Hollywood Greats: 15 Features [2 Discs] [DVD]
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Amazing Quest was the original British release title of the 1937 comedy Romance and Riches (aka Riches and Romance). Making a rare return trip to England, Cary Grant plays the heir to a huge fortune. Alas, Grant is miserable, because he's never worked for his money. Determined to prove his worth, Grant makes a wager than he can earn his keep for a full year without ever touching the family millions. He loses his bet when he must draw upon his money to wed poverty-stricken Mary Brian, the better to save her from an unhappy marriage of convenience. Still, his experiences among the working classes have left an indelible impression; turning his back on his "equals," Grant invites all of his newly acquired lowborn friends to his wedding reception. Like His Girl Friday, Penny Serenade, and Charade, Amazing Quest is one on the ever-growing list of Cary Grant films that have lapsed into public domain, and thus are more readily available than when first released. Amazing Quest was based on a novel by E. Phillips Oppenheim. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
Esther and the King
Just over a decade before she would gain fame and some fortune as Alexis Carrington in television's Dynasty series, Joan Collins starred as Esther in this melodramatic, routine Biblical story. The setting is Persia in the 4th century BC, as Esther comes to the attention of the recently widowed King Ahasuerus. The king has been trying to stifle and defeat the campaign of hatred fomented against the Jews by his evil minister Haman (Sergio Fantoni). Before the King can pair off with Esther and defeat the villainous Haman, there are several intervening adventures and an additional, attractive woman who competes for attention. ~ Eleanor Mannikka, Rovi
Two real-life events were incorporated into the plot of the 1951 MGM musical Royal Wedding. One, the marriage of Fred Astaire's sister Adele to a British nobleman had occurred years earlier; the other, the wedding of England's Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip was only four years in the past. MGM would probably have gotten Royal Wedding out closer to the Elizabeth-Philip nuptials, but the picture had leading-lady problems; every girl who was cast either became pregnant, ill, or otherwise unavailable. Finally, Jane Powell was cast as the sister and partner of American-entertainer Fred Astaire. The plot has Astaire and Powell heading to Merrie Olde England to perform at the palace. Once they've arrived, Powell breaks up the act when she falls in love with blueblooded Peter Lawford. Astaire himself finds romance in the form of Sarah Churchill (daughter of Sir Winston), and the four happy campers gleefully attend the titular Windsor Castle wedding. Also in the cast is Albert Sharpe, fresh from his Broadway triumph in Finian's Rainbow, and Keenan Wynn, hilarious as twin cousins. The plot is so light that it threatens to float away at times, but Royal Wedding sticks in the memory thanks to its first-rate musical numbers. The Astaire/Powell duets are entertaining enough; the real magic, however, occurs in Astaire's two solos: the hat-rack duet and the now-legendary tap-dance on the ceiling (even knowing how this cinematic legerdemain was accomplished does not detract from its brilliance and virtuosity). Because it has slipped into public domain, Royal Wedding is one of the most easily accessible of all the Fred Astaire musicals. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
Rod Serling's incisive "gray flannel suit" TV drama created such a sensation when Kraft Television Theatre first aired it live on January 11, 1955 that, in an unprecedented move, it was repeated four weeks later, on February 9, again live. Richard Kiley starred as Fred Staples, a bright young man from Cincinnati brought into the executive pool at a top New York firm by ruthless CEO Ramsey (Everett Sloane). Staples doesn't know it at first, but he was recruited as the potential replacement for Andy Sloane (Ed Begley), an ailing exec whom Ramsey is easing out in a most unsubtle fashion. Staples takes a liking to Sloane and despises Ramsey's tactics; the question is: does he despise them enough to throw away the biggest opportunity in his life? Director Fielder Cook, who helmed both TV versions of Patterns, also did the same for the 1956 film version. While Everett Sloane and Ed Begley were carried over from TV, the more "bankable" Van Heflin replaced Kiley as Staples. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
Suddenly is the name of the small town invaded by professional assassin Frank Sinatra and his henchmen. Taking a local family hostage, Sinatra sets up a vigil at the second-story window of the family's home. From here, he intends to kill the President of the United States when the latter makes a whistle-stop visit. The film's tension level is enough to induce goose pimples from first scene to last. Sinatra is outstanding as the disgruntled war vet who hopes to become a "somebody" by killing the president. The parallels between his character and Lee Harvey Oswald's are too close for comfort, so much so that Suddenly was withdrawn from local TV packages for several years after the JFK assassination. Sinatra would claim in later years that he himself engineered the removal of Suddenly from general distribution, though in fact he'd lost whatever rights he'd held on the film when it lapsed into public domain. Be sure and miss the notorious colorized version of this black-and-white thriller, wherein Sinatra is transformed into Ol' Brown Eyes. ~ 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
Road to Hollywood
