DVD Extra UPDATED: Marilyn's Blu streak, Fox dusting off Studio Classics for Blu-ray, Will Smith in 3-D
- Posted: 9:38 AM, August 7, 2012
The high point of the set is a gorgeous new transfer of the earliest title, Howard Hawks' "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,'' one of Fox's last releases in the traditional academy aspect ratio before the studio switched over to widescreen CinemaScope in the fall of 1953. Hawks, who had directed Monroe in a supporting role in "Monkey Business,'' teamed her with top-billed Jane Russell in this delightful Technicolor adaptation of a Broadway musical based on Anita Loos book, which had already been filmed as a (now lost) silent in 1926. Monroe plays a gold-digging chorus girl who takes her pal Russell on a cruise to Paris to await a marriage proposal from her millionaire playboy (Tommy Noonan). On board Monroe meets a lecherous married millionaire (Charles Coburn) and Russell is romanced by Elliot Reid ("The Whip Hand'') who turns out to be a private detective hired by Noonan's father to investigate Monroe.
The musical numbers staged by Jack Cole include Monroe's iconic "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend'' (amusing reprised by Russell posing as Monroe) and the two stars dueting on "Two Little Girls From Little Rock'' and "When Love Goes Wrong.'' Monroe has terrific chemistry with Russell, whose most famous number is "Anyone Here For Love'' wherein her amorous advances are ignored by preening male Olympic athletes on board the ship. But it's Monroe's charmingly cunning Lorelei Lee (Carol Channing's stage part) who gets the best lines, as when she explains: "Don't you know that a man being rich is like a girl being pretty? You wouldn't marry a girl just because she's pretty, but my goodness, doesn't it help?"
"How to Marry a Millionaire'' was Fox's initial CinemaScope production, though the studio released the religious epic "The Robe'' two months before the November 1953 bow of "Millionaire.'' This was another adaptation, by producer Nunnally Johnson, of a pair of plays about a trio of gold-diggers (models in this version) had been filmed several times previously. Though Monroe was top-billed in advertising, the first listed name in the credits is bemused veteran Fox star Betty Grable, who would soon retire from films, and the best lines go to Lauren Bacall, often sounding much like the Bronx native she was as the group's avaricious, sharp-tounged ringleader. Like many early CinemaScope titles, "Millionaire'' is as much a demo reel for the process as it is a movie, with a length pre-credits sequence of Alfred Newman conducting the Fox orchestra in a performance of the much-used theme he composed for the 1931 film "Street Scene,'' followed by a widescreen travelogue of mid-century New York City, as well as later extensive views of wintry Maine.
Romantic interest is provided in the form of David Wayne, Cameron Mitchell, Rory Calhoun and, in his penultimate screen performance, William Powell as a wistful Texas oil billionaire who falls for Bacall (the film includes a joking reference to her real-life husband, Humphrey Bogart, as well as one to Grable's hubby, bandleader Harry James). Too much of "Millionaire'' takes place on a vast set representing the Sutton Place apartment (complete with phony Manhattan backdrop) that the girls lease -- and where director Jean Nugelesco often lines the actors in long shot across the very wide 2:55.1 frame as if they were performing on a Broadway stage, or an early talkie.
Monroe starred opposite a major star for the first time in Otto Preminger's "River of No Return'' (1954), her only western lead and her last Fox film in Technicolor before the studio switched over to cheaper, prone-to-fading Eastmancolor (branded Color by DeLuxe by Fox). Top-billed Jane Russell's frequent co-star Robert Mitchum plays a farmer reunited with the nine-year-old son he's never known (Tommy Rettig of TV's "Lessie'') after a stretch in prison. Second-billed Monroe is a dancer hooked up with a two-bit gambler (Rory Calhoun) who wins a gold claim in a card game. When Calhoun steals Mitchum gun and horse to stake his claim, Monroe joins him and the boy in an exciting trip down roaring rapids with hostile Indians in pursuit. The actress gives a relaxed, naturalistic performance and has great chemistry with both Mitchum and Rettig in this often-overlooked item in Monroe's filmography.
