New This Week
Warner Archive has finally released the last four of their Blu-ray upgrades scheduled for December, including the Christmas themed The Shop Around the Corner and It Happened on Fifth Avenue. That’s really not an issue as both films, like any good film, can be enjoyed at any time of year.
Neither film was originally released during the Christmas season anyway. The Shop Around the Corner was released in January 1940 and It Happened on Fifth Avenue was released between April and June 1947. In New York, it opened on June 11, exactly one week after the even more celebrated Christmas classic, Miracle on 34th Street.
The Shop Around the Corner is one of the most beloved romantic comedies in film history. It was producer-director Ernst Lubitsch’s favorite of all his films. Based on the 1937 Hungarian play, Parfumarie, Lubitsch waited two years for Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart to become available, filming Ninotchka with Greta Garbo and Melvyn Douglas while he waited.
Sullavan plays a clerk in a little shop hired for the Christmas selling season and Stewart the store’s manager. They can barely stand each other, not realizing that they are secret pen pals by night. Frank Morgan, as the store’s owner, Joseph Schildkraut as a troublemaker, Felix Bressart as a timid clerk, and William Tracy as the shop’s delivery boy are all strong in support, but the film belongs to Sullavan and Stewart as the seemingly mismatched lovebirds.
The story was later musicalized as 1949’s In the Good Old Summertime with Judy Garland and Van Johnson and given a modern slant in 1998’s You’ve Got Mail with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. It was famously musicalized for Broadway as She Loves Me in 1963. The original Broadway production as well its 1993 and 2016 revivals were hailed by critics, but generally ignored by the public.
The film, of course, has never looked better than in its high-definition Blu-ray release.
It Happened on Fifth Avenue takes place during the Christmas season but is only incidentally a Christmas film. Victor Moore, in his best role since Make Way for Tomorrow, is a delight as a hobo who makes his home from November through January in an abandoned mansion belonging to the second richest man in the world, played by Charlie Ruggles. The story is affectionately absurd, but well played by Moore and Ruggles, as well as supporting players Gale Storm as Ruggles’ daughter, Don DeFore as the penniless former soldier she loves, and the always-good-to-see Ann Harding as Ruggles’ ex-wife.
The film features the song “Mary Is a Grand Old Name” played several times, seemingly as a tribute to Harding’s character, whose name is Mary. The song, though, was meant as a tribute to Moore who starred in George M. Cohan’s Forty-Five Minutes to Broadway in which the beloved song was introduced by Fay Templeton in 1910.
And, yes, this film directed by Roy Del Ruth never looked better than in its current iteration on Blu-ray.
The extravagant production number introducing the Oscar-winning song “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” is the just one of the highlights of 1946’s The Harvey Girls. It’s a musical, comedy and western all rolled into one, and it succeeds on all three levels.
Originally intended as a straight western for Clark Gable and Lana Turner, producer Arthur Freed persuaded MGM to allow him to make it as a musical directed by George Sidney. Judy Garland stars in one of her three greatest musical roles of the 1940s, the others being in Meet Me in St. Louis two years earlier and Easter Parade two years later. She’s at the top of her game as a mail-order bride from Ohio who learns after arriving in town that the man whose name was on the letters she received was not the man who wrote them. Dejected, she joins the Harvey girls, waitresses in Fred Harvey’s civilized new restaurant.
Although Garland receives sole over-the-title billing in the film’s release print, she is more accurately first-billed over several co-stars given equal billing in the film’s trailer, including in order, John Hodiak, Angela Lansbury, Virginia O’Brien, Ray Bolger, Preston Foster, Kenny Baker, Cyd Charisse, Marjorie Main, and Chill Wills. Garland, O’Brien, Bolger, and even Main and Wills do their own singing, but Lansbury and Charisse were dubbed. Lansbury, who memorably sang in her own voice in her Oscar-nominated role in the previous year’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, had a singing voice that was deemed unsuitable for the low-down saloon singer she plays in the film.
The Blu-ray upgrade, as anticipated, does the film proud.
1950’s Young Man with a Horn, directed by Michael Curtiz (Yankee Doodle Dandy, Casablanca), is a thinly disguised biography of legendary cornet player Bix Beiderbicke, who died of alcoholism in 1931. The otherwise realistic film is given an odd happy ending imposed by Jack Warner in which narrator Hoagy Carmichael says that the film’s horn player, played by Kirk Douglas, recovered from his near-death experience, and went on to become an even bigger star.
The women in Douglas’ life are played by Lauren Bacall and Doris Day. Bacall’s character is supposed to be a lesbian, but the screenplay is so subtle that Bacall herself didn’t realize she was playing a lesbian until decades later. Day’s character is a band singer, a role that brought back uncomfortable memories for the former band singer. The best performance in the film, though, is the one rendered by Juano Hernandez (Intruder in the Dust) as Douglas’ mentor.
And, yes, the picture and sound on the Blu-ray are superior to previous release versions.
Mill Creek has released a Blu-ray of Andrew Bergman’s 1990 comedy The Freshman starring Matthew Broderick in the title role of an NYU student filmmaker from Vermont who becomes involved with a presumed Mafia don and his family. Top-billed Marlon Brando has a smaller role but makes every moment count as he parodies his role in The Godfather to a fare-thee-well. Bruno Kirby, Penelope Ann Miller, Frank Whaley, B.D. Wong, and Maximilian Schell add to the merriment in this barebones release.
This week’s U.S. Blu-ray releases include Martin Eden and a reissue of Slap Shot.