The major bonus feature of Warner Home Video's DVD release of Gene Saks' Mame (1974) is the vintage featurette "Lucky Mame" -- it is entertaining but for the wrong reasons, trying as it does to raise audience enthusiasm for the soon-to-be-released movie, when it is plain to anyone watching that the movie is just not that good. That said, as it turns out, the movie is not that bad, either -- and not quite as bad as its reputation would lead one to expect. Mame was one of the notorious box office bombs of the 1970's, and helped to put a nail in the coffin of the big Hollywood musical, despite its having been a hit on Broadway. Most of this was attributed to the decision to go with Lucille Ball in the lead, in place of Angela Lansbury, who starred in the Broadway version. She gave it a good try, but neither her work, nor Paul Zindel's screenplay, nor Jerry Herman's score, could make this work commercially, and the movie disappeared after some valiant attempts by the studio to sell it. Television showings have been especially harmful to whatever reputation the movie might have salvaged -- the Panavision image, cropped to 1.33-to-1, is especially worthless, as Saks tends to fill up every corner of the widescreen frame. Additionally, the movie lingered like a ghost haunting the airwaves, thanks to its cross-promotion on several episodes of Here's Lucy, Lucille Ball's then-current sitcom, which later went into syndication and kept Mame alive as a pop-culture wraith for years.
Now it has arrived on DVD from Warner Home Video, in what is probably the best presentation the movie has had since 1974 -- perhaps it's just that nothing couild have been as bad as the reputation that this movie has carried, but it is watchable, if not fully enjoyable, and not quite worth the 131 minutes it demands. Oh, it's sometimes as campy as all get out, but that's a virtue in a piece like this, and when director Gene Saks and his cast get things right, the results are entertaining, if not always inspired. Ball's singing voice was hopeless as an instrument, but as an honest part of her performance, it is acceptable -- we're accustomed to better in our musical films, this was also the era in which Glynis Johns (hardly known for her vocal skills) scored a hit on stage with "Send In The Clowns." (Of course, with Lansbury in the role, one wouldn't have had to settle for "acceptable"). There are moments where one feels like Lucille Ball is purposefully impersonating Rosalind Russell, who did the original (non-musical) film, and other moments where one feels las though they're watching someone is doing a Lucille Ball impersonation; and the parts of the movie that fail utterly are the moments tailored for her persona, such as the fox hunting sequence. The non-musical segments lag in energy, but considering that some of the latter include Beatrice Arthur -- who is easily the best thing in the movie -- and Robert Preston, and they can be dealt with in the totality of the viewing experience. And in the widescreen (2.35-to-1) version, we get to see more than a glimpse of excellent supporting players such as John Wheeler.
The DVD opens automatically to an easy-to-use two-layer menu that offers quick access to the featurette and the original trailer. The film has also been given a very generous 33 chapters.