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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

'Classic Shorts From the Dream Factory: Volume 2 (1929 - 1946)" DVD: Marvelous Mini-Musicals and More

Classic Shorts from the Dream Factory: Volume Two
This review of Warner Archive's three-disc DVD set titled "Classic Shorts From the Dream Factory: Volume 2 (1929 - 1946)" celebrates the end of a six-week drought of new Archive releases. The January 7, 2014 release of the fourth season of the classic western "Maverick," which adds a pre-Bond Roger Moore to the cast,  is only one example of the fruits of this much-needed flood of new Archive titles.

Anyone would be glad to feast on the 36 (mostly musical) MGM shorts in this collection of opuses that follows the release of  "Classic Musical Shorts From the Dream Factory." The most amazing thing about these films is that they tell a surprisingly detailed story and often present at least one complex musical number in a film that typically is 20 minutes long.  

The first disc covers the period from 1929 - 1936; the first offering is "Copy," which is atypical for the set in that it is not a musical and contains very little humor.

This drama about newspapermen who are not above stooping to yellow journalism to further a campaign against a boat excursion company that this crew believes is cutting costs at the expense of passengers' safety has the exaggerated wonderful live-stage feel of many early "talkies" from the late '20s.

The next entry, which is "The Rounder," is a Jack Benny vaudeville-style comedy that is also sans musical accompaniment. Benny portrays a '20s playboy who embarks on an amusing adventure on inadvertently climbing in the wrong window in his apartment building.

"Gypsy Night" from this disc makes up for the lack of musical and actual color in the earlier selections by providing an all-singing all-technicolor celebration of the gypsy lifestyle. Some of the more surreal numbers have well-animated for the era puppets singing and two mischievous small boys from Russia who always find themselves "in Dutch" jointly experiencing a nightmare in which they face a bizarrely frightening fate for their history of youthful exuberance.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, is from another standout entry on Disc One; it is from the very swinging "Every Sunday," starring Judy Garland in one of her always wonderful "let's put on a show" roles.

The apparent reason that the second disc only covers 1937 and 1938 is that these two years seem to be a heyday for these shorts. Choosing a favorite among two particular standouts from this group is impossible.

"Dancing on the Ceiling" is a highly entertaining film about a chance meeting leading to a playboy pursuing a lady dentist whose dental hygienists are a gaggle of hubba hubba chorus girls. Highlights include segments in which said hygienists escort male patients to a fully stocked bar to relax them before getting their teeth worked on and a scene in which the hygienists administering gas prompts the surreal song-and-dance number that inspires the film's title.

The equally good "Men of Steel" features one of the manliest men to ever grace the silver scene as a factory worker who uses his baritone voice to lead his fellow workers in song as they manufacture washing machines in a setting that is pure Soviet propaganda but shamelessly promotes capitalism.

It is also fun to see this macho hunk delight in performing in a stage show and fight for his right to strut his stuff. All this is even better than seeing Hugh "Wolverine" Jackman prance around in a sequined costume.

 "Some Time Soon" is another standout from Disc Two; this one is very reminiscent of the '70s sitcom "Laverne and Shirley" in that its has a female factory worker literally dreaming of a knight in shining armor riding up on a white stallion to whisk her away. Her real-life involves inspecting razor blades next to her best friend/roommate.

A typical (but well above average) romcom story results in the factory worker doing it her way and making all her dreams come true. 

Disc 3 wraps things up with shorts from 1939 - 1946. These include a very patriotic short entitled "Ode to Victory" that clearly is intended to boost wartime morale; another one titled "Spreadin' the Jam" is a lively and clever film about neighbors coming to the rescue of a hep cat who is facing eviction from her apartment. The literally infectious spirit in this one makes it great fun.

This group of 36 shorts wraps up with film called "Musical Masterpieces," which begins with a partially animated presentation of "The Flight of the Bumblebee" and leads into a few good lesser known numbers.

This review wraps up with the thought that these shorts are great fun and provide excellent looks at the eras in which they are produced. They also do a great job showcasing the talents of the performers who star in them.

Anyone with questions about "Shorts" is welcome to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.