the original score includes such gems as “I Got Rhythm,” “Treat Me Rough,” “Bidin’ My Time,” “Embraceable You,” and “But Not for Me?”

Unlike the kids they played in Babes in Arms, Strike Up the Band, and Babes on Broadway, Rooney and Garland were all grown up now. Rooney made this between The Human Comedy and , and Garland made it between For Me and My Gal and Meet Me in St. Louis. They were young adults and their roles reflected that. Rooney was a baby-faced playboy and Garland a small-town postmistress. The sparkling new Warner Archive Blu-ray captures them at their best under the superb direction of Norman Taurog (The Adventures of Tom Sawyer).

The supporting cast includes Gil Stratton, Robert E. Strickland, Rags Ragland, June Allyson, Nancy Walker, and Guy Kibbee.

Also new from Warner Archive is Million Dollar Mermaid, long considered the crown jewel in Esther Williams’ career. It’s the one film she made highlighting her swimming skills in which MGM’s writers were not forced to come up with novel ways of getting her into the water. The film is a biography of Australian-born swimmer Annette Kellerman (1887-1975) who gained greater fame in the U.S. after being arrested for wearing a one-piece bathing suit in 1907 Boston. She later became a major attraction at New York’s Hippodrome and a silent film star. Victor Mature co-stars as her future husband, with Walter Pidgeon as her supportive father. Her older brother, cinematographer Maurice Kellerman (1883-1943), is not mentioned in the film directed by the legendary Mervyn LeRoy (Quo Vadis).

The film is generally acknowledged for its great use of Technicolor, which comes through superbly on the Blu-ray.

Kino Lorber has released Blu-ray updates of 1981’s Raggedy Man, 1984’s The River, and 1992’s Lorenzo’s Oil.

Raggedy Man, Sissy Spacek’s first film since her Oscar-winning turn in Coal Miner’s Daughter, was directed by her husband, production designer Jack Fisk. Based on the 1979 novel by Sara Clark, it is the bittersweet tale of a young woman stuck in a small Texas town with her impressionable young sons towards the end of World War II. Eric Roberts co-stars as a young sailor on leave with whom she has a brief affair. Sam Shepard is the mysterious “raggedy man” of the title, a homeless man who becomes her protector. Henry Thomas makes his film debut as Spacek’s older son the year before he became an overnight sensation in E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.

The River was one of three 1984 films dealing with the plight of farmers. The female stars of the three, Sally Field in Places in the Heart, Jessica Lange in Country, and Sissy Spacek in The River, were all nominated for Best Actress Oscars, with Field winning.

Spacek and Mel Gibson as her husband play farmers trying to hold onto their land in the wake of severe storms and a threatened foreclosure. Nominated for five Oscars, and winner for its Special Effects, it was directed by Mark Rydell (On Golden Pond).

George Miller, best known for the Mad Max films, received his first Oscar nomination for co-writing the screenplay for the emotionally charged Lorenzo’s Oil, which he also directed. This is the true story of a courageous couple played by Nick Nolte and Oscar nominee Susan Sarandon, who search for a cure for their son with a rare disease called adrenoleukodystrophy, or ALD for short, a disease so rare no one is looking for a cure for it so the parents take matters into their own hands. Peter Ustinov co-stars as the boy’s doctor. The real-life mother played by Sarandon would die of lung cancer in 2000, eight years after the film was released. Her son, Lorenzo, who was not expected to live past childhood, would die eight years after that, in 2008, one day after his 30th birthday.

This was the only film for Zack O’Malley Greenburg, son of writers Dan Greenburg and Suzanne O’Malley, who plays the title role. He is currently an editor of Forbes Magazine.

Alan Parker, the director of Midnight Express, Mississippi Burning, and Evita among others, died this past week. Coincidentally, Parker’s 1994 satire, The Road to Wellville, has been released on a stunning new Blu-ray by Shout Select.

Anthony Hopkins received top billing for his portrayal of Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, the inventor of cornflakes, the cereal that was marketed by his brother, Will Keith Kellogg, founder of the multinational food manufacturing company Kellogg’s. John Harvey Kellogg achieved his greatest fame running the Battle Creek Sanitorium, a hydrotherapy institution and hospital that resembled a European spa. Despite Hopkins’ billing, however, the focus is on Matthew Broderick and Bridget Fonda as a young married couple seeking renewal at the institution, John Cusack as a rival cereal inventor, and Dana Carvey as Hopkins’ crackpot adopted son. Some audiences were turned off by the film’s incessant toilet humor, but if you can get past that, it’s a very funny skewering of turn-of-the-century notions ending with the fire that destroyed the facility in 1902, which was rebuilt bigger and better. Contrary to the film’s ending though, Dr. Kellogg did not die in a midair dive in his 70s. He lived to 91, dying in bed in December 1943.

This week’s new releases include Criterion’s The Lost Honor of Katharine Blum and Kino Lorber’s Carole Lombard Collection Volume 1 on Blu-ray.

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