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Hollywood Classics: The Golden Age of the Silver Screen [10 Discs] [DVD]

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Overview

Synopsis

Till the Clouds Roll By
Outpost in Morocco
While under contract to Warner Bros., George Raft turned down picture after picture as being "unimportant" and thus unworthy of his talents. Among his turned-down projects were such minor items as High Sierra and Casablanca. By 1949, however, Raft's star had eclipsed, and he was obliged to accept whatever came along. Outpost in Morocco wasn't exactly a "B" picture -- it was expensively filmed on location -- but neither was it in the same league as Raft's earlier vehicles. Cast as Capt. Paul Gerard, a foreign-legion officer, Raft finds himself on the horns of a dilemma. He must protect his garrison from the rebel hordes of a native Emir (Eduard Franz) -- who happens to be the father of Cara (Marie Windsor), the woman Gerard loves. Akim Tamiroff easily steals the show as Gerard's slovenly second-in-command. The film truly comes to life only during the battle scenes, which utilize the services of hundreds of genuine Legionnaires and Moroccan cavalrymen. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Dinner at the Ritz
Filmed in Paris and along the French Riviera, Dinner at the Ritz afforded David Niven the chance to play his first starring role. As Paul de Brack, he is a government agent and playboy and is quite at home among the elite set, whether in England or France. This comes in handy when he falls in with Ranie Racine (Annabella), a gay Paris socialite and the daughter of a recently murdered financier. The father's death has been ruled a suicide, but Ranie refuses to accept this. As the man assigned to investigate the banker's death, Paul accompanies Ranie on a series of undercover investigations that take them to Monte Carlo and London. Along the way, they discover the truth about a serious banking scandal, as well as evidence that the man responsible for Racine's death may be someone close to Ranie. ~ Craig Butler, Rovi

Of Human Bondage
The first of three film versions of Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage stars Leslie Howard as sensitive, clubfooted artist-cum-med student Philip Carey. Despite his yearnings for the finer things in life, Carey cannot extricate himself from a mutually destructive relationship with sluttish waitress Mildred Rogers (Bette Davis). After an incredible series of emotional disasters, Carey finally finds happiness in the arms of Sally Altheny (Frances Dee). The industry buzz in 1934 indicated that Bette Davis was a shoe-in for an Academy Award for her savage portrayal of Mildred, but her home studio Warner Bros. failed to mount an adequate publicity campaign on Davis' behalf, allegedly because she'd made the film on loan-out to RKO and Warners wasn't about to heap praise upon a rival. It is now generally conceded that Davis' Oscar win for 1935's Dangerous was consolation for her losing the statuette in 1934. Long out of circulation due to the 1946 remake, the 1934 Of Human Bondage has since slipped into the public domain, and is now seen more often than either of the subsequent remakes (the last was in 1964). ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Life With Father
The longest-running non-musical play in Broadway history, Life With Father was faithfully filmed by Warner Bros. in 1947. William Powell is a tower of comic strength as Clarence Day, the benevolent despot of his 1880s New York City household. Irene Dunne co-stars as Day's wife Vinnie, who outwardly has no more common sense than a butterfly but who is the real head of the household. The anecdotal story, encompassing such details as the eldest Day son's (James Lydon) romance with pretty out-of-towner Mary (Elizabeth Taylor), is tied together by Vinnie's tireless efforts to get her headstrong husband baptized, else he'll never be able to enter the Kingdom of God. Each scene is a little gem of comedy and pathos, as the formidable Mr. Day tries to bring a stern businesslike attitude to everyday household activities, including explaining the facts of life to his impressionable son. Donald Ogden Stewart based his screenplay upon the play by Howard Lindsey (who played Mr. Day in the original production) and Russell Crouse; the play in turn was inspired by a series of articles written by Clarence Day Jr., shortly before his death in 1933. Due to a legal tangle with the Day estate, Life With Father was withdrawn from circulation after its first run; it re-emerged on the Public Domain market in 1975. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

