New This Week
Warner Archive has released four more Blu-ray upgrades of films from their vast library of film classics. They include a 1930s mystery and a 1950s comedy in stunning black-and-white and two Broadway-to-Hollywood musicals, one from the 1940s and one from the 1950s, in glorious eye-popping color.
Doris Day had been making at least one musical per year for ten years when she was cast alongside the original Broadway cast in the 1957 George Abbot-Stanley Donen production of the Richard Adler-Jerry Ross musical The Pajama Game. She had long since branched out to more dramatic roles, most notably in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1956 classic The Man Who Knew Too Much opposite James Stewart, but she was still known first and foremost as a singer, required to sing at least one song in her non-musicals such as the Oscar-winning “Whatever Will Be Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)” from The Man Who Knew Too Much.
Day’s first film was 1948’s Romance on the High Seas in which she was the second female lead after Janis Paige, effortlessly stealing the film from Paige and everyone else. A disappointed Paige left Hollywood and reemerged as a great big Broadway star in the 1954 stage version of The Pajama Game. Warner Bros. had purchased the screen rights to the musical with the intention of filming it with the Broadway cast with one exception. They felt they needed a big name to sell it, so they pitched it to Frank Sinatra to play the male lead opposite Paige. When he turned it down, they brought in Day to replace Paige and retained John Raitt to play the male lead. Paige, in the meantime, had a screen hit of her own with Rouben Mamoulian’s 1957 film of Cole Porter’s Silk Stockings, which she stole from Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse.
Raitt proved a dynamic lead opposite Day, but at 40, he was past his sell-by date as a romantic movie lead and went back to performing on stage in concerts, remaining a household name until his death at 88 nearly fifty years later.
Day was in her element singing up a storm in this labor vs. management musical-comedy with not only Raitt, but other Broadway cast members including Carol Haney, Eddie Foy Jr., and Reta Shaw. The only other major cast replacement was Barbara Nichols, in for Rae Allen who by then had become a bigger name in Adler and Ross’s next Broadway musical, Damn Yankees, filmed by Warner Bros. the following year with Tab Hunter in for Stephen Douglass opposite Gwen Verdon and Ray Walston.
Three years after The Pajama Game, Day, who passed away in 2019 at 97, and Paige, who is still with us at 98, were reunited in Please Don’t Eat the Daisies in which Day starred and Paige had a supporting role.
Warner’s other new-to-Blu-ray musical is Charles Walters’ 1947 remake of the 1927 Broadway musical Good News, originally filmed in 1930. Whereas the 1930 version was creaky even when it was new, the 1947 version was fresh and cheery thanks to the writing team of Betty Comden and Adolph Green (Singin’ in the Rain, The Band Wagon) and the exuberant direction of Walters (Easter Parade, The Unsinkable Molly Brown), the first for all three in those disciplines.
June Allyson had her best musical role as a brainiac college student tutoring football hunk Peter Lawford to the tune of “The Best Things in Life Are Free,” “Lucky in Love,” and “Varsity Drag.” Lawford, who wasn’t much of a singer or dancer, gives it his best shot despite his shortcomings. Patricia Marshall, who played the vapid beauty Lawford thinks he’s in love with, was better known as the wife of comedy writer Larry Gelbart. Her only other role of note was in Gelbart’s 1975 film The Prisoner of Second Avenue in which she played Jack Lemmon and Anne Bancroft’s upstairs neighbor. Joan McCracken, who played Allyson’s best friend, introduced “Pass That Peace Pipe,” the Oscar-nominated song written for the film. McCracken is best remembered for losing first husband Jack Dunphy to Truman Capote and second husband Bob Fosse to Gwen Verdon. Capote’s Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s is based on her.
For some reason, many fans of The Thin Man like the second in the series, 1936’s After the Thin Man, better. I’ve never understood that. The mostly improvised comedy in the original is sheer genius and the mystery is solid as well. The follow-up, beautifully rendered in black-and-white in Warner’s new release, is a mix of high and low comedy, some of it hilarious, but much of it forced. Once the mystery kicks in, however, it’s once again a first-rate thriller with William Powell and Myrna Loy given top-flight support by rising star James Stewart along with Elissa Landi (The Sign of the Cross, Jessie Ralph (San Francisco, Joseph Calleia (Touch of Evil), Alan Marshal (The White Cliffs of Dover), Penny Singleton (Blondie), Sam Levene (Crossfire, and George Zucco (Lured).
Directed by Norman Taurog (Boys Town), long Hollywood’s go-to director of films focusing on children, Room for One More earned him and the film a Venice Film Festival nomination for Best Picture, losing to René Clement’s Forbidden Games. The screenplay by Jack Rose and Melville Shavelson was nominated for a WGA award for Best Written American Comedy, losing to The Quiet Man.
Based on a book by Rose’s wife Anna, Cary Grant and his then-wife Betsy Drake play the Roses, a family with three children, who take in two more in foster care, a troubled girl, and a handicapped boy. No timeframe is given for the period in which the film takes place, but it was before Rose became a top comedy writer in the early 1940s. Grant is perfectly fine but takes a back seat to Drake and the kids, all of whom are splendid. Neither Iris Mann nor Clifford Tatum Jr. made another film, but they are both fondly remembered for their performances here, especially Tatum who carries a big chunk of the film as he literally pulls himself up from his bootstraps and distinguishes himself as a boy scout. It also marked the screen debut of George “Foghorn” Winslow (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes) as the youngest Rose child.
Paramount has released a Blu-ray upgrade of The Court Jester, the 1956 Danny Kaye classic written and directed by Norman Panama and Melvin Frank.
Kaye was at his peak in his first film since White Christmas, in which he plays an out-of-work carnival performer who masquerades as a court jester in the court of an evil king who has usurped power from the rightful heir to the throne. The film is a parody of such swashbuckling classics as The Adventures of Robin Hood and The Mark of Zorro in which those film’s heroes, Errol Flynn and Tyrone Power, have famous swordfights with Basil Rathbone who plays the sword brandishing villain here. Glynis Johns, Angela Lansbury, and Mildred Natwick are delightful in the major female roles.
The widescreen Blu-ray looks absolutely gorgeous.
This week’s U.S. Blu-ray releases include Let Him Go and The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.