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THE COMMITMENTS (25th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray)

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CommitmentscoverGrade: B+
Entire family: No
1991, 118 min., Color
RLJ Entertainment
Rated R for language throughout
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 5.1
Bonus features: B+
Trailer
Amazon link

Like Jimmy Rabbitte (Robert Arkins), who auditions people in his home for a band he fantasizes will be the next big musical act to come out of Dublin, director Alan Parker listened to a non-stop parade of raw home-grown talent: 64 bands, 1500 individuals at an open casting call, and another 1500 audition tapes. Not coincidentally, they both came up with the same people to form The Commitments—one of the great movies about rock ‘n’ roll . . . or, more precisely, soul, of the Wilson Pickett, Mary Wells, James Brown, Otis Redding variety.

Parker was famous for directing Pink Floyd: The Wall (1982), and The Commitments is his light side of the moon tribute to rock ‘n’ roll—a love letter to American soul music and the gritty side of urban Ireland.

Commitmentsscreen1Like Almost Famous and This Is Spinal Tap, The Commitments is one of the classic behind-the-scenes movies about the life of a band. It’s funny, it’s raw, it’s energetic, it’s authentic, and it’s filled with wall-to-wall music and images of Dublin that tourists never see. But don’t expect much in the way of plot. We see a little where-they-are-now before Jimmy does his auditioning, and after that the band rehearses, performs, rehearses, performs, and gradually gets on each others nerves so you can see why, by movie’s end, they will eventually break up—though they sound so good you want them to stay together.

In a six-page booklet that comes with the 25th Anniversary Blu-ray, Parker writes, “It was pointed out to me that there were as many as 1200 bands playing in Dublin, which is extraordinary in a city of just over a million people. . . . I think the film captures a little of the spirit and spunk of the working-class kids in Dublin’s Northside.” It looks great on Blu-ray and Parker’s commentary track and additional bonus features are well worth watching.

Though rated R, The Commitments has just pair of minor incidents of violence and one bedroom instance of implied coupling innocent enough to be included on the trailer. There’s really nothing that would make it inappropriate for young teens except the language, which is non-stop. And hey, all the characters are Irish, so it’s tough to understand half of those swear words anyway—so much so that RLJ Entertainment felt the need to provide a glossary on the inside cover.

Commitmentsscreen2The Commitments practice and perform a lot during the film, and at least three songs are complete. They’re so entertaining that you’re glad of that, and glad that Parker made the decision to go with near-constant music. By the end, you’ve absorbed so much that you really feel as if you’ve experienced the band and not just witnessed it. Along with a later cover by Buddy Guy, their rendition of “Mustang Sally” could be one of the best I’ve heard. And the shots of Dublin’s “mean streets” and alleyways are mesmerizing, almost lyrical, given the musical backdrop.

For many viewers, Colm Meaney will be the only recognizable cast member. Meaney plays Mr. Rabbitte, whose reverent obsession with Elvis is illustrated by the fact that a painting of Presley hangs just above a portrait of the Pope. But you’ll also see two people whose names were not familiar then but are well-known now: Glen Hansard (“Once”) as one of the band members, and Andrea Corr (The Corrs) in a non-singing role as Jimmy’s sister. And that’s okay. Not knowing any of the actors adds to the realism to where it almost feels like a guerilla-shot documentary—especially with Jimmy doing imaginary press interviews about the band throughout the film.

Both of our teens liked it a lot, and The Commitments remains a gem of a movie even a quarter century after it was filmed. Crank up the volume and enjoy!

Language: F-bombs dropped by characters of all ages, plus lesser swearwords and Irish variations; it’s pretty much nonstop
Sex: It’s implied that one “player” has been intimate with three women, but nothing is shown
Violence: One band member is beaten up and bloodied, and another bar fight emerges
Adult situations: Lots of smoking and drinking, plus a bar brawl
Takeaway: The Commitments still feels fresh because it has always felt honest and a word that’s often used today:  immersive

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THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN (Blu-ray)

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UnsinkableMollyBrowncoverGrade: C+/B-
Entire family: Yes, but . . . .
1964, 135 min., Color
Warner Archive Collection
Not rated (would be PG for some adult situations)
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 5.1
Bonus features: B-/C+
Trailer
Amazon link

You know the movie that you remember liking enough as a child to want to share it with your family, but then you fire up the popcorn popper and after 15 minutes none of them wants to watch it with you?

