- The Washington Times - Monday, March 8, 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.

Damn Yankees (Not rated, 1.85:1 aspect ratio, 111 minutes, $21.99) — Directors George Abbott and Stanley Donen’s 1958 adaptation of the Tony Award-winning musical comedy debuts in high definition with a befuddling lack of extras.

This home run of musical entertainment starts with a simple story that takes a Faustian approach to America’s favorite pastime.

Specifically, an old man tired of watching his beloved Washington Senators lose makes a deal with Mr. Applegate, aka the devil (Ray Walston), to become a 22-year-old superstar named Joe Hardy (Tab Hunter) and take the team to the World Series.

Now add a steady stream of unforgettable songs by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, including “Heart,” “Six Months Out of Every Year” and a sizzling performance of “Whatever Lola Wants” by Mr. Applegate’s demonic temptress Lola, played to perfection by multiple Tony Award-winning actress Gwen Verdon, and we have a big winner.



Also, top off the fun with choreography by legend Bob Fosse highlighted by the numbers “Shoeless Joe from Hannibal Mo,” “Two Lost Souls” and “Who’s Got the Pain,” the latter teaming up Fosse with Verdon in a dynamite dancing duet.

And, pop culture connoisseurs should keep a close eye out for Edith Bunker, i.e. Jean Stapleton, as an enthusiastic mom who is part of Mr. Hardy’s fan club.

The high definition release was sourced from a 4K scan of preservation separation masters to deliver bold color and welcomed clarity, especially when viewing Lola’s hot pink-and-purple sleeping quarters and Mr. Applegate reminiscing of his good old days, with green-tinted pop-ups of his mischief.

Best extras: Viewers get absolutely nothing to reflect on this fun film — no retrospective on the Broadway hit and its cinematic adaptation or even a commentary track by a film historian.  

Show Boat (Not rated, 1.37:1 aspect ratio, 108 minutes, $21.99) — Jerome Kerns and Oscar Hammerstein II’s Tony Award-winning musical based on Edna Ferber’s novel was given a big-screen Technicolor cinematic punch and an adapted, sanitized story back in 1951 under the direction of George Sidney (“Pal Joey” and “Bye Bye Birdie”).

The classic now debuts in a high definition release culled from 4K scan of original Technicolor negatives to bring to saturated, colorful life the drama and romantic angst of the performers associated with a floating theater show and entertaining center named the Cotton Blossom.

A stop in a small Mississippi town, Booneville opens the floodgates as the song and dance goes badly when a jealous ignoramus exposes star Julie LaVerne (Ava Gardner) as a mixed race woman married to a White man. 

The sheriff wants to arrest both, since it was illegal at the time for a mixed marriage in the state. Her husband skirts the issue by drinking some of her blood and saying that he is now also a mixed race

However, the pair are still forced to leave since, additionally, Blacks were also not allowed to perform with Whites at the time. Yes, this is the United States we are talking about here.

And, in another subplot downer, a relationship between an older gambling shark Gaylord Ravenal (Howard Keel) and the captain’s teenage daughter Magnolia Hawks (Kathryn Grayson) goes from marriage to desertion after Mr. Ravenal’s luck runs dry as well as his wallet.

Despite the soap-operatic dirges throughout, the musical highlights include “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man,” “Life Upon the Wicked Stage,” as performed by the song and dance team Marge and Gower Champion, and William Warfield belting out the African American slave class opus “Ol’ Man River,” a showstopper.

Although the drenched hues of Technicolor visuals and power of the singing shine, it’s a fairly depressing musical that was even more painful in its original version, highlighting even deeper themes of racism, poverty and intolerance.

Best extras: A sometimes meandering, nonstop and nostalgia-packed commentary by Mr. Sidney starts with the director first reminding viewers that he was 10 years old back in 1927 when his dad took him to the theater to see the original “Show Boat.”

Mr. Sidney touches on how previous film versions were failures; how he sang Ol’ Man River with studio head Louis B. Mayer; the 28-day shooting schedule and $800,000 budget; Gardner actually singing on the release soundtrack album and also referring to Frank Sinatra as her vocal coach (they were dating at the time); and that Lena Horne was never up for the part.

It’s like listening to your grandad talk about the good old days. It’s a fun treat for film connoisseurs.

Next, viewers will appreciate a 15-minute condensed first act of the theatrical version of “Show Boat” from the Jerome Kerns’ biopic “Till the Clouds Roll By” featuring a knockout version of “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” by Horne playing Miss LaVerne.

Also hardcore fans get the Lux Radio Theater Broadcast of “Show Boat” from 1952 with much of the original cast.

Finally, viewers can listen to Gardner sing “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” and “Bill.” Unfortunately, the actress’ singing was dubbed by Annette Warren in the movie, even though the legend did a fine job with the song.

Overall, the extras package shines as much as the film’s restoration. 

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