Blu-ray Review: Musicals: 4-Movie Collection (The Band Wagon, Calamity Jane, Kiss Me Kate, Singin’ in the Rain)

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New from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment is a Blu-ray set that’s sure to please fans of classic Hollywood song-and-dance extravaganzas, Musicals: 4-Movie Collection. Priced at a stunningly reasonable SRP of $34.99, the set packs a walloping value as it includes four of the best-crafted musicals of Hollywood’s golden age: Singin’ in the Rain (1952), The Band Wagon (1953), Calamity Jane (1953), and Kiss Me Kate (1953; in both 2D and 3D). Only Singin’ in the Rain has previously been available on Blu-ray (and if you have that release, there’s nothing new for that film here). But the other three are worth the purchase price on their own.

Kiss me kate cover (241x280).jpgKiss Me Kate is possibly the biggest deal here due to the terrific restoration of its original 3D presentation. The movie itself, in which divorced couple Fred Graham (Howard Keel) and Lilli Vanessi (Kathryn Grayson) are starring together in a stage production of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, remains a funny romp. Ann Miller co-stars as another Shrew cast member, Lois, and steals quite a few scenes with her broadly entertaining performance. Tommy Rall is also excellent as the gambling-addicted Shrew cast member Bill Calhoun. The play continually threatens to fall apart thanks to the intense disharmony amongst the cast. The Cole Porter songs are memorable, highlighted by tunes like “Wunderbar,” “Always True to You in My Fashion,” and the title song.

Warner Bros. offers a beautiful visual presentation here, whether you choose to screen Kiss Me Kate in 2D or 3D. If the image is a bit on the soft side, that’s likely inherent in Charles Rosher’s cinematography. But colors are vivid and the source elements utilized for the transfer were apparently in stellar shape. Everything about the DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround mix is a pleasure, with the songs filling out the surround spectrum effectively.

Extras on Kiss Me Kate include the ten-minute featurette “Cole Porter in Hollywood: Too Darn Hot” (hosted by Ann Miller), the five minute featurette “Mighty Manhattan - New York’s Wonder City” (not really related to the film that much), and an old MGM animated short “Barney’s Hungry Cousin.” The theatrical trailer for Kiss Me Kate is also present.

Band Wagon cover (242x280).jpgThe Band Wagon was directed by Vincente Minnelli and stars Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse. Tony (Astaire) is a fading star looking for a big comeback. Lester (Oscar Levant) and Lily Marton (Nanette Fabray) have cooked up a stage play which they believe is just the ticket to restore Tony’s career. Minnelli’s backstage musical takes us through the entire process of putting together the big show, punctuated by the Oscar-nominated music of composer Arthur Schwartz and lyricist Howard Dietz. Musical highlights include “That’s Entertainment!,” “You and the Night and the Music,” and “I Guess I’ll Have to Change My Plan,” but this film is packed to the gills with truly memorable numbers.

The Band Wagon is another winning 1080p transfer, with Harry Jackson’s cinematography looking positively radiant. Again, the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack is thrilling with fidelity so strong it seems to defy age. The Band Wagon is nicely tricked-out with extras, including a commentary track by Vincente Minnelli’s daughter Liza, joined by Michael Feinstein. Liza also turns up in the great 37-minute retrospective “Get Aboard! The Band Wagon”. “The Men Who Made the Movie: Vincente Minnelli” is an hour-long look at the career of the legendary filmmaker. “Jack Buchanan with The Glee Quartet” is a 1929 short starring Band Wagon co-star Jack Buchanan. There’s also the theatrical trailer and an MGM animated short, “The Three Little Pups.”

Calamity Jane has arguably aged the poorest in terms of entertainment value out of the four films collected here, but it’s still a good bit of comedic fun. Doris Day stars as the titular Wild West legend. Writer James O’Hanlon and director David Butler imagine a romance between Jane and Wild Bill Hickok (Howard Keel). Allyn Ann McLerie co-stars as Wild Bill’s initial paramour, Katie Brown. The Oscar-winning song “Secret Love” is the most famous of Sammy Fain (music) and Paul Francis Webster’s (lyrics) songs, but there’s a bevy of great numbers here (“Just Blew in From the Windy City” and “The Black Hills of Dakota,” to name but two). Doris Day is widely heralded for her work here, though modern audiences may consider her broad portrayal a bit over the top.

Calamity Jane cover (244x280).jpgIt’s broken record time here (in a good way), as Warner Bros. offers yet another splendid audio/visual presentation. The big difference between Calamity Jane and everything else in the set is that instead of 5.1 we have DTS-HD MA 1.0 mono. So while you can’t expect the same expansive audio for the music numbers, the fidelity is never lacking in this very clean mix.

We get a selection of minor vintage extras for Calamity Jane. “Western Style Premiere” is a very brief (under a minute) newsreel covering the film’s premiere. “Photoplay Magazine’s Film Awards” is another short newsreel. There’s also the 1953 short film “So You Love Your Dog” (ten minutes) and the 1953 Merrie Melody animated short, “Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2th Century” (seven minutes). The Calamity Jane theatrical trailer is included as well.

Singin’ in the Rain is a masterpiece of American film, co-directed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly (who also stars). Chosen by the American Film Institute as the number one musical of all time on their 2006 list “AFI’s Greatest Movie Musicals,” the film’s reputation precedes it. Certainly a must-see, even for those who believe they have a terminal allergy to musicals, it’s a crowning achievement for Kelly. Again, this is the 2012 audio/visual presentation, but the image is superb. Even better is the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack, which offers a flawless presentation of the film’s music.

Extras on Singin’ include an audio commentary with a host of participants, notably co-star Debbie Reynolds, co-director Stanley Donen, and screenwriters Betty Comden and Adolph Green. The 50-minute featurette “Singin' in the Rain: Raining on a New Generation” finds a slew of contemporary artists looking back on the importance of the film. There’s also a “Jukebox” function that allows viewers to customize a playlist of their favorite musical moments.

The only note of reservation regarding Warner Bros.’ Musicals: 4-Movie Collection is the packaging. Though the films are each available separately (it’ll cost you more to pick them up that way) in individual standard Blu-ray cases, this box set packs the disc into a slipcase. Each disc is wedged into one of those annoying cardboard pockets, leaving them vulnerable to fingerprints and even minor scratching. Keep that in mind, but if it doesn’t put you off then definitely snatch this one up.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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