The Unsinkable Molly Brown is that kind of movie. As you view it again, to paraphrase Bill Clinton, you can feel their pain. Maybe years ago you overlooked the flaws because of a few catchy songs and a warm-hearted story that offered a happy tear-jerking payoff. But watching it again through their eyes, you can certainly understand why the family left the TV room one-by-one.

Despite her energy and a Best Actress Oscar nomination, Debbie Reynolds is frankly annoying as Molly Brown, the real historical character that inspired a 1960 Broadway musical and this 1964 film adaptation. She has a beautiful voice, but in The Unsinkable Molly Brown she doesn’t sing as much as she shouts or growls like an angry animal, and her portrayal of a poor uneducated Colorado tomboy will remind some families of Shelly Winters’ performance as the hillbilly mother in Disney’s animated live-action Pete’s Dragon. She’s brassy and she’s grating, so blustery that Winnie the Pooh would never even peek his head out of his hollow-log home if she were out there storming about.

In this film, Molly is the vinegar to Jonny Brown’s oil, but while singer Harv Presnell is so gosh-darned nice as the miner who would do anything for his Molly that it’s impossible for audiences not to like him, his singing is another story. Presnell, the lone holdover from the Broadway cast, is terrific, but the actor’s stand-and-belt operatic style can seem overwrought to contemporary viewers—something that’s not helped at all by two underwhelming songs he’s given, one of which (“Colorado, My Home”) is remarkably weak considering it came from Meredith Wilson (The Music Man).

The real Margaret Brown was raised dirt-poor in Leadville in a two-room log cabin. In actuality she met and married J.J. Brown, an equally poor man who became rich after his engineering led to a rich strike for his employer and he was given 12,500 shares of stock and also made a director on the mining company board. In reality, they bought a mansion in Denver and Margaret became socially active in the Denver Woman’s Club. The “unsinkable” tag came after she was already separated from J.J. and Mrs. Brown was returning from France aboard a new luxury ship—the Titanic. She gained notoriety after passengers told the press how she helped others into lifeboats and tried to convince the crew in her own to return to the site to look for more survivors.

UnsinkableMollyBrownscreenThat’s a great story in itself, isn’t it? But for the Broadway version Richard Morris made a few key changes. In the play and in this film, JJ is a poor miner who strikes it rich not once but twice, and Molly is the unrefined new-money ladder-climber desperate to be accepted into Denver society. Responsible for her rejection is neighbor Gladys McGraw (Audrey Christie), who is so concerned about social acceptance that she keeps her unrefined mother, Buttercup (Hermoine Baddeley), away from her circle of friends and the charity galas she throws.

The first 30 minutes of The Unsinkable Molly Brown can be rough, because it’s all Molly and her adoptive Pa (Ed Begley) drinking and singing and her “wrassling” with brothers and getting a job in a saloon. It’s like watching the hillbilly channel. The next 20 minutes are all about her spurning JJ’s advances until he finally wears her down. It’s when the two move to Denver and Molly becomes slightly less grating that interest picks up, and things get even more interesting when JJ and Molly go to Europe and meet all manner of royalty.

Molly yearns to be something she’s not, and she places such a premium on social acceptance that she would jeopardize her marriage to the one man who really loves her. And she’s not above using people. So really, her character isn’t exactly lovable. But while you do feel for her, it’s JJ who earns your sympathy. The film reaches its moral plateau at a ball where JJ welcomes their old unrefined friends from Leadville with a song (“He’s My Friend”) that Molly eventually embraces. It’s one of three songs that you’ll have in your head for days afterwards.

Is there anything here that families can’t see? Not really. It’s all pretty wholesome, and those who like musicals will still appreciate The Unsinkable Molly Brown. But Reynolds’ performance might be a bit too much for the younger generation to take.

