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Case Number 18823

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Fox 75th Anniversary Classic Quad: Set 3

Anna And The King Of Siam
1946 // 128 Minutes // Not Rated
Daddy Long Legs
1955 // 126 Minutes // Not Rated
Can-Can
1960 // 142 Minutes // Not Rated
Star!
1968 // 173 Minutes // Not Rated
Released by Fox
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart (Retired) // May 3rd, 2010

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All Rise...

Appellate Judge James A. Stewart has never been as youthful as a 55-year-old Fred Astaire.

Editor's Note

Our reviews of Daddy Long Legs (published March 27th, 2006) and Star! (published July 13th, 2004) are also available.

The Charge

"Be glad they still make pictures like this."—from an ad for Star!

Opening Statement

Sometimes studios make odd choices in box sets. For example, look over the movie titles on Fox's latest set: Fox 75th Anniversary Classic Quad: Set 3. If you look quickly, you might think that's four musicals. Actually, the set features three musicals and Anna and the King of Siam, the non-musical predecessor of The King and I.

Facts of the Case

Fox 75th Anniversary Classic Quad: Set 3 has four movies, each on its own disc:

Anna and the King of Siam
"They're a wonderful-looking family, your Majesty. You make me wish I had sixty-seven."
Anna (Irene Dunne, Theodora Goes Wild) and her son arrive in Bangkok so she can take a job as governess and teacher to the many wives and children of King Mongkut (Rex Harrison, My Fair Lady). It looks like it'll be a long trip for nothing, since she clashes with the prime minister right away and is upset that the king didn't provide the house he promised. However, she soon becomes the King's trusted translator and secretary as well. It's based on Margaret Landon's fictional account of the real Anna Leonowens.

Can-Can
"I don't understand what harm a simple little folk dance can do."
Simone (Shirley MacLaine, Being There), the proprietor of Paris' Bal du Paradis, challenges the ban on the Can-Can and winds up facing Judge Philipe Forrestier (Louis Jourdan, The Return of Swamp Thing). The smitten justice drops the complaint, since he'd like to wake up to face her for the rest of his life. That doesn't sit right with Judge Paul Barrier (Maurice Chevalier, Gigi) or Francois (Frank Sinatra, Guys and Dolls), Simone's marriage-phobic boyfriend. The Cole Porter musical was arranged by Nelson Riddle.

Daddy Long Legs
"Do you know my guardian?"
"Oh, yes, yes, very well."
Jervis Pendleton III (Fred Astaire, Royal Wedding) seeks help at an orphanage when his car breaks down in France. When he sees Julie (Leslie Caron, An American in Paris) teaching English to her fellow orphans, he decides to return the favor by secretly setting up a scholarship for her. His motives come into question when he meets her again at her college, and a spin on the dance floor brings romance into the picture. The story, accompanied by Johnny Mercer's music, comes from Jean Webster's novel.

Star!
"I have lived only for today, with no thought of tomorrow."
Gertrude Lawrence (Julie Andrews, Mary Poppins) was born in Clapham and got her showbiz start dealing with hecklers in Brixton Music Hall. From there, she became a stage star and society fixture in both London and New York. Along the way, she broke the hearts of lots of men (Richard Crenna and Robert Reed are among the actors playing her suitors) with her "maddening and infuriating personality," went bankrupt, and weathered distant relations with her daughter.

The Evidence

I'm puzzled as to why Fox included Anna and the King of Siam on this set instead of The King and I, but Anna is a good movie. The story of Anna Leonowens was, by the time this movie was made, quite removed from reality, first by Leonowens' polishing in her memoirs, then by Margaret Landon's fictional narrative, and then again by typical Hollywood touches, including a melodramatic ending. Nonetheless, it's an interesting drama about a fascinating period in the history of what is now Thailand, as the King stood firm against the colonizing forces of Europe.

Irene Dunne portrays Anna as a strong-willed woman, yet reveals enough kindness and doubt to make the governess sympathetic. Rex Harrison's King is full of manic energy and shifting moods, with an underlying conscience and concern for his country. He's also a "very strange man," to quote the prime minister in the film; perhaps Harrison gives the role a little too much manic energy. Still, Dunne and Harrison build the characters gradually, in the same way that their relationship grows, making the dramatic twists effective.

One key scene finds the King's favorite wife burned at the stake after she runs away. This didn't necessarily happen, but it was in Leonowens' accounts. It's one of the things that got the various versions of her story banned in Siam/Thailand, according to Biography: Anna and the King: The Real Story of Anna Leonowens, which is included with the movie. There's also a trailer and a Fox Movietone News clip of the celebrity studded premiere.

It's hard to tell what got the Can-Can banned. Two dance numbers in Can-Can, including one in which Simone and several suitors engage in stylized fighting, are steamier than the fabled forbidden dance.

I doubt anyone who's seen Can-Can has ever taken Frank Sinatra and Shirley MacLaine for actual Parisians. MacLaine attempts an accent, while Sinatra gives Francois his modern cool persona. That lack of verisimilitude isn't much of a problem, though. What Can-Can goes for is a re-creation of the musical experience, and it does that well. Too-colorful sets and unconvincing accents only help. You've heard the songs, even if you haven't seen Can-Can before: "You Do Something to Me," "Let's Fall in Love," and "Just One of Those Things," to name a few. You might think your DVD player has gone haywire during the three musical overtures, which play over a blank screen, but other than that, it's a great way to spend an evening.

