- The Washington Times - Friday, April 30, 2021

Here’s a look at a pair of classic musicals, restored for the high definition format and available as part of the Warner Archive Collection.

Annie Get Your Gun (Not rated, 1.37:1 aspect ratio, 107 minutes, $21.99) — MGM and “Showboat” director George Sidney’s adaptation of a popular Broadway musical comedy delivered an eye-popping Technicolor experience back in 1950 and won an Academy Award for best musical score fueled by Irving Berlin’s songs.

Now meticulously remastered from the 4K scan of the original nitrate Technicolor negatives, the film offers a fictional chronicle of the meteoric rise of trick sharpshooter Phoebe Ann Mosey aka Annie Oakley (Betty Hutton) and her time within Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show.

Equally covered was her sometime combative, sometimes pathetic but perpetually percolating relationship with fellow star shooter Frank Butler (Howard Keel and his booming bass pipes).

Hutton’s brash and boisterous performance, literally eating the camera at points, sells and saves the movie that was plagued with issues, including original director Busby Berkeley being fired, Judy Garland having to step away from the role of Annie due to health issues, and the original Buffalo Bill, Frank Morgan (“The Wizard of Oz”) dying during the production.

As critical to Hutton’s giddy performance was, Berlin’s unending stream of classics such as “Doin’ What Comes Natur’lly,” “The Girl That I Marry,” “Anything You Can Do” and the absolute showstopper “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” making this musical one of the most memorable in the history of the genre.

Warner technicians’ restoration is one of the best ever released for the Warner Archive and embraces the contracts of the colorful costuming throughout starting with Butler’s bright white suit, green kerchief and black monikered gloves with fringes set against an opening scene with a full band in red suits and ladies in pink-and-blue hats and holding parasols.

Also examine the Wild West show’s midway brilliantly bright with signage, ribbons and with female patrons walking in their vintage dresses all saturated in color behind a perfectly blue sky.

And, most vibrant of all, is Annie (checkered red blouse) and Frank (sharp yellow shirt) hanging out between train cars with a purplish sunset and both outlined with an orangish glow.

I’m guessing that was a green screen effect gone a bit too crazy, but the saturation is psychedelic.

It’s another film that would have looked amazing in a widescreen format, or one could imagine the result if IMAX was available at the time.

Best extras: All culled from the 2001 DVD release, viewers first get a short introduction to the film from Susan Lucci who touches on the production and offers a quick bio on the real Annie Oakley.

Next, viewers get a rare look at rough cuts of the musical numbers “Doin’ What Comes Natur’lly” and “I’m an Indian Too” starring the original Annie, Garland. She looks tired and emaciated, but her voice is still strong

We also get Hutton singing the ballad “Let’s Go West Again” (cut from the final movie), and a version of “Colonel Buffalo Bill” with a brief appearance by Morgan.

Three audio outtakes are also included with the standout being Garland and cast singing “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” although its hard to hear the star.

Broadway Melody of 1940 (Not rated, 1.37:1 aspect ratio, 102 minutes, $21.99) — The fourth and final of the film series devoted to the lives and loves of the Big Apple’s theatrical community found director Norman Taurog (“Skippy” and “Boys Town”) offering a black-and-white musical comedy infused with Cole Porter tunes and starring the two most popular dancers of the time.

The rags-to-riches story has the dance team of Johnny Brett (Fred Astaire) and King Shaw (George Murphy) down on their luck until producer Bob Casey (Frank Morgan of “The Wizard of Oz”) sees the pair’s act and looks for one of them to team up with Broadway star Clare Bennett (Eleanor Powell).

Bob’s associate mistakenly chooses King when the producer actually wanted Johnny and the mix-up leads to a bit of stress, heartache, romance, jealousy and the true nature of friendship.

The movie showcased the dynamic pairing of Astaire and Powell, together for the first and only time, and highlighted in the finale, the Porter number “Begin the Beguine” as well as a maelstrom of tap dancing prowess by Astaire in “Please Don’t Monkey with Broadway” and by Powell in “All Ashore.”

And, if viewers do not let loose with a big grin as the duo unleash on a tapping courtship in “Jukebox Dance,” they have no soul.

What a stunning display of talent.

Yet another high definition release sourced from 4K scan of nitrate preservation elements translates into Warner technicians restoring a classic to an immaculate presentation.

Pay especially close attention to the new levels of clarity and detail afforded the finale, especially with the pair’s reflections while they dance on a glass floor.

Best extras: Viewers can start with an entertaining pre-show consisting of a pair of shorts.

First, the Academy Award-winning, 1940 MGM Technicolor cartoon “The Milky Way,” starring three kitten that lost their mittens and are sent to bed. They escape to the stars to visit the Milky Way and consume a bountiful supply of, well of course, milk.

Next, watch the 10-minute Our Gang comedy “The Big Premiere” starring Spanky, Alfalfa, Buckwheat, Darla, Mickey and Waldo. After the friends get chased away from a real Hollywood premiere, they decide to hold their own premiere for the film “The Misteeryous Mistry.”

After watching “Broadway Melody of 1940,” dive into a too-short 10-minute retrospective of the film and its stars, culled from the 2003 DVD release, hosted by legend Ann Miller.

She discusses both stars Astaire and Powell being unnerved by the thought of working together, the origins of “Begin the Beguine” as well the lavish production detail afforded the song’s finale  (over $100,000 for the set) within a film only taking 27 days to shoot.

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