Language: Euphemistic cussing, mostly
Sex: Women dressed like prostitutes do a “dance off” with Molly, JJ watches Molly dress, and there’s talk of Molly’s wedding night
Adult situations: Drinking and brawling, including the catchy song “Belly Up, Belly Up to the Bar Boys”
Takeaway: Critics called The Unsinkable Molly Brown big and bold and brassy when it was first released, and it’s still all that . . . though now those adjectives have a more negative connotation

CAROL + 2: THE ORIGINAL QUEENS OF COMEDY (DVD)

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Carolplus2coverGrade: B+
Entire family: Yes (Once Upon a Mattress)
1963-1972, 277 min., Color and black-and-white
Time Life/StarVista Entertainment
Not rated (Once would be G, the others PG)
Aspect ratio: 1.37:1
Featured audio: Dolby Digital 2.0
Bonus features: n/a
Amazon link

The Carol Burnett Show aired from 1967-78, making it one of the last yet longest running of the old vaudeville-inspired variety shows that combined song and dance with sketch comedy. Burnett broke into TV as a regular on The Garry Moore Show and in 1966 was given her own TV special. The network wanted her to ask Lucille Ball to guest star, as well as the Tony Award-winning Zero Mostel, who was currently appearing on Broadway as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. Both said yes, and the result is Carol + 2, a one-hour special that all but set the format for The Carol Burnett Show to follow.

Carol + 2 is a part of television history, and for general fans it will be the gem on this DVD, which (sorry, Mr. Mostel) is being marketed as Carol + 2: The Original Queens of Comedy. But it’s not the big draw for families with children. The reason to buy this DVD, if you have children, is the colorful TV movie version of the beloved Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, “The Princess and the Pea,” starring Burnett as the princess.

Burnett got her big break in 1959 as a 26 year old when she was cast by the legendary George Abbott to star in the off-Broadway production of a new show based on that fairy tale, and Once Upon a Mattress quickly moved on Broadway for a total run of 244 performances. Burnett earned a Tony nomination for her role as Princess Winifred the Woebegone, and as a TV personality she would star in three special televised productions of Once Upon a Mattress: in 1966, 1972, and 2005, the latter in which she would play the queen rather than the unconventional princess. The version on this DVD is the 1972 special, which is indeed special because Jack Gilford and Jane White reprise their original off-Broadway roles as King Sextimus and Queen Aggravain.

Carolplus2screen1Once Upon a Mattress is aimed at families, which is made clear from the beginning as Burnett reads and shares an abbreviated picture-book version of the fairy tale, after which we’re told we’re about to see the “adult version” of what really happened. Don’t be alarmed. Even your four year old can watch and enjoy this production, which sports outrageous and colorful costumes and lines that are delivered slowly enough that the smallest children won’t need much in the way of narrative summary. Once Upon a Mattress is an engaging 90-minute romp that showcases Burnett’s talents as a physical comedienne and also features verbal comedy, singing, and dancing.

The plot is simple, yet, like so many fairy tales, timeless. Queen Aggravain is so domineering that her husband, the king, has been rendered unable to speak. Communicating only in pantomime, he’s like the fifth Marx Brother. Their son, Prince Dauntless (Ken Berry), is also dominated by the queen, yet this mama’s boy, despite being in his mid-thirties, yearns to marry. Trouble is, he can only marry a true princess, and Mama devises a different test each time so devious that none of the princesses who visit the castle are ever able to pass. When a rain-drenched Princess Winifred (who prefers to be called “Fred”) turns up on the doorstep, the vetting process begins anew. Children will especially get a kick out of a “dance off” in which Fred instantly masters the silliest local folk dance and outlasts everyone else in the kingdom. The Queen tells the princess that she needs to get her sleep because the big test will be tomorrow, when in fact the test is whether she can detect a tiny pea placed underneath a stack of 20 mattresses. The “adult version” is that this happily-ever-after tale didn’t come about because Fred was indeed able to detect that pea. She had a little help. Bernadette Peters stars as Lady Larkin, while Carol Burnett Show regular Lyle Waggoner appears as Sir Studley, and Wally Cox (who gave voice to the TV cartoon Underdog) narrates as The Jester. Look closely and you’ll even see a cameo by Kermit the Frog. All in all, it’s a highly entertaining 90-minute TV musical special.