At War With the Army
Though At War With the Army was the third film appearance of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, it was the team's first starring vehicle. A pattern is set herein for all the Martin-Lewis flicks to follow: Martin plays a self-assured romeo, forever bursting into song, while Lewis is a hopeless screw-up unable to perform the simplest task without wreaking havoc (in this one, he can't even operate a Coke machine properly). Mike Kellin repeats his Broadway role as M&L's tough topkick while Polly Bergen makes a very brief appearance. Because it has lapsed into public domain, At War With the Army is one of the most available of the Martin and Lewis films. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

My Favorite Brunette
Just as Bob Hope's My Favorite Blonde (1942) was a takeoff on Alfred Hitchcock, Hope's My Favorite Brunette was a lampoon of the noirish "hard-boiled detective" school popularized by Raymond Chandler. Awaiting execution on death row, Hope tells the gathered reporters how he got into his present predicament. It seems that Hope was once a baby photographer, his office adjacent to the one leased by a private detective (played in an amusing unbilled cameo by Alan Ladd). While hanging around the p.i.'s office, Hope is mistaken for the detective by beautiful client Dorothy Lamour. She hires Hope to search for her missing uncle, and also entrusts him with a valuable map. Hope's diligent (if inept) sleuthing takes him to a shady rest sanitarium, where he runs afoul of lamebrained henchman Lon Chaney, Jr. and sinister, knife-throwing Peter Lorre. Both are in the employ of attorney Charles Dingle, who is responsible for the disappearance of Lamour's uncle. Escaping the sanitarium with Lamour in tow, Hope follows the trail of evidence to noted geologist Reginald Denny. The geologist is murdered, and Hope is accused of the crime. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Meet John Doe
The first of director Frank Capra's independent productions (in partnership with Robert Riskin), Meet John Doe begins with the end of reporter Ann Mitchell's (Barbara Stanwyck) job. Fired as part of a downsizing move, she ends her last column with an imaginary letter written by "John Doe." Angered at the ill treatment of America's little people, the fabricated Doe announces that he's going to jump off City Hall on Christmas Eve. When the phony letter goes to press, it causes a public sensation. Seeking to secure her job, Mitchell talks her managing editor (James Gleason) into playing up the John Doe letter for all it's worth; but to ward off accusations from rival papers that the letter was bogus, they decide to hire someone to pose as John Doe: a ballplayer-turned-hobo (Gary Cooper), who'll do anything for three squares and a place to sleep. "John Doe" and his traveling companion The Colonel (Walter Brennan) are ensconced in a luxury hotel while Mitchell continues churning out chunks of John Doe philosophy. When newspaper publisher D.B. Norton (Edward Arnold), a fascistic type with presidential aspirations, decides to use Doe as his ticket to the White House, he puts Doe on the radio to deliver inspirational speeches to the masses -- ghost-written by Mitchell, who, it is implied, has become the publisher's mistress. The central message of the Doe speeches is "Love Thy Neighbor," though, conceived in cynicism, the speeches strike so responsive a chord with the public that John Doe clubs pop up all over the country. Believing he is working for the good of America, Cooper agrees to front the National John Doe Movement -- until he discovers that Norton plans to exploit Doe in order to create a third political party and impose a virtual dictatorship on the country. The last of Capra's "social statement" films, Meet John Doe posted a profit, although Capra and Riskin were forced to dissolve their corporation due to excessive taxes. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Inspector General
The satirical bite of Gogol's play The Government Inspector is dispensed with in favor of traditional Danny Kaye buffoonery in The Inspector General. Kaye plays the illiterate stooge of two-bit medicine-show- entrepreneur Walter Slezak. Abandoned by Slezak, the starving Kaye wanders into a corruption-ridden Russian village, which is all geared up for a visit from the Inspector General. Mistaking Kaye for that selfsame royal inspector, the townsfolk fawn on the confused Kaye, granting him his every whim and plying him with all sorts of bribes. In the original Gogol play, the boorish phony inspector takes advantage of the villagers' error by laying waste to the town and seducing a few local maidens; in the film, Kaye is as pure as the driven borscht, as is his true love (Barbara Bates), the only honest person in town. The treachery is in the hands of Slezak, who fakes Kaye's death and tries to blackmail the crooked local officials. The deus-ex-machina arrival of the real Inspector General foils the crooks and places the nonplused Kaye in the job of town mayor. Those of you who read the play in college may remember it ends with everyone frozen in horror when the genuine inspector shows up, with Gogol's stage directions insisting that the actors hold their fearful poses for a full sixty seconds. Be assured that in the film version of Inspector General, nothing stands still--least of all Danny Kaye, who cuts quite a swath through several Sylvia Fine/Johnny Mercer specialty songs. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Penny Serenade
While listening to a recording of "Penny Serenade," Julie Gardiner Adams (Irene Dunne) begins reflecting on her past. She recalls her near-impulsive marriage to newspaper reporter Roger Adams (Cary Grant), which begins on a deliriously happy note but turns out to be fraught with tragedy. While honeymooning in Japan, Julie and Roger are trapped in the 1923 earthquake, which results in her miscarriage and subsequent incapability to bear children. Upon their return to America, Roger becomes editor of a small-town newspaper, just scraping by financially. Despite their depleted resources, Julie and Roger want desperately to adopt a child. It seems hopeless until kindly adoption agency head Miss Oliver (Beulah Bondi) helps smooth their path. Alas, their happiness is once more short-lived: their new daughter, Trina (Eva Lee Kuney), succumbs to a sudden illness at the age of six. Reduced to hopelessness, Julie and Roger decide to dissolve their marriage, but Miss Oliver once more comes to the rescue. Sentimental in the extreme, Penny Serenade is also enormously effective, balancing moments of heartbreaking pathos with uproarious laughter. Only director George Stevens could have handled a scene with a copiously weeping Cary Grant without inducing discomfort or embarrassment in the audience. Since lapsing into the public domain in 1968 (though released by Columbia, the film was owned by Stevens' production firm), Penny Serenade has become almost as ubiquitous a cable-TV presence as It's a Wonderful Life. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Little Princess
