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Warner Home Video presents
Mickey: I want success so.
DVD ReviewHe was a bundle of unbridled energy, a brash, boisterous boy wonder with an indomitable will to entertain. She was the wholesome, fresh-faced girl next door, an instantly appealing, vivacious performer who oozed sincerity and brandished a voice so big, it could raise the rafters, buoy the most downtrodden spirit, or break your heart—sometimes all at once. So when Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland joined forces in 1939 for a series of "backyard" musicals, the results exceeded even MGM's expectations. He was 19, she was 17, yet both were already seasoned theatrical vets who'd been on stage regularly since they were toddlers—and the experience showed. With ease, they captivated audiences with their youthful vigor, comfortable chemistry, winning personalities, and irrepressible talent. Sure, their "let's-put-on-a-show" films possess some corny and repetitive elements, but back in their heyday, Mickey and Judy were as hip as their current High School Musical counterparts. Though it's too early to tell whether Disney's adolescent phenomenon will endure, there's no denying Rooney and Garland have hung around our consciousness for almost 70 years, and the innocence, optimism, and vitality that define their screen personas and pervade Babes in Arms, Strike Up the Band, Babes on Broadway, and Girl Crazy hasn't dimmed one iota over that time. Why? Because it's real.
Mickey and Judy's appeal transcends their musical and dramatic abilities, because the characters they portray (and problems they face) are universal. After all, what teenagers don't dream big, fight with parents who don't understand them, face rejection and disappointment, and deal with low self-esteem and self-doubt? Rooney and Garland experience these typical issues, and because they're not the most glamorous physical specimens, we identify with their feelings all the more. And when they ultimately achieve success—through hard work, sacrifice, and by following a straight-and-narrow path—we take heart, and applaud their commitment, values, and gumption.
Fans of the pair have waited years for their movies to be released on DVD, and Warner Home Video has honored that patience by producing a box set as classy as Mickey and Judy themselves. With meticulous attention to detail, gorgeous art direction, first-class transfers, and extras galore, the Mickey Rooney & Judy Garland Collection is the classic movie release of the year, a bona fide treasure trove for musical aficionados young and old. All the included films are exclusive to this set, which treats these American originals with the respect and reverence they deserve.
The partnership began innocuously enough with Babes in Arms (1939), a loose adaptation of the Rodgers & Hart stage hit about a group of theatrical kids who hope to impress their stodgy vaudevillian parents by mounting their own original revue. A few obstacles stand in their way—including a welfare worker (Margaret Hamilton) who believes the teens would be better served by a state work school than Broadway—but their perseverance pays off in the end. Director Busby Berkeley orchestrates plenty of musical spectacle, but without employing his trademark kaleidoscopic trickery, and the result is a fresh, energetic, and wholly entertaining screen treatment. Interestingly, legendary producer Arthur Freed (in his inaugural effort) retained only the inspirational title song and romantic Where or When from the original score, choosing instead to pepper the film with less sophisticated melodies written by himself, Nacio Herb Brown, Harold Arlen, and E.Y. Harburg. The choice suits Mickey and Judy, who duet a sprightly Good Morning (years before Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, and Donald O'Connor would immortalize it in Singin' in the Rain) and the patriotic finale, God's Country, while Garland rips through the witty Opera vs. Jazz (with Betty Jaynes) and persuasively croons the wistful ballad, I Cried for You. As the spunky teen impresario, Rooney exhaustively shuttles between giddy hysteria and tears (and nabbed a surprising Best Actor Oscar nomination for his portrayal), yet when he dials himself down and adopts a natural, easygoing style, his acting ability really shines through, earning him renewed appreciation. The pint-sized dynamo also milks some laughs with spot-on impersonations of Clark Gable and Lionel Barrymore.
The runaway success of Babes in Arms quickly spawned a sequel of sorts, Strike Up the Band (1940), which transfers Mickey and Judy to the high school milieu, where they form a dance orchestra and mount a spoof of old-time melodramas to raise money for a trip to a Chicago band competition. Too much high-minded preaching and shameless sentimentality threaten to sink this bloated production (again directed by Berkeley), but the musical numbers blessedly lighten the load. The charming duet, Our Love Affair, would soon become a standard, while the rhythmic, intricately choreographed Do the La Conga rattles and rolls, as Mickey and Judy sing, dance, clown, and shake their chassis with abandon. The flag-waving title tune makes a fitting finale, and the sardonic ode to love, Nobody, beautifully spotlights Garland's innate ability to juxtapose humor and heartache.