Road to Hollywood may have starred Bing Crosby, but it was by no means one of his popular "Road" pictures with Bob Hope. In fact, it wasn't even a new film when released in 1946. Road to Hollywood is comprised of clips from Crosby's two-reel musical comedies made at the Mack Sennett studios between 1931 and 1932: I Surrender Dear, One More Chance, Dream House, The Billboard Girl, Blue of the Night and Sing Bing Sing. Astor Pictures, a firm specializing in reissues of older films, owned the rights to these short subjects and had already made a mint distributing them to theatres in the early 1940s. Now Astor hoped to sustain the cash flow by excerpting the old Crosby films into a hazy "continuity," then passing the whole melange off as a "new" feature picture. Heavily advertised and craftily promoted, The Road to Hollywood was a success, making plenty of money for everyone but Bing Crosby and Mack Sennett. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
The Strange Love of Martha Ivers
In The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, relationships formed in childhood lead to murder and obsessive love. The wealthy Martha Ivers (Barbara Stanwyck) is the prime mover of the small Pennsylvania town of Iverston. Martha lives in a huge mansion with her DA husband, Walter O'Neil (Kirk Douglas), an alcoholic weakling. No one knows just why Martha and Walter tolerate one another....but Sam Masterson (Van Heflin), an Iverstown boy who returns to town, may just have a clue. At least that's what Martha thinks when Sam asks Walter to intervene in the case of Toni Marachek (Lizabeth Scott), who has been unjustly imprisoned. It seems that, as a young boy, Sam was in the vicinity when Martha's rich aunt (Judith Anderson) met with her untimely demise. What does Sam know? And what dark, horrible secret binds Martha and Walter together? Directed by Lewis Milestone, and based on John Patrick's Oscar-nominated original story, Love Lies Bleeding, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers creates in Martha a unique and interesting, driven, obsessed, and spoiled character, but one not without sympathy. Barbara Stanwyck is outstanding as Martha, with her predatory smile and sharp, manicured nails. Kirk Douglas is surprisingly convincing as a lost, sad, weak man, who loves his wife, but is unable to gain her respect. The Strange Love of Martha Ivers eventually lapsed into public domain and became a ubiquitous presence on cable television. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
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
David and Goliath
Very loosely based on its Biblical source, this standard Italian sword-and-sandal action film stars Orson Welles as an intense, inward-turning King Saul, deteriorating at the same time that David is rising in renown. The shepherd David (Ivo Payer) is sent to the Israelite forces with supplies for his older brothers when he first discovers who Goliath is -- the giant over nine feet tall that challenges any single warrior to meet him one-on-one in battle. If someone takes up his challenge, it would decide whether the Israelites or Philistines are victorious in their current stand-off. David's one-shot victory turns the tide and hastens Saul's decline. The monarch's lithesome daughters Merab and Michal are played by Eleonora Rossi-Drago and Giulia Rubini, his son Jonathan is portrayed by Pierre Cressoy, and Goliath by Kronos, a muscular "giant" of European circus and music hall circuits. ~ Eleanor Mannikka, Rovi
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
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
The Magic Sword
In this fun-filled adventure-fantasy, a rookie knight embarks upon a valiant quest to save a princess who has been captured by a malicious magician. Along the way he must battle the usual assortment of dragons, ogres and other mythical beings. He is assisted by a good witch who gives him a magic sword. Unfortunately, the magic fails and suddenly he must find his own magic from within. ~ Sandra Brennan, Rovi
Pot O' Gold
James Stewart once classified Pot O' Gold as his worst film, though this may have stemmed from his reported inability to get along with his costar Paulette Goddard (who is supposed to have dismissed Stewart's acting technique with a flippant "Anyone can swallow.") Inspired by the popular radio giveaway series of the same name, the film represented an ill-fated production venture for James Roosevelt, son of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Stewart plays Jimmy Haskell, nephew of breakfast-food mogul C. J. Haskell (Charles Winninger). Befriending bandleader Horace Heidt (playing himself) and his orchestra members, Jimmy and his sweetheart Molly McCorkle (Paulette Goddard) tries to persuade C. J. to sponsor Heidt's radio program. The elder Haskell refuses until Jimmy and Molly's landlady mother (Mary Gordon) come up with a sure-fire "gimmick" for the program: they'll pick names from the phone book at random, call up those numbers, and give away huge prizes to whomever answers-provided that the call-ees are tuned into Heidt's show. This format worked beautifully for the real Pot O' Gold radio program, but tends to fall flat on screen, despite the energetic musical contributions of Horace Heidt and his entourage (including a very young and astonishingly articulate Art Carney, in his film debut). In England, Pot O' Gold was retitled The Golden Hour. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
As You Like It
This film version of the famed Shakespearean comedy features Laurence Olivier as Orlando and Elisabeth Bergner as Rosalind. As the story goes, Rosalind, smitten by Orlando and not able to get his attention, disguises herself as a boy to more easily remain in Orlando's vicinity. Eventually Orlando grows to like his new friend and Rosalind is stuck playing a boy with a boy with whom she'd rather be a girl. Confusing? Maybe only Shakespeare could come up with the idea, but director Paul Czinner does a fine job executing the concept. ~ Phillip Erlewine, Rovi
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