Not as bad as its dismal reputation, Walter Lang's "There's No Business Like Show Business'' (1954) sees Monroe dipping to third billing behind Ethel Merman and Donald O'Connor -- briefly a big star after "Singin' in the Rain'' -- in this Irving Berlin jukebox musical in CinemaScope and garish (but faithfully rendered) DeLuxe Color. Henry and Phobe Ephron -- Nora Ephron's parents, Fox's answer to Betty Comden and Adolph Green -- concocted this generic tale of a show business comprised of Merman, Dan Dailey and siblings O'Connor, Mitzi Gaynor and the flamboyantly gay singer Johnnie Ray (whose character becomes a priest) in the years between the two world wars. Monroe is charming in the relatively thankless role of a hat-check-girl unwilling to give up her show business ambitions as a singer to marry the frequently drunk O'Connor, at least until the fade-out. She sings four numbers, most famously a sizzling rendition of "Heat Wave'' apparently stage by Robert Alton.
Though almost quaint in its depiction of a midcentury Manhattan where air conditioning was a luxury enjoyed by few, "The Seven Year Itch'' (1955) cemented not only Monroe's position as a superstar but as an all-time screen goddess. In Billy Wilder and George Axelrod's bowlderized adaptation of the latter's long-running Broadway sex farce, she drives Tom Ewell -- whose wife is away for the summer -- to fantasies and guilt when she takes a sublet upstairs from him. Incidentally, when he first comes home to the apartment, you can see the Third Avenue elevated subway -- which had just stopped running when the film came out -- before the camera pans over to Marilyn leaning out the window.
Monroe's innocent but devastatingly sexy character doesn't even have a name, but gets one of the most iconic moments in all of cinema, when her skirt is blown by a passing subway car below a grate. The extra detail in this vibrantly-colored high-definition transfer confirms the scene was reshot at the studio after a publicity-driven location shoot on Lexington Avenue that drew thousands of onlookers, including Monroe's furious husband Joe DiMaggio. Thus this career peak was also the beginning of the end for the increasingly troubled and unreliable actress, who completed just five more features before Fox was obliged to fire her from "Somethings Got to Give'' shortly before her untimely death.
"Itch'' is the only one of the new-to-Blu-ray movies with any significant extras. There's a new commentary track by Billy Wilder biographer Arthur Kevin Lally, a 25-minute featurette on Wilder and Monroe with various film historians, Hugh Hefner, and actor Don Murray; a 17-minute "Fox Legacy'' segment from Fox Movie Channel on the film hosted by current studio chief Tom Rothman, and a picture-in-picture "Sexual Innuendo Meter'' quoting from the industry censors' bible, the Production Code. Features carried over from the previous DVD include an old "AMC Backstory'' making-of documentary and a pair of deleted scenes (the one where plumber Victor Moore retrieves his wrench from a tub where Monroe is taking a bubble bath is especially funny).
I'd guess that Fox is holding the two excellent Monroe features bracketing these five, "Niagara'' (1953) and "Bus Stop'' (1956) back for a second Monroe Blu-ray set, along with "Don't Bother to Knock'' (1952) and her final completed Fox film, "Let's Make Love'' (1960), by which time she had to be very carefully photographed to disguise her troubles.
Today's Warner Archive Collection releases center on the sexy '60s and '70s with the DVD debuts of George Cukor's long-awaited "The Chapman Report'' (1962) starring Jane Fonda, Claire Bloom, Glynis Johns and Shelley Winters (in a Darryl F. Zanuck production) as participants in a Kinsey-like sex survey being conducted by Efrem Zimbalist Jr.; John Boorman's "Having a Wild Weekend'' (1965) with the Dave Clark Five; Gene Nelson's wiggy "The Cool Ones'' (1967) starring Roddy McDowall as a rock promoter; Lamont Jackson's "A Covenant With Death'" (1967) starring George Maharis and Gene Hackman; Ernest Lehman's sole directing gig, an adaptation of Philip Roth's "Portnoy's Complaint'' (1972) starring Richard Benjamin, Karen Black and Lee Grant; and Ken Russell's "Lisztomania'' (1975) with Roger Daltry and Ringo Starr. There are also a pair of Rod Taylor titles ("Young Cassidy'' and "The Liquidators'') and reissues ("The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean'' and "The Last of Shiela'') that I mentioned in last week's column .