Babes on Broadway (1941) casts Mickey and Judy as (what else?) struggling theatrical hopefuls who try to catch the eye of a top producer by staging a benefit show for urban orphans. Along the way, they face the usual complications, moral dilemmas, and romantic roadblocks, before becoming the toast of the Great White Way. This big-budget extravaganza reflects the stars' soaring popularity, and the highbrow production values nicely offset the lowbrow plot. As expected, Rooney and Garland rise above their trite material and, with the help of a few inventive Berkeley production numbers, make us forget the script's shortcomings. Rooney dresses in drag to impersonate Brazilian bombshell Carmen Miranda, while Garland dons blackface for the jazzy F.D.R. Jones. But it's the upbeat Hoe Down and lilting How About You? that exemplify the youthful spirit of all the Mickey-Judy films, and the duo's boundless exuberance and triple-threat skills keep this backstage musical cruising merrily along.
By the time their final co-starring vehicle went before the cameras in 1943, the balance of power had shifted in the Rooney-Garland on-screen relationship, as her star continued its ascent and poised itself to surpass his. Whereas Babes in Arms was constructed as a tailor-made showcase for Rooney's inimitable talents, Girl Crazy at last focused on Garland and her unique gifts. And while Mickey remained content to recycle his goofy adolescent shtick, Judy evolved into a refined performer, ready and able to tackle adult roles and sophisticated material. The plot mechanics reflect this change as well, as Judy is no longer the ugly duckling wistfully pining for the oblivious and self-absorbed Rooney. In Girl Crazy, Garland is the sought-after prize, and Mickey the lovesick puppy relentlessly pursuing her.
By far the best (and most mature) of the Rooney-Garland musicals, this captivating adaptation of the popular Gershwin show casts Mickey as Danny Churchill, an aimless New York playboy who goes gaga over every girl he meets. His magnate father hopes to cure his addiction (and make a man of him) by sending him way out west to the all-male Cody College. Yet as soon as Danny arrives in the Arizona desert, he falls hopelessly in love with Ginger Gray (Garland), the dean's cute-as-a-button granddaughter and only female within a 50-mile radius. Ginger, however, abhors Danny's superior attitude and silver-spoon lineage, and takes quite a while to warm up to his charms. But when the school encounters financial troubles, the duo shoves aside their romantic problems and leaps to the rescue, organizing a rodeo to raise funds and boost enrollment.
Garland's infectious laughter and natural loveliness infuse Girl Crazy with more joie de vivre than any previous Mickey-Judy film. Her clever duet with Rooney, Could You Use Me?, sets the tone, and from there, the first-class Gershwin score doesn't quit. Bidin' My Time, Embraceable You, and But Not for Me (a beautifully nuanced, exquisitely photographed Garland ballad) follow, but the unequivocal highlight is the I Got Rhythm finale, a rootin'-tootin' Berkeley spectacle featuring cowgirls, whips, and cannons, along with powerhouse vocals by Garland and the big band sound of Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra. The simple lyrics of the signature Gershwin song succinctly sum up the film, the Rooney-Garland association, and this impeccably produced DVD box set: Who could ask for anything more?
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A
Image Transfer Review: Considering the advanced age of the Rooney-Garland movies and the (sad) fact that the original film elements no longer exist, Warner has done an admirable job transferring these musical gems to DVD. The clear images sport solid, rich black levels and enough grayscale variance to lend the picture depth and presence. Close-ups are especially strong, shadow detail is good, and the theatrical sequences exhibit all the glitz and sparkle we expect. A few rough patches and some speckles and nicks crop up here and there, and grain might be a tad more pronounced than it might have been had the original source material been available, but these are minor quibbles. For the most part, the Mickey-Judy films look smooth, lush, and far better than any previous incarnation on VHS. A lot of care went into producing these transfers, and once again, Warner deserves credit for investing the necessary time, effort, and expense to get these fine results.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: The mono tracks sound surprising spry, with plenty of dynamic range and none of the pops and crackles so often associated with films of this vintage. The musical numbers enjoy a slight fidelity boost, adding richness to the vocals and welcome zest to the orchestral arrangements, and the subtle but distinct background scoring never overwhelms the on-screen action. Some mild hiss occasionally can be detected, but doesn't distract, and all the playful banter and sentimental speeches come through with crystal clarity.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 117 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 39 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
4 Original Trailer(s)
6 Other Trailer(s) featuring Thoroughbreds Don't Cry, Love Finds Andy Hardy, Andy Hardy Meets Debutante, Life Begins for Andy Hardy, Thousands Cheer, Words and Music
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by historian John Fricke
Packaging: Box Set
The bonus disc will pleases devotees of both stars, and begins with a lively, unpredictable 1997 installment of the long-running TCM series, Private Screenings. Host Robert Osborne sits down with Rooney to discuss his career, and the Mick obliges with plenty of anecdotes (the validity of which can only be surmised) and a few bizarre outbursts. He calls MGM "a wonderland" and "thrillingly frightening," vehemently defends studio chief Louis B. Mayer, and shares stories about Lionel Barrymore, Busby Berkeley, and, of course, Judy during the 40-minute program, which concentrates exclusively on his Metro period.