Shirley Temple's first Technicolor feature, The Little Princess was inspired by the oft-filmed novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Set in turn-of-the-century England, the film finds Temple being enrolled in a boarding school by her wealthy widowed father (Ian Hunter), who must head off to fight in the Boer War. At first, Temple is treated like royalty; her behavior couldn't be more down to earth, but this preferential treatment foments resentment. When her father is reported killed in the war, circumstances are severely altered. The spiteful headmistress (Mary Nash) relegates Temple to servant status and forces the girl to sleep in a drafty attic. She keeps her spirits up by hoping against hope that her father will return, and to that end she haunts the corridors of a nearby military hospital. Queen Victoria doesn't have to make a guest appearance in the tearfully joyous closing sequence, but it does serve as icing on the cake to this, one of Temple's most enjoyable feature films. Reliable Shirley Temple flick supporting actors Cesar Romero and Arthur Treacher are back in harness in The Little Princess, while adult leading lady Anita Louise figures prominently in a sugary dream sequence. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Anna Karenina
This 1948 adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina was produced in England by Alexander Korda, and released in the US by 20th Century-Fox. Vivien Leigh plays the title role, a 19th-century Russian gentlewoman married to Czarist official Ralph Richardson. Though her marriage is not intolerable, Anna is swept off her feet by dashing young military officer Vronsky, played by Kieron Moore. The ensuing scandal ruins Anna's status in society. Anna Karenina had previously been filmed twice in Hollywood, with both versions starring Greta Garbo. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Smallest Show on Earth
The Smallest Show on Earth is a gentle, frequently uproarious takeoff of Britain's neighborhood-cinema industry. Real-life husband and wife Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna star as Matt and Jean Spencer, a middle-class couple who inherit a decrepit movie house in a tiny railroad whistle stop. They also inherit the theater's ancient, doddering employees: bibulous ticket-taker Percy Quill (Peter Sellers), former silent-movie accompanist Mrs. Fazackalee (Margaret Rutherford) and doorman/janitor old Tom (Bernard Miles). Making the best of things, the Spencers set up shop going through the usual travails of small-time cinema owners: substandard projection and sound reproduction, a dismal selection of films (all they can afford is American B-Westerns), and sundry mishaps with the audience. Just when they're about to write off the theater as a loss, crafty old Tom comes up with an underhanded but effective method to allow the Spencers to make a huge profit on their shaky enterprise. Though chock full of entertaining vignettes, the best and most poignant scene in The Smallest Show on Earth finds the three elderly employees tearfully reveling in a nostalgic screening of the 1924 silent film Comin' Thro' the Rye. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Flying Deuces
In their first starring feature away from the Hal Roach studios, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy play a couple of fish peddlers from Des Moines on a Cook's Tour of Paris. While stopping over at quaint suburban inn, Ollie falls in love with innkeeper's daughter Georgette (Jean Parker). At Stan's prodding, Ollie pops the question to Georgette, who gently refuses because there is Someone Else. Disconsolately, Ollie decides to commit suicide by jumping into the Seine, insisting that Stan join him in his plunge to oblivion. The boys are halted from this drastic action by the timely arrival of Francois (Reginald Gardiner), an officer in the French Foreign Legion. Francois convinces Stan and Ollie that they'll forget all about Ollie's lost love if they join the Legion, and within a few days our heroes are in uniform at an outpost in French Morocco, where they are promptly assigned to laundry detail. Alas, try as he might, Ollie can't forget his beloved Georgette-until Stan suggests that he pretend to forget so that they can get back in their own clothes and head home. This Ollie does, but not before accidentally setting fire to a mountain of laundry. After leaving behind a rather nasty letter of resignation for their scowling commandant (Charles Middleton), Stan and Ollie pack their bags and head for the airport-where Ollie is reunited with Georgette, who turns out to be the wife of their commanding officer Francois! Sentenced to death for desertion, the boys tunnel their way out of their jail cell and hide out in an airplane, which Stan accidentally sends into flight. After a wild and noisy ride, the plane crashes, leading to the flm's hilarious-and somehow touching--"freak" ending. Officially a remake of Les Aviateurs, a French vehicle for Fernandel and Toto, The Flying Deuces also owes a lot to the earlier Laurel & Hardy Foreign Legion farce Beau Hunks. Highlights include Stan and Ollie's impromptu soft-shoe rendition of "Shine on Harvest Moon", and Stan's lunatic excursion into Harpo Marx territory as he plays a bed-spring "harp". Produced by Boris Morros and released by RKO Radio, Flying Deuces is unquestionably the best of Laurel & Hardy's non-Hal Roach vehicles. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Eternally Yours
Anita's (Loretta Young) life seems to be progressing nicely. She's engaged to Don Barnes (Broderick Crawford), a wealthy man that will give her all the stability and comfort a woman could desire. But then she meets a magician with the unlikely name of The Great Arturo (David Niven), who performs a singular feat of magic -- he sweeps her off her feet. Promptly dropping Barnes, she weds Arturo and travels the globe as his assistant. After some time, however, the magic begins to wear off and Anita longs for a simpler life, perhaps on a quite farmhouse in the country. She's also a bit put out by Arturo's flirting with other women, but what really worries her are the dangerous stunts he has added to his repertoire. Realizing it is time for her to do something, she pulls a little magic of her own and disappear, forcing Artuto to set off on a lively chase to find her. ~ Craig Butler, Rovi

