The joint first and lasting impressions while watching Warner Archive's recent Blu-ray release of the 1962 Doris Day musical "Billy Rose's Jumbo" are that they do not make them like that anymore and that it is amazing that Blu-ray can make a metrocolor film from an era in which that technology was cutting edge look so sharp. The second first impression is that including the auteur's name in the title does not follow the same tendency of those films being not-so-good ala "Stephen King's ..." or "Tyler Perry's ...".
The all-star leading cast of "Jumbo" consists of multi-talented Day as Kitty Wonder, the multi-talented daughter of circus owner Anthony "Pop" Wonder. The true show business legend Jimmy Durante plays Pop, and the back cover art on the Blu-ray set reports that he is in the cast of the 1935 original Broadway production of "Jumbo." Pop is one of the then-69 year-old Durante's final film roles.
Well-known funny lady Martha "The Big Mouth" Raye, who is best known to gen Xers as Benita Bizarre on "The Bugaloos" and Mel's mother on the sitcom "Alice," plays Durante's most loyal performer/fiancee of 14 years Lulu. She is also known for suing David Letterman over an off-color joke at her expense.
Pop's gambling addiction and an ongoing campaign by rival circus owner John Noble to either acquire the film's titular character, who is a widely talented performing elephant, or drive the roughly turn-of-the-century Wonder Circus out of business keep Kitty very busy regarding ensuring that the three-ring show goes on. Textbook definition character actor Dean Jagger, whose credits include the awesome storyteller in the very special "The Partridge Family" Christmas episode, plays the not-so-noble Noble.
The fact that true jack-of-all-trades and master-of-several Sam Rawlins, played by Stephen Boyd, arrives at a particularly tough time for the Wonder Circus seems to be too good to be true turns out to be the case. The audience learns half-way through the film that Sam has the daddy of all ulterior motives for helping the Wonders.
The award for most fun cameo goes to a pre "The Addams Family" John Astin as an eccentric bi-plane pilot.
Day et al do a great job with the Rodgers and Hart score; our Archive friends have located and restored the original Overture, and the toe-tapping starts with "The Circus on Parade." A traditional circus parade aptly accompanies this one.
It is also fun to discover that the classic "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World," which is reprised several times, is from this show. The even-more catchy, and equally reprised, tune "Sawdust, Spangles, and Dreams" is equally memorable.
As Archive shares, beyond legendary showman Busby Berkeley stages the dazzling circus performances. These feature genuine circus performers. Of course, Jumbo steals the show.
The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of "Jumbo's" trailer (which the Blu-ray set includes) provides a good sense of the film's fun with only minor spoilers. It also demonstrates the sharp contrast between the standard definition version of the film and the spectacular Blu-ray enhancement.
On a more general note regarding this release, "Jumbo" evokes strong memories of the circus museum in Sarasota, Florida and prompts a strong desire to return.
The grande finale of this review is that it is fun for kids of all ages, with the exception of surly adolescents who dislike everything, and is guaranteed to evoke at least a few smiles.
Anyone with questions or comments about "Jumbo" (or want to know how Letterman offended Raye) is welcome to email me. You can also follow me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.