Judge Brett Cullum sticks his neck out for nobody!
Our reviews of An American In Paris (Blu-Ray) (published April 13th, 2009), Best of Warner Bros. 20 Film Collection: Romance (published April 17th, 2013), Casablanca (published September 26th, 2000), Casablanca: Special Edition (published August 18th, 2003), Casablanca (Blu-ray) 70th Anniversary Edition (published April 5th, 2012), Casablanca (HD DVD) (published December 18th, 2006), Casablanca: Ultimate Collector's Edition (published December 10th, 2008), Gigi (Blu-Ray) (published April 20th, 2009), Gigi: Two-Disc Special Edition (published September 16th, 2008), Humphrey Bogart: The Essential Collection (published November 15th, 2010), Mrs. Miniver (published March 8th, 2004), and Mrs. Miniver (Blu-ray) (published January 28th, 2013) are also available.
"Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine."—Rick, Casablanca
At first glance, TCM Greatest Classic Films Collection: Best Picture Winners looks like it would be one of those bare bones releases in which you get four films and only one is worth a damn. Luckily that's not the case, when you consider Casablanca, Mrs. Miniver, Gigi, and An American in Paris all come with loads of extras in a compact case. The only downside is we get these all on two flipper discs, but for space saving budget conscious buyers this is heaven sent. Although the films have little in common other than winning the highest honor from the Academy, they do make for a solid collection for anyone who is a fan of awards season.
First up is the most well known of the Academy Award winning films featured here, the timeless Casablanca from 1942 (wide released in 1943, so you get a later award date). Funny, but when you look at this whole group this is the film that won the least Oscars out of the four. Casablanca only won three awards: for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay. It was the story of Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) who is living as a bitter expatriate in Casablanca. Then "she" walks backs in. His ex-lover Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) shows up with her new husband Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), a fugitive Czech Resistance leader long sought by the Nazis. What's Rick to do when he has their only way out and back to America thanks to his connections?
Casablanca is presented in its original aspect ratio of what we know today as fullscreen and in glorious black and white. This seems to be disc one of the Casablanca: Special Edition since it contains the commentaries by film critic Roger Ebert and historian Rudy Behlmer. The transfer is as good as we can expect a film from 1942 to look with a solid picture and clear sound. Contrast levels are great, and we see a beautiful gray scale which does wonders with the clarity. Missing are documentaries and other additional features you'd find in the stand alone discs of the film, but that's expected since this is a value package.
Made around the same time, this set includes 1942's winner of the Best Picture Oscar. Mrs. Miniver is simply a portrait of a middle class English family as the second World War gets underway. Greer Garson plays the title role, a brassy woman who will not be stopped no matter what. She's going to keep the domestic front stiff upper lip even while her sons are off fighting. The film took home six Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Actress for Greer Garson, Best Supporting Actress for Teresa Wright, Best Cinematography in Black and White, Best Director for William Wyler, and Best Screenplay.
The disc includes a great looking fullscreen transfer. We get two World War II shorts which are jingoistic propaganda films good for a chuckle now in hindsight. There are some stills as well as mere seconds of Greer Garson's acceptance speech at the Oscars.
Next up is one of the last great musicals filmed during an era when they won major awards, Gigi. This film won the Best Picture Oscar for 1958. In turn of the century Paris, rich cad Gaston Lachaille (Louis Jourdan, Octopussy) creates headlines with exploits conquering women. Yet in contrast to his lothario ways, he always visits his friend Madame "Mamita" Alvarez (Hermione Gingold, The Music Man), who lives with her charming and precocious granddaughter, Gigi (Leslie Caron). Mamita is raising Gigi to be a courtesan. Gigi wants to be in a relationship for love, not money, which complicates things when Gaston makes a bid for Gigi.
The presentation is exactly like what we saw in the first disc of Gigi: Two-Disc Special Edition released last year. It contains a very colorful well appointed transfer supported by a full surround track. We get a commentary from historian Jeanine Basinger, and they include snippets of interviews from Leslie Caron to balance her out now and then. There are also two shorts including a live action propaganda piece and a Tom and Jerry cartoon.
Finally we come to An American in Paris, which won the 1951 top Oscar. Gene Kelly plays Jerry Mulligan, who seems to love living in Paris, and has fallen for an alluring shop girl (Leslie Caron). The only trouble is she's engaged. This film featured dazzling dance routines and a strong score and songs by the Gershwins.
You couldn't ask for a better picture on the transfer, as this one was restored in 2008 to amazing levels by Warner Brothers. The sound is only mono, but that is accurate to the original. The DVD features a commentary spearheaded by Patricia Ward Kelly (Gene Kelly's widow) which has snippets of interviews from all the major players in the cast and crew. Also included are a live short and a classic cartoon to round things out. Oh, and how could I almost forget we do get a trailer.
Two war time dramas and two musicals make for a pretty good foursome in this
set from TCM and Warner Bros. The best news is these are the latest transfers
and come with the extras from at least the first disc of every release. TCM
Greatest Classic Films Collection: Best Picture Winners is a small package
that packs a pretty good wallop of quality content presented with tons of
supplemental material. It's a nice way to play these all again.
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Scales of Justice, An American In Paris
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