At least some of the next wave of Fox Cinema Archives titles I listed recently -- including "The Country Doctor,'' "Banjo on My Knee,'' "Nancy Steele is Missing'' and "36 Hours to Kill'' -- are available for pre-orders at Movies Unlimited with an Aug. 11 release date given. Availability seems to vary by seller; Classic Flix is listing them for Aug. 23.
Criterion's Eclipse series will release a DVD set called "Three Wicked Melodramas From Gainsborough,'' comprising three lavish period opuses from the British studio on Oct. 9: Leslie Arliss' "The Man in Grey'' (1943) starring James Mason and Phyllis Calvert and Margaret Lockwood; Arthur Crabtree's "Madonna of the Seven Moons'' (1945) with Calvert and Stewart Granger; and Arliss' "The Wicked Lady'' (1945) starring Lockwood (in a role reprised by Faye Dunaway in a 1980s remake) and Mason.
On the Blu-ray front, Warner will release "The Looney Tunes Platinum Collection'' on Blu-ray Oct. 16. The first two discs contain 50 remastered animated shorts with a third disc devoted to rareties and special features. You can find a list of titles at The Digital Bits .
On the Blu-ray front, Sony has announced details of the long-anticipated 50th anniversary restoration of "Lawrence of Arabia,'' which will be released in a pair of Blu-ray editions. The two-disc version comes with a new inerview with Peter O'Toole as well as features ported over from the DVD release, while the four-disc gift set adds "never-before-released deleted scene'' introduced by the film's editor, Anne Coates; a new intervew with Martin Scorsese; a soundtrack CD, an "authentic 70mm film frame'' and an 88-page coffee table book.
A few months ago, I reported exclusively that (with a little help from yours truly) Ralph Thomas' famously unavailable Bob Hope-Katharine Hepburn Cold War comedy "The Iron Petticoat'' (1956) would be issued on DVD and Blu-ray as early as September by the TCM Vault Collection in conjunction with its North American TV premiere on Turner Classic Movies. Because of restoration issues, both debuts been pushed back to late November. An official announcement is expected soon.
The Digital Bits is also reporting that Fox's Blu-ray restoration of "Cleopatra,'' already available in Europe, will be released sometime next year to celebrate the film's 50th anniversary. I hope to obtain more details about this and other releases at a party being thrown tonight in Manhattan by Fox Home Entertainment; Depending on what I find out, I may post an update tomorrow.
Update: Indeed, they were some pretty juicy tidbits to be had at the party, beginning with confirming the "Cleopatra'' Blu-ray release. Probably the biggest news, if not classics oriented, is that Fox will release a 3-D version of "I, Robot'' on Blu-ray on Oct. 23 -- the first major 2-D to 3-D conversion that's going straight to video (i.e., no theatrical widow like "Titanic'' or the Disney animated titles). I hear the studio is looking at "lots'' of other titles for possible conversions.
Debuting during the "holiday'' season is a new director-oriented "Signature'' series of Blu-rays with transfers supervised by the filmmakers who will also provide commentary tracks. First up is Danny DeVito with "War of the Roses'' and "Hoffa.'' Coming in November will be a remastered Blu-ray for "Patton,'' whose first high-def iteration didn't go over too big with buffs. Mostly likely in collaboration with MGM, Fox will release catalogue collections devoted to Robert Mitchum and Denzel Washington on Oct. 10. Probably previously released titles, but who knows -- maybe "White Witch Doctor'' will sneak in there.
Starting sometime in 2013, Fox will revive its venerable Studio Classics line (which started in the VHS days and spanned the early years of DVD) with monthly releases. Probably these will mostly Blu-ray upgrades of titles previously released on DVD, but it may include "Cavalcade'' (1933) which has only been available on DVD as part of a pricey 75th anniversary gift set.
Speaking of anniversaries, looking further ahead I hear plans are afoot for a set to commemorate MGM's 90th in 2004, since the Fox-distributed mega-set for United Artists' 90th annivesary sold far better than anyone could have imagined. I'm also told that Fox's decision to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the merger between the Fox Film Corporation and 20th Century Productions in 2010 does not preclude a new marketing opportunity centering around the 100th anniversary of Fox's founding in 2015. In both cases, they will likely be a wave of smaller commemorative sets in addition to the pricey mega-sets. But first, we'll have a wave of releases marking Warners' 90th anniversary next year, with plans to be announced at a press conference in October.