While Rooney's fans will appreciate the preceding interview, Garland aficionados will think they've died and gone to Judy heaven when they launch The Judy Garland Songbook, an almost 90-minute compendium of 21 classic numbers from 16 of this musical icon's films, many of which have yet to be released on DVD. Not all of Judy's best known songs make the cut (due to budget constraints and the high cost of royalties), but what's included will bring a smile and more than a few tingles to Garland fans. Such rarities as the bouncy Got a Pair of New Shoes from Thoroughbreds Don't Cry (her first picture with Rooney), the rousing Everybody Sing from Broadway Melody of 1938, her sizzling rendition of Singin' in the Rain from Little Nellie Kelly, and the boogie-laced The Joint Is Really Jumpin' Down at Carnegie Hall (a personal favorite) from Thousands Cheer join standards like After You've Gone from For Me and My Gal, The Boy Next Door and The Trolley Song from Meet Me in St. Louis, the Oscar-winning On the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe from The Harvey Girls, and Get Happy from Summer Stock. All look and sound great, and will provide supreme enjoyment for anyone craving a Garland fix.
A Rooney-Garland trailer gallery, including previews for all 10 films in which they appeared together, wraps up the bonus disc content.
Each individual movie DVD also packs on a wealth of special features (reviewed below), and what better way to start things off than with four all-new introductions by Rooney himself. In each three-to-four-minute piece, the 87-year-old actor reverently recalls the joy of working with Judy, the glamorous atmosphere at MGM, the sparkling supporting casts that add so much flavor to the films, and the great songs he and Garland performed.
BABES IN ARMS
An absorbing, meticulous audio commentary by the esteemed Garland historian John Fricke launches this disc's supplements, and, as usual, does not disappoint. Always impeccably prepared, Fricke adds vital context to the film, and presents his information in a clear, literate, yet easygoing style that makes listening a pleasure. He gives a concise but thorough history of vaudeville; notes the differences between the original Broadway production of Babes in Arms and its film adaptation; details numerous script deletions and alterations; and provides bios of almost everyone involved in the production, from Rooney and Garland to behind-the-scenes personnel to the most obscure unbilled bit player. Best of all, Fricke's mind-boggling grasp of trivia—honed over years of study and acute observation—allows him to slip in fascinating factoids that lift this track high above others in its class.
Next up, the Our Gang short Dual Personalities follows a lovesick Alfalfa as he tries to woo Darla away from Butch. A traveling hypnotist makes the freckle-faced boy believe he's D'Artagnan from The Three Musketeers, and while in the trance, he challenges Butch to a duel. Darla, however, gets the last laugh in this amusing 10-minute one-reeler that features Phillip Terry, better known as Joan Crawford's third husband, in a bit part as the hypnotist's assistant. Even funnier, the seven-and-a-half-minute cartoon, The Mad Maestro, depicts the fury of a fussy conductor who can't control his animal orchestra.
Audio-only extras include two 28-minute episodes of the Gulf Screen Guild Theater—one from 1939 and one from 1941. In the first, Mickey and Judy trade scripted banter, perform Good Morning, and interact with fellow guests Cary Grant (who sings!) and Ann Sothern. The second installment is a severely truncated adaptation of Babes in Arms, which excises most of the music and meaty plot points, but maintains the original's ebullience. Also residing on the disc is a 13-and-a-half-minute excerpt from Good News of 1938, featuring a zestful Judy crooning a slightly different version of God's Country than contained in the film, as well as the classically-tinged ballad, Serenade. Emcee Robert Young, bandleader Meredith Wilson, and actor Frank Morgan also appear on this popular radio program. Audio quality on all the broadcasts is understandably rough, considering their advanced age, but fans should still relish this rare material.
In addition, clips from various 1939 newsreels, running a total of four minutes, show Mickey clowning at Judy's poolside birthday party (with MGM studio chief Louis B. Mayer in attendance); the two stars chatting with Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia while on tour at the World's Fair in New York City; and Mickey teaching Judy about the March of Dimes in a vintage public service announcement. A Leo Is On the Air radio promo, also four minutes, features two Babes in Arms songs, and the lengthy original theatrical trailer hypes the film as the pinnacle of MGM musical entertainment.