In Daddy Long Legs, the convoluted plot works as an excuse to get Fred Astaire onto the dance floor with Leslie Caron, and their moments dancing or singing together are enjoyable. They're even okay when they're just talking. Fantasy sequences, in which Julie pictures her dream benefactor and, later on, travels the world searching for Jervis, lead to elaborate, theatrical numbers. Those great surreal interludes are enough to hide any plot or logic flaws in the film.

Ava Astaire McKenzie, Fred's daughter, and film historian Ken Barnes provide a commentary that's both sentimental and well-researched. They discuss the many film versions of the novel, point out the one song in which Astaire's voice is dubbed by someone else, and recall sadly that Astaire's wife died shortly before filming began. Two Movietone News clips, also with commentary, show premieres for the movie; one has atrocious sound quality. A gallery includes family pictures as well as stills taken on the set, all in black-and-white. A "Correspondence" feature has text of Leslie Caron and Fred Astaire describing each other. Two trailers, one in Cinemascope and one for more conventional screens, are included; I liked the conventional trailer, which emphasizes the song and dance and doesn't give too much away, better.

Star! is irreverent and often laugh-out-loud funny in its treatment of Gertrude Lawrence, so much so that it's easy to forget that she was a real person. The tone is set early when she takes the stage with her father at Brixton Music Hall and, when challenged by tomato-throwing hecklers, wins over the crowd by confronting them and giving as good as she gets. Julie Andrews proves herself an able gymnastic klutz in slapstick scenes and gives viewers a sense that Lawrence was a definite stage presence, albeit one who made it difficult to be in her presence offstage for very long. Daniel Massey mostly wisecracks as sidekick and frequent stage partner Noel Coward, but he gets to show dramatic concern when Coward helps his co-star face financial problems. The music and dance come in the real context of performances and rehearsals, but there's lots of it, and Andrews does a first-rate job of that, too. At nearly three hours, it's a wearying but enjoyable experience.

When you see the eighteen names on the screen for the commentary, you might be thinking that there's a disaster in the making. Fortunately, director Robert Wise, as moderator, has a strong grip on the situation, so you can easily figure out who's doing the talking. There's also a lot of interesting information here. For example, Dick Wilson, best known as Mr. Whipple in the Charmin commercials, is pointed out in a small role. My favorite bit, though, is an explanation of the opening overture here that also explains the way it was handled in Can-Can. It's also noted in the extras that Gertrude Lawrence played Anna in The King and I on stage, tying in with another picture in the set.

Get your clicker thumbs ready, because there are a lot of text features and photos on the flip side. You'll learn that Star! was cut down twice and given a new title (Those Were The Happy Times) due to poor returns. Star! has bounced back in revival, though. There are also a lot of photos, including behind-the-scenes snaps, Julie Andrews' wardrobe tests, and pictures of the real Gertrude Lawrence. Other extras include "Star! The Sound of a Legend," a very promotional short from 1968; "Silver Star!," a twenty-fifth anniversary feature, trailers and TV spots, and screen tests with Julie Andrews and Daniel Massey.

For the most part, pictures and sound are good. The black-and-white Anna occasionally shows its age, and elsewhere there's a fleck or a spot here and there, but nothing major.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

It appears that this package merely repeats previous single-title releases, bringing over whatever extras they had, so there's no reason for a double dip.

Closing Statement

If you're looking for one of these movies and can get four for roughly the same price, do it. Even though Anna and the King of Siam isn't Yul Brynner's musical, it's one you'll want to see if you've ever seen Yul Brynner's version. A three-hour comic take on Gertrude Lawrence's life doesn't sound like a good idea on paper, but Julie Andrews' Star! is a well-done surprise treat. True, there's nothing really new or surprising about Frank Sinatra's Can-Can or Fred Astaire's Daddy Long Legs. However, if you like a good old-fashioned musical, Can-Can's a must-must, and Astaire and Leslie Caron keep Long Legs lively. I won't vouch for the authenticity of the two biographical movies here, but I'll vouch for their entertainment value.

The Verdict

Not guilty, except of doing the Can-Can.

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Genres

• Classic
• Comedy
• Concerts and Musicals
• Drama

Scales of Justice, Anna And The King Of Siam

Video: 88
Audio: 87
Extras: 90
Acting: 90
Story: 90
Judgment: 88

Perp Profile, Anna And The King Of Siam

Studio: Fox
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)
Subtitles:
• English
• Spanish
Running Time: 128 Minutes
Release Year: 1946
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Anna And The King Of Siam

• Documentary
• Movietone News
• Trailer

Scales of Justice, Daddy Long Legs

Video: 92
Audio: 92
Extras: 90
Acting: 90
Story: 80
Judgment: 87

Perp Profile, Daddy Long Legs

Studio: Fox
Video Formats:
• 2.55:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 4.0 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)
Subtitles:
• English
• Spanish
Running Time: 126 Minutes
Release Year: 1955
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Daddy Long Legs

• Commentary
• Movietone News
• Trailer

Scales of Justice, Can-Can

Video: 90
Audio: 92
Extras: 0
Acting: 88
Story: 80
Judgment: 88

Perp Profile, Can-Can

Studio: Fox
Video Formats:
• 2.20:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.0 Master Audio (English)
• Dolby Digital 5.0 Surround (French)
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)
Subtitles:
• English
• Spanish
Running Time: 142 Minutes
Release Year: 1960
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Can-Can

• None

Scales of Justice, Star!

Video: 92
Audio: 92
Extras: 90
Acting: 92
Story: 88
Judgment: 90

Perp Profile, Star!

Studio: Fox
Video Formats:
• 2.20:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.0 Surround (English)
Subtitles:
• English
• Spanish
Running Time: 173 Minutes
Release Year: 1968
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Star!

• Commentary
• Featurettes
• Photos
• Trailers
• Text Features








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