The Snows of Kilimanjaro
Ernest Hemingway could never come to terms with Hollywood's preoccupation with The Happy Ending: he accepted the money for the screen rights to his short story The Snows of Kilimanjaro, but he could never bring himself to watch it. Gregory Peck plays a character based, in decidedly unflattering fashion, on Hemingway crony F. Scott Fitzgerald. While hunting in the African mountains in the company of his faithful lady friend Susan Hayward, Peck is seriously wounded; in fact, it doesn't look as though he'll survive the night. In the few hours he has left, Peck reflects upon what he considers a wasted life. Having aspired to be the Great American Novelist, Peck has only turned out money-making drivel. The only time that he truly felt as though he'd made a contribution to the world was when he fought on the Loyalist side in Spain (this element isn't in the short story, but is drawn from Hemingway's own experiences). As for his lost romance with his late wife Ava Gardner, Peck still cannot figure out what went wrong. The Hemingway original ended with the Peck character dying from his wounds; producer Darryl F. Zanuck wouldn't hear of this, preferring that Peck survive with the resolve to write something of lasting value. The Technicolor location photography of Leon Shamroy and the rumbling musical score of Bernard Herrmann are the main attractions of The Snows of Kilimanjaro. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Father's Little Dividend
This sequel to the 1950 comedy hit Father of the Bride finds Spencer Tracy and Joan Bennett returning as Stanley and Ellie Banks, the parents of newlywed Kay Dunstan (Elizabeth Taylor). In the first film, Stanley Banks was forced to endure the chaotic events leading up to the wedding. This time, he must comes to grips with the prospect of becoming a grandfather. Once he's reconciled himself to this jolt of mortality, Stanley must contend with the little bundle of joy, who screams his head off every time Grandpa comes near him. Father's Little Dividend was remade in 1994 as Father of the Bride II, with Steve Martin assuming the Spencer Tracy role, and with the added complication of discovering that his own wife (Diane Keaton) is also pregnant. The copyright for Father's Little Dividend was not renewed in 1978; thus the film has lapsed into public domain. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Made for Each Other
James Stewart and Carole Lombard star in this comedy-drama about the struggles of a young married couple directed by John Cromwell. Stewart and Lombard play a recently married couple, Jane and John Mason. John works as an attorney for the law firm of skinflint Judge Doolittle (Charles Coburn). Doolittle calls John back to work immediately after the wedding ceremony, forcing the couple to abandon their honeymoon. But John is ready to do Doolittle's bidding, since he hopes to become a partner in the firm. Doolittle is openly disappointed at the marriage, hoping John would have instead married his daughter Eunice (Ruth Weston). Eunice eventually marries another lawyer in the firm, Carter (Donald Briggs). John and Jane try to make ends meet and invite Doolittle, Eunice, and Carter to dinner. The dinner turns into a disaster, climaxing with Doolittle informing John he has decided to make Carter a partner in the firm. Crushed, John and Jane work hard but to no avail, sinking deeper and deeper into debt. Jane has a baby, but when the child becomes seriously ill, the only way to save the baby is to have a special serum flown in through a blizzard from Salt Lake City. John needs $5000 to hire a pilot and get the medicine, and his only hope is to beg Judge Doolittle for the money. ~ Paul Brenner, Rovi