STRIKE UP THE BAND
Wedding Bills, another enjoyable entry in the long-running Pete Smith Specialty series, runs nine-and-a-half minutes and wryly chronicles the mounting expenses and unavoidable mishaps intrinsic to a couple's engagement. (Oh, how little things have changed over the years!) Equally delightful, the eight-minute cartoon, Romeo in Rhythm, spoofs both The Wizard of Oz and Stanley and Livingstone as a company of black crows stutters and stumbles its way through an operatic version of Romeo and Juliet.
A stereo remix of the Latin-flavored Do the La Conga number heightens both fidelity and excitement, while a Leo Is On the Air radio promo, running 14 minutes, features select songs from the film, as well as some Hollywood industry news. A lively and faithful hour-long Lux Radio Theater adaptation of Strike Up the Band follows, and though it strangely omits the title song (and abbreviates the rest of the score), the program nicely captures the film's Americana flavor, and contains spirited performances from Mickey and Judy. The disc also includes a 14-minute excerpt from a 1941 Millions for Defense broadcast that saddles Rooney and Garland with a madcap script better suited to Abbott and Costello. Judy sings a rousing version of Strike Up the Band and Mickey resurrects his pitch-perfect Lionel Barrymore impression in this oddly amusing radio rarity. (Audio quality for all these selections is vastly superior to the programs included on the Babes in Arms disc.)
The film's original theatrical trailer (in excellent condition) completes the Strike Up the Band extras.
BABES ON BROADWAY
The main extra on this disc is the 1941 Lux Radio Theater presentation of Merton of the Movies, in which Mickey portrays movie-mad Merton Gill, an aw-shucks, small-town guy who dreams of becoming a serious Hollywood actor. Judy co-stars as Phyllis, a supportive fellow thespian who tries to convince him (without success) that his real talent lies in comedy. Garland sings a spirited rendition of The Peanut Vendor in this charming one-hour production, as well as a bonus duet with Rooney (How About You?) after the curtain falls.
In addition to the original Babes on Broadway theatrical trailer, other supplements include a nine-minute Pete Smith Specialty, How to Hold Your Husband—Back, a comic primer on meddlesome wives; the Fantasia-like Rudolf Ising cartoon, Dance of the Weed, which runs eight-and-a-half minutes; an audio guide track for Chin Up, Cheerio, Carry On, featuring vocals by composer Burton Lane; a 15-minute Leo Is On the Air radio promo that spotlights the film's musical numbers; and a special Christmas edition of Leo Is On the Air, in which Rooney and Garland ride down Hollywood Boulevard (with Santa Claus) wishing holiday greetings to revelers and chatting with fans. Garland also performs a touching rendition of Silent Night to cap off this festive 14-minute broadcast.
Another stellar John Fricke commentary graces this disc, and though a few unavoidable repetitions from the Babes in Arms track creep in, the savvy Garland scholar fills his discussion with enough fresh nuggets and cogent analysis to keep it bright and engaging throughout. Once again, he provides career bios of the cast and crew, chronicles the film's production history, and cites various script changes, but what really makes this track noteworthy are the numerous personal anecdotes Fricke relates about Rooney and (especially) Garland from friends and colleagues, which allow us to better understand their personalities, appreciate their mutual devotion, and respect their inestimable talent.
A stereo remix of I Got Rhythm makes a spectacular number even more dynamic, and the audio outtake of Bronco Busters, a rousing homage to the Western spirit sung by Garland, Rooney, Nancy Walker, and chorus, makes one rue its excision. The one-reel Pete Smith Specialty, Hollywood Daredevils, salutes industry stuntmen (who perform some impressive—and dangerous—feats), while the nine-minute Tex Avery cartoon, The Early Bird Dood It, chronicles a feisty worm's mission to bump off a hungry bird. The Girl Crazy original theatrical trailer wraps up the extras package.
Extras Grade: A+
Final CommentsLast year, it was Fred and Ginger; this year, it's Mickey and Judy. Once again, Warner Home Video mines its vault and produces a spectacular box set saluting one of Hollywood's most talented and beloved musical teams. Enhanced by top-flight transfers and a cavalcade of rare extras, the Mickey Rooney & Judy Garland Collection is the year's finest classic DVD release, and merits the following special material lyrics:
"We got Mickey; We got Judy; We got their films; Who could ask for anything more?
Flashy photos; Splashy extras; What a great set!; Who could ask for anything more?
Old man Warner; Gotta thank you; Dig those transfers; Love that guide;
Sassy Rooney; Classy Garland; Dyn-a-mite pair!; Who could ask for anything more?
Who could ask for anything more?"
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