Judge Daryl Loomis was once a bathing beauty but was fired when he refused to shave.
Hooray for Hollywood!
Busby Berkeley was truly one of the finest choreographers to ever grace a Hollywood soundstage. His fantastic and elaborate musical numbers—featuring hundreds of performers—extended tracking shots, and often huge and surreal sets, are the stuff of legend. In the history of musicals, nobody has come anywhere close to matching his skills. The Busby Berkeley Collection, Volume 2 from Warner Bros. may contain some pretty marginal films overall, but there is no denying the spectacular vision of Berkeley's musical numbers that made him the most celebrated film choreographer in history.
Facts of the Case
The Busby Berkeley Collection, Volume 2 contains four films from the career of Berkeley, one of which he directed.
Gold Diggers of 1937: A theater company about to go broke takes out a huge insurance policy on their aging producer. The insurance agent (Dick Powell, Murder, My Sweet), charged with keeping him alive so he'll continue paying the premium, must contend with the troupe finding ways to make him sick while falling in love with the star of their latest show (Joan Blondell, Dames).
Gold Diggers in Paris: A French diplomat mistakes Rudy Vallee (Too Many Blondes) and his vaudeville show for a ballet company and invites them to Paris for a dance exposition. When the real ballerinas show up for the show, Vallee's group is kicked out, but they're determined to put their show on anyway.
Hollywood Hotel: Dick Powell stars as an aspiring singer, just moved to Hollywood, who finds himself in a case of romance and mistaken identity with Hollywood's biggest diva and her lookalike (Lola Lane, They Made Me a Killer, and her sister Rosemary, Four Mothers).
Varsity Show: A college theater troupe has produced terrible shows for years and is about to be shut down because their ancient director won't change his outdated ways. To save themselves, they hire a down on his luck director from New York (Dick Powell once again) who so happens to be an alumnus and frat brother.
While this collection is named for Berkeley, the only film in the set that he had a lot to do with is Hollywood Hotel. He directed this one, and it is clearly the best of the bunch. He choreographed the grand finales of the other films, but had nothing to do with them otherwise. Hollywood Hotel is the largest production of the four, featuring multiple elaborate music and dance numbers as well as multiple stars from music and journalism. These include the likes of bandleader Benny Goodman (using one of his all-time great bands featuring Gene Krupa on drums and Harry James on trumpet) and gossip columnist (and creator of the "It Girl" label) Louella Parsons. Goodman and his band play a fairly large role as Dick Powell's old friends, ensuring multiple live swing numbers of the highest quality. Most famously, Hollywood Hotel features the debut of the film industry's unofficial theme song, "Hooray for Hollywood" in a huge production with shout-outs to the biggest real stars in Hollywood of the day. Between the music and the dance, Hollywood Hotel swings along at a brisk, fun pace.
At the other end of the spectrum, however, we have Varsity Show, truly one of the most obnoxious films I have ever seen, musical or otherwise. Between the stilted acting performed by folks far too old to play college students to the storyline of the college students disrespecting the Dean, this film has very little to enjoy. Even Berkeley's big number at the end, with its tribute to the tradition of college football, is lackluster (though, possibly, I'm a little clouded by the fact that I despise most of the teams they feature, namely Notre Dame and USC…stupid Trojans). Every character has a single note that they hit over and over again. The professor is exasperated; the players are defiantly chipper. Varsity Show is hard to watch and only improves slightly with Berkeley's production entry.
Between those extremes, the two Gold Digger films are the means sitting somewhere in the middle. Neither matches the energy of Hollywood Hotel, but nor do they match the banality of Varsity Show. Two previous Gold Digger films, Gold Diggers of 1933 and Gold Diggers of 1935, were included on the first collection, and these continue the trend. Goofy and silly, these films are as frivolous as films can possibly get, but they're easy ways to pass a lazy Sunday. Gold Diggers in Paris is the better of the two. The fish out of water scenario of New York showgirls trying to perform ballet as well as Berkeley's final production number (the best on the set) featuring mechanics rhythmically banging out the song while fixing a car is far better than Gold Diggers of 1937 with its weird insurance scam scenario. Berkeley's number here, though, is also good. Hundreds of baton twirlers seemingly floating in the night is very cool.
The performances are all pretty shaky, though Dick Powell, who stars in three of the entries, is a fine singer with a good boy-next-door stage presence. The writing and performances clearly come second to the production numbers but, outside of Varsity Show, all service these numbers well. Only in Varsity Show did I roll my eyes at how silly they are. Mostly, they move along toward the next song at a fast enough clip that you barely notice how silly they are.
This second set from Warner Bros. doesn't hold up to the first, but it's still very good. There is the occasional bit of print damage on all the features, but the restoration is very fine overall. The full frame images are all as crisp as can be expected given the ages of these films. The mono sound on all is equally good. The dialogue is clear but not overpowering and the music is mixed correctly so that, when the orchestras kick in, your center speaker is not blown to smithereens. Each disc is full of quality extras.
For Gold Diggers of 1937, we have a Technicolor musical short, The Romance of Louisiana, a weird little number about negotiating the Louisiana Purchase from the French, and excerpts from 1929 Gold Diggers of Broadway. Along with these, we have two Warner cartoons, Plenty of Money and Speaking of the Weather, both of which reference the film.
Supplementing Gold Diggers in Paris, we have the Broadway Brevities musical short, The Candid Kid, as well as two more cartoons, Cinderella Meets a Fella and Love and Curses.
Hollywood Hotel has two shorts, the historically-themed Technicolor The Romance of Robert Burns and the comic Double Talk featuring the team of Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy as well as the very weird Looney Tunes short, Porky's Five and Ten.
Finally, for Varsity Show, we have another Bergen/McCarthy short, A Neckin' Party which isn't as fun as it sounds, though it's still more fun than the film, and the classic cartoon Have You Got Any Castles. It's a lot of great, historic material to make for an excellent boxed set
Traditionally, I am not the biggest fan of musicals; show tunes just don't do a whole lot for me. While many of the films are not my cup of tea, Busby Berkeley's production numbers are great cinema in the purest sense. Expertly produced with innovative camera work and a unique vision, Berkeley is a singular figure who is rightfully a true legend of Hollywood. This set does well to showcase his greatness. Fans of musical will eat The Busby Berkeley Collection, Volume 2 up.
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