Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A Missed Opportunity for Warner Home Video

I was very pleased to read that Warner Home Video (WHV) will be releasing in July a box set called “Home Front Collection” featuring “Thank Your Lucky Stars” (1943), “Hollywood Canteen (1944) and “This is The Army” (1943). Pleased, but also thinking that a better collection could have been offered featuring the first two titles. Let me explain.

“Thank Your Lucky Stars” and “Hollywood Canteen” are Warner Bros. contributions to the all-star musical genre. These movies were a studio’s showcase of their biggest stars and contract players in musical numbers or comedy skits. There might be up two dozen (or more) stars in each movie.

Paramount did it with “Star Spangled Rhythm” (1942), M-G-M offered “Thousands Cheer” (1943), United Artists contributed “Stage Door Canteen” (1943) and Universal gave us “Follow the Boys” (1944).

They’re all hugely enjoyable, if incredibly corny. They show that Hollywood’s biggest stars are really just regular folks, ready to drop everything and help our armed forces by staging an elaborate show or benefit.

The Warner Bros; contributions are among the most enjoyable, especially “Thank Your Lucky Stars”, which is loaded with great songs and comedy, and showcases stars like Errol Flynn and Bette Davis as surprisingly capable song and dance performers. It’s one of my favorite movies. In fact, when WGN ran it one night against the 1975 Oscars, I passed on the annual ceremony and opted for “Thank Your Lucky Stars” instead. (I never did see Jack Nicholson or Louise Fletcher pick up their Oscars for “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”)

So I’m glad to see these titles coming out, but wish WHV had included them instead in an all-star musical box set. Besides the aforementioned “Hollywood Canteen” and “Thank Your Lucky Stars”, the set could include “Thousands Cheer” and two Warner Bros. entries that came after World War II, “It’s a Great Feeling” (1949) and “Starlift” (1951).

I thought such a box set was what WHV may have been planning, since they have already released most of Doris Day’s musicals, but “It’s a Great Feeling” was not among their earlier two box sets of Day titles. That’s another marvelously entertaining film, with gorgeous Technicolor and most of action taking place on the Warner Bros. back lot. We get to see such directors as Michael Curtiz, Raoul Walsh and King Vidor in amusing cameos, and fun glimpses of the studio back lot. What a marvelous time capsule of sights. Edward G. Robinson has a funny scene, and there’s a riotous Errol Flynn cameo. For film music fans, it’s a treat to see a sequence filmed on the Warner Bros. soundstage, where all those glorious musical scores of Korngold, Steiner and Waxman were recorded. We even get glimpses of the orchestra members. Look, there’s cellist Eleanor Slatkin, who performed the Korngold Cello Concerto in “Deception” (1946).

“Starlift” has not been seen anywhere, to the best of my knowledge, in decades. It’s one of the very few James Cagney screen appearances I’ve never seen. I don’t know if there are rights issues involved with this title, but a lot of film buffs would love to see “Starlift” and would spring for the box set just to get that title.

Kudos to WHV for at least releasing two of these all-star musical gems. It will also be nice to a see a restored “This is the Army”, which has been languishing in public domain hell for too long.

Still, I hope they will eventually get around to releasing “Thousands Cheer”, “It’s a Great Feeling” and “Starlift”, but what a lost opportunity to include a marvelous collection of all-star musicals in one box set.

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