Heartbeat
A remake of the 1939 French film Battement de Couer, Heartbeat reunites star Ginger Rogers with her Kitty Foyle director Sam Wood. Ms. Rogers plays Arlette, a reform school alumnus who is recruited by Faginlike Professor Aristide, headmaster at a school for pickpockets. Before long, Arlette becomes Aristide's prize pupil, and is being groomed for bigger things. Assigned by a corrupt foreign ambassador (Adolphe Menjou) to steal a valuable watch from wealthy and handsome diplomat Pierre (Jean Pierre Aumont), Arlette not only bungles the job, but also falls in love with her would-be victim. Heartbeat wasn't the first mediocre American remake of a French film, and it certainly wouldn't be the last. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

A Farewell to Arms
Farewell to Arms is the second film version of Ernest Hemingway's World War One novel--and also the last film produced by David O. Selznick (Gone with the Wind). Rock Hudson plays an American serving in the Italian Army during the "War to End All Wars". Jennifer Jones is his lover, a Red cross nurse. They have a torrid affair, which results in Jones' pregnancy. As the months pass, Hudson and Jones lose contact with one another, and Jones believes that Hudson has forgotten her. But a battle-weary Hudson finally makes it to Switzerland, where Jones is hospitalized. The baby is stillborn, and Jones dies shortly afterward, murmuring that her death is "a dirty trick." Filmed on a simpler scale in 1932 (with Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes starring), A Farewell to Arms was blown all out of proportion to "epic" stature for the 1957 remake--so much so that its original director, John Huston, quit the film in disgust. Still, the basic love story is touchingly enacted by Rock Hudson and Jennifer Jones. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

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