Carolplus2screen2Carol + 2 is geared more for adults than families, and while it’s great to see two of television’s First Ladies perform together and Zero Mostel is as wild-eyed and manic as ever, the sketches and performances are a mixed bag. The funniest might be the opening sketch featuring Burnett and Mostel as a married couple grown spiteful of each other who find out briefly that a mistake means they’re not married after all . . . and that changes the way they see each other. Close behind is “Goodbye Baby,” in which Ball plays an older sister who drops in for a visit on her way to her annual vacation. Burnett is the younger sister with a baby buggy in the park who insists that her sister not leave until she hears the little guy say “Goodbye.” Of course, as with all sketch comedy, things escalate, and while the ending might be a little far-fetched it’s the progression that’s fun to watch. Some of the other sketches are less successful, but Ball and Burnett sing a spirited song about “Chutzpah” as Hollywood charwomen, and this one-hour color special gives contemporary audiences a chance to see three legendary talents at work.

Thrown in as a bonus feature is the very first black-and-white Charwoman sketch that Burnett performed as part of her first special, An Evening with Carol Burnett. It was a character that, animated, would become part of her long-running TV show’s title credits. This 1963 sketch is more of a historical artifact than a family entertainment, though Burnett’s introduction to it, as with her introductions to the two TV specials included on this DVD, is nice to have.

THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW – THE LOST EPISODES – TREASURES FROM THE VAULT (DVD)

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CarolBurnettShowTreasuresGrade: B
Entire family: Yes, but . . .
1967-71, 1039 min. (15 episodes), Color
Time Life/StarVista
Not rated (mostly G, some PG sketches)
Aspect ratio: 1.33:1
Featured audio: Dolby Digital 2.0
Bonus features: B+
Includes: 6 discs, color booklet
Amazon link

The Carol Burnett Show will appeal to two types of people: those who remember watching it when they were younger and respond to the pull of nostalgia, and those who are curious about a time in American television when variety shows, not reality shows, were popular. Burnett was arguably the best of all the variety show hosts, a multitalented woman who could sing, dance, act, impersonate famous stars, and make a comedy sketch work with ad libs better than anyone else. Because of her long-running TV show, which initially aired from 1967-1978, Burnett was toasted at a 2003 Kennedy Center Honors and also awarded the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor in 2013. During its time, the show earned 68 Primetime Emmy nominations and won Golden Globes as the Best TV Show–Comedy or Musical in 1971. Burnett herself won five Golden Globes for her work on the series, and her talented regulars pulled down a few as well: Harvey Korman in 1967, and Tim Conway in 1976.

As Tina Fey remarked at the presentation of the Mark Twain Prize, “I fell in love with sketch comedy watching your show, and you proved sketch comedy is a good place for women . . . . Only in sketch comedy does a woman get to play Cher, Scarlett O’Hara, the Queen of England, and Girl Scout, Mrs. Wiggins’—all in one night.” At that same event comedian Martin Short summarized the long reach of her Burnett’s influence: “Everyone copied from her. There wouldn’t be Saturday Night Live without Carol.” So keep that in mind as you watch this pioneering comedy-variety show, which featured guest stars in musical numbers as well as sketches, and in which Burnett did indeed play almost anyone. This collection shows how wide of a range she had, and she was particularly “on” in sketches that aped other actresses. Included here is a sketch in which she pokes fun of Joan Crawford in “Mildred Fierce” and really nails Katharine Hepburn in “Guess What’s Coming to Dinner?”

Like a previous “Lost Episodes” release, this collection features 15 uncut episodes on six single-sided DVDs, with episodes culled from the first four seasons.

From Season 1:
Show #11—Guest Stars Sonny & Cher, actress/singer/dancer Nanette Fabray
Show #15—Mickey Rooney, singer John Davidson
Show #20—Shirley Jones, actor/singer/dancer George Chakiris
Show #21—comedian Jonathan Winters, singer Dionne Warwick
Show #22—comic actress Martha Raye, pin-up girl/actress