New From Warner Bros.: 20 Film Collection – Musicals

As part of their year-long 90th anniversary celebration, Warner Bros. has been releasing some really great boxed sets. From their 100 Film Collection and their 50 Film Collection, to several 20 Film Collection sets. Last month they released a boxed set of 20 Best Picture winners and coming soon they are giving the same treatment to comedies, thrillers and romance. Last week they released a boxed set of 20 classical musicals (some of the musicals are from MGM, whose back catalogue WB owns), that is simply to die for. Really, my only complaint about the set is that the discs are clearly culled from older releases (The Wizard of Oz is disc one of the special 70th edition from a few years back and Viva Las Vegas is definitely from a previous Elvis collection). Despite that, each film comes with special features and at this price point ($90 retail, $60-70 at most online shops), this collection is a real bargain. It’s also a fun way to get a great overview of how the musical has changed over the years. After the cut, I’ll go through each disc with a little review of the transfer quality, special features, etc.


I’ve actually seen most of these films, but  I only owned a few of them, so when I heard about this collection I got really excited and it definitely does not disappoint. I look forward to getting to watch the few films I’ve yet to see and rewatching the ones I love so dearly. Several of these films were nominated for and/or won Academy Awards, including Best Picture, so if you are an Academy Award junkie like I am, this collection is a must for a whole other reason. The collection is split into three eras, ranging from 1927 through 1988.



The Jazz Singer came out in 1927 and was the first feature-length film to utilize synchronized sound. Most of the film, actually, is silent. But Al Jolson’s musical numbers utilized the new technology and revolutionized the movie business forever. This is one of the few films that act as a before/after signpost in the industry. The film itself is a little date, but it is a must watch for any self-respecting cinephile and the transfer quality on this DVD is to die for. The disc also comes with commentary by Ron Hutchinson (founder of The Vitaphone Projects) and Nighthawks bandleader Vince Giordano, as well as some Al Jolson Shorts, a radio show adaptation, trailers and the classic cartoon homage I Love to Singa.


The Broadway Melody was the second film to win Best Picture and the first Best Picture winner to be a talkie. In fact, the film was advertised as an “all talking, all singing picture!” The film went on to gross $4 mil at the box office and set the standard for the movie musical for years to come. Bessie Love gives an amazing Oscar-nominated performance. The film features the song “GIve My Regards to Broadway” and spawned several quasi-sequels. The special features on this disc include the shorts The Dogway Melody, Musicals: Van & Schenck, five Metro Movietone Revues and the trailers for the above-mentioned quasi-sequels.


If you have never seen 42nd Street, you really need to fix that. I’d say it’s a toss-up between this film and The Gold-Diggers of 1933 for the best example of choreographer Busby Berkeley’s genius. The remastering on this film makes Berkeley’s groundbreaking choreography pop even more spectacularly than it has in years. Plus, you get bonus Warner Baxter in what may well be his best performance, as well as Bebe Daniels, Ruby Keeler, Una Merkel, Dick Powell and Ginger Rogers. The film was nominated for Best Picture and Best Sound at the 1934 Academy Awards. This disc comes with three vintage documentary shorts: Harry Warren: America’s Foremost Composer, Hollywood Newsreel and A Trip Through a Hollywood Studio, as well as some great notes on Busy Berkeley.


One of the longest films on the set, The Great Ziegfeld is a fictionalized biography of Florenz Ziegfeld, whose follies were elaborate musical shows that played on broadway from 1907 through 1930. The film was nominated for several Academy Awards and won Best Dance Direction (a category that only existed from 1935-1937) and Best Actress for Luise Rainer (she would win back-to-back Oscars for this and The Good Earth in 1937). Rainer’s telephone scene (pictured above) gave the actress the nickname “the Viennese teardrop.”  This disc includes a making-of documentary and the movie premiere newsreel.


One of the most beloved films of all time, The Wizard of Oz  received six Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture. It only won two, however, for Best Original Song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and Best Original Score for Herbert Stothart. This disc appears to be from the 70th anniversary release from a few years back, whose remastered transfer makes the film practically glow. Special features include commentary by historian John Ficke, sing-a-long options and a featurette on the film’s restoration.


If they had to include only one of Jimmy Cagney’s musicals, I’m glad they chose Best Picture nominee Yankee Doodle Dandy. Cagney won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his tour-de-force performance as Great American Songbook composer George M. Cohan. I dare you to watch that last segment where Cagney dances down marble steps in the White House and not be impressed. This disc comes with commentary by film historian Rudy Behlmer, Warner Night at the Movies with an introduction by Leonard Matlin, a newsreel, a cartoon and the patriotic short Beyond the Line of Duty.


An American in Paris was nominated for eight Academy Awards, winning six including Best Picture. Inspired by a composition by and featuring the songs of George Gershwin, this musical is the definition of sumptuous. Cinematographer John Alton won an Oscar for his work on this film; two years earlier he wrote one of the definitive works on lighting and cinematography, entitled Painting With Light. This disc includes commentary by Gene Kelly’s widow Patricia Ward Kelly and has rare interviews with Gene Kelly, Vincente Minnelli, Arthur Freed, Alan Jay Lerner, Johnny Green, Saul Chaplin, Michael Feinstein, Preston Ames and Irene Sharaff, as well as observations by Leslie Caron and Nina Foch, the shot Paris on Parade, the cartoon Symphony in Slang and the theatrical trailer.

THE MUSIC MAKERS: 1951 – 1964


I’ve actually never seen Show Boat. There is an earlier film version from the 1930s, but the version included in this set is the 1951 version with Ava Gardner. This is the only film included in the set where I question the quality of the transfer. It really does look like it has been ripped off of TBS in the 1980s or something. If they were going to include this, they definitely should have remastered it. It also doesn’t come with any special features.


I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love Singin’ in the Rain. Despite being one of the most critically acclaimed, historically important and widely loved films of all time, it was only nominated for two Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actress for Jean Hagen and Best Original Score. This remastered edition is so gorgeous. The colors and the contrast with the black and white sequences are to die for. The disc includes commentary by cast & crew, including Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor, Cyd Charisse, Kathleen Freeman, Betty Comden, Adolph Green and Stanley Donen, as well as Baz Luhrmann and historian Rudy Behlmer. It also includes the theatrical trailer.


I haven’t seen Seven Brides for Seven Brothers in years and years, but thank goodness this disc is in its proper aspect ratio. This is one of those movies that must be widescreen. Well, all films should be in their intended aspect ratio, but this one in particular really used the CinemaScope ratio to its fullest advantage. This disc includes commentary by Stanley Donen and bunch of trailers for other Donen-directed musicals.


A Star is Born is one of my favorite films. Judy Garland is flawless. One of the things I really love about this set is you can watch The Wizard of Oz and then pop this in and see how much Judy had grown as a performer. This film is on two discs, and I really must say its a shame they didn’t include any of the special features from the deluxe edition from a few years back. That said, this is Judy at her finest and you will love it. The film was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Actress, though it didn’t win any; Judy losing is probably one of the top five most egregious mistakes the Academy ever made.


The Music Man is one of the few films in this set that I have never seen, though I am extremely familiar with the music. The film received six Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, though it only won for Best Score – Adaptation or Treatment. I skimmed through the film, and the transfer looks crystal clear, with vibrant colors popping as they should. The disc comes with a making-of featurette, the theatrical trailer and an introduction by Shirley Jones.


I love Elvis and Viva Las Vegas may well be my favorite of his musicals. It’s got short-shorts and gambling and fast cars and water skiing, so I mean, what else do you need? The transfer is gorgeous and the audio on Elvis’s songs is perfect. This disc includes commentary by Steve Pond and a featurette about Elvis in Vegas.



Somehow I have never seen this film adaptation of Camelot, even though it is one of my favorite musicals and Joshua Logan is one of my favorite directors. The film was nominated for five Academy Awards, winning three for Art Director, Costume Design and Best Score Adaptation or Treatment. This disc comes with a featurette about Camelot, video from the world premiere of the film and five theatrical trailers.


Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was one of my favorite films when I was a kid, but I realize I have only ever seen it on VHS or television, so I’m so grateful for this DVD, which is in the proper aspect ration and has been remastered so that color looks right. This disc comes with a documentary featurette about the film, commentary from the actors who played the kids in the film, four sing-a-longs, a gallery of production stills, the theatrical trailer and a vintage featurette from 1971.


Life is a Cabaret and Warner Bros. has recently released the film on a fantastic new Blu-ray book, but I am glad it is included in this set because it shows you just how much the musical changed over the years. Also, you could do a triple feature with this and Liza’s mother Judy Garland’s films one night. That would be the best of nights. This disc includes a making of documentary, a featurette about re-creating the era, and cast and crew recollections of the making of the film.


I’ve also never seen That’s Entertainment!, which was a compilation film of moments in MGM musicals, peppered with new introductions by stars such as Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor, Liza Minnelli and more. You can see all the clips that are included here. This is a musical nut/film historian/cinephile’s dream come true.


Victor/Victoria was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Actress for Julie Andrews, though the only award it won was Best Adapted Score (a category that doesn’t exist anymore, much like the treatment score). This is such a zany, wacky film and would make a pretty great double with Cabaret when I think about it. This disc includes commentary by Julie Andrews and Blake Edwards, as well as the theatrical trailer.


The original Roger Corman film is one of my favorites, but somehow I have never seen this musical adaptation of Little Shop of Horrors. It looks delightful and the color quality of this transfer is perfection. This disc comes with commentary by director Frank Oz, as well as outtakes, a gag reel, production notes and two theatrical trailers.


I really love Hairspray, John Waters’s ode to Baltimore in the 1960s,  although calling it a musical is a bit of a stretch (though it did spawn a Broadway musical, which was adapted into a film in 2006). That said, this film is pure joy and one of the more tamer efforts from the king of trash cinema. This disc comes with commentary by John Waters and Ricki Lake and I am pretty excited to take a listen to that myself.

Disclaimer: This review is based on review discs given to me by Warner Bros., though the opinions are all my own.

About Marya E. Gates

Cinephile to the max.

Posted on February 15, 2013, in Classic Film, DVDs and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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