New This Week
Stage versions of Disney’s films have been a Broadway staple since Beauty and the Beast opened in April, 1994. The Lion King has been playing on The Great White Way since October, 1997, Mary Poppins since October, 2006.
In addition to The Lion King and Mary Poppins, there are currently three other Disney related productions on Broadway, two of which are based on Disney produced films and one of which is the revival of a 1979 Broadway show which was made into a 1996 film by Disney’s Hollywood Pictures.
The films versions of those three shows, Sister Act, Newsies and Evita have all been given Blu-ray upgrades by Disney.
A huge hit for Whoopi Goldberg in 1992, co-producer of the Broadway version, Sister Act is a feel-good comedy about a nightclub entertainer and gangster’s moll who witnesses a murder about which she is scheduled to testify, and is hidden by the district attorney in a convent. There she clashes with the Mother Superior, played by Maggie Smith, and eventually joins the choir headed by Mary Wickes. The Sound of Music it isn’t, but there are worse ways to spend 100 minutes.
The film’s score is comprised of recognizable standards, whereas the Broadway production has a newly composed score.
The original film was such a hit that it inspired a quickly made sequel in 1993’s Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit with the same cast who are used to less advantage. Both are included on the Blu-ray which also includes DVDs of both films.
An undeserved flop in 1992, a generation of kids has since grown up on previous home video releases of Newsies, the Broadway version of the Alan Menken-Jack Feldman musical was nominated for ten 2012 Tony Awards and won two, for Best Score and Best Choreography. Most of the score was already present in the film version, including the showstoppers “Santa Fe”; “Seize the Day” and “King of New York”.
The cast is headed by the excellent Christian Bale and David Moscow. In direct contrast to the reception accorded the stage version, the only awards the film was nominated for were the Razzies. It received five nominations for Worst Picture; Director (Kenny Ortega); Supporting Actor (Robert Duvall); Supporting Actress (Ann-Margret) and won for Worst Song “High Times, Hard Times” sung by Ann-Margret. It’s not bad, but is nevertheless not in the Broadway production. In actuality the only Razzie nomination it really deserved was for Best Supporting Actor. Duvall’s portrayal of Joseph Pulitzer is easily the nadir of his career.
Blu-ray extras include a filmmaker’s commentary and a documentary on the real 1899 newsboys’ strike.
The Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice musical, Evita barely scratches the surface of the life of its subject, Maria Eva Duarte de Peron, the First Lady of Argentina from 1946 to her death at 33 in 1952. The woman’s many charitable works included building hospitals and schools throughout the country and visiting the sick and the poor, most, if not all of which is glossed over in the musical which places its emphasis on Evita’s sordid early life and calculated enticement of Peron. It uses as its Greek chorus, Argentine-born Che Guevara, whose path may or may not have crossed with Evita’s. Musically, it is one of Lloyd Webber’s most complex scores, with “Another Suitcase in Another Hall,” “A New Argentina” and “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” probably the best known songs in the score which is sung to perfection by Madonna, Antonio Banderas and Jonathan Pryce.
The film received five well deserved Oscar nominations for Best Cinematography, Art Direction, Editing, Sound and Original Song, “You Must Love Me,” which it won.
Blu-ray extras include a documentary on the making of the film
The Warner Archive continues to be the most productive go-to resource for classic films. New releases include The Journey; Back to Eternity; Nobody Lives Forever and Three Strangers.
Filmed on the Austrian-Hungarain border just three years after the Soviet invasion of Hungary, Anatole Litvak’s 1959 film, The Journey, is a tension-filled tale of a group of disparate travelers stranded on the road from Budapest to the boarder. Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner are reunited for the first and only time since The King and I with Kerr portraying a seemingly proper English lady and Brynner a Soviet Captain. Jason Robards, in his film debut, is a wounded Hungarain patriot whose true identity is known only to Kerr at the outset. Robert Morley has an excellent supporting role as a British businessman.
Robert Ryan and Anita Ekberg head the cast of John Farrow’s 1956 film, Back From Eternity, a remake of Farrow’s 1939 film, Five came Back about a downed airplane and its passengers, some of whom rise to greatness in dire circumstances and some of whom resort to their baser instincts.
Two sides of Geraldine Fitzgerald are on display in the 1946 films noir, Nobody Lives Forever and Three Strangers. She’s a saint in the former, a devil in the latter, both under the direction of Jean Negulesco.
Three Strangers which came first, has her as a cruel, vicious woman who shares a lottery ticket with Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre, both of whom play more sympathetic characters for a change.
She plays a wealthy young widow to John Garfield’s grifter in Nobody Lives Forever featuring Walter Brennan and George Couloris.
Fox has belatedly gotten into the movies on demand game, albeit unlike Warner Bros., relying on other outlets to release their films. Among their first releases areThe Foxes of Harrow; Diplomatic Courier; Mr. Belvedere Rings the Bell and Rings on Her Fingers.
Something of a poor man’s Gone With the Wind, 1947’s The Foxes of Harrow, directed by John M. Stahl, is set earlier in the period from 1810-1821. Rex Harrison is the Irish born rascal who weds aristocratic New Orleans Frenchwoman Maureen O’Hara and battles with her over everything, mostly how to raise their young son. Irish O’Hara makes a convincing Frenchwoman, but English Rex Harrison is never quite convincing in a role that would have been tailor made for Fox star Tyrone Power.
Power is the star of 1952’s Diplomatic Courier, directed by Henry Hathaway. A taut, cold war thriller, Power is involved with two women, one diffidently played by a slumming Patricia Neal, and one beautifully nuanced by the lovely Hildegarde Neff. Karl Malden co-stars.
The film has a terrific in-joke involving Bette Davis whose All About Eve contained an in-joke about Power two years earlier.
The third film in which Clifton Webb played the sharp-tongued Mr. Belvedere, Mr. Belvedere Rings the Bell is a fast-moving tale of Belvedere bringing laughter and joy to a dilapidated old folks’ home. It’s amusing at best.
One of the breeziest screwball comedies of the early forties, Rouben Mamoulian’s 1942 film, Rings on Her Fingers provides Gene Tierney with one of her earliest successes as a shop-girl who comes under the influence of con artists Laird Cregar and Spring Byington who conspire to relieve Henry Fonda of his life savings. Needless to say true love triumphs over evil as Tierney assists Fonda in outwitting Cregar and Byington.
This week’s new DVD releases include The Artist; 21 Jump Street and the Blu-ray debut of The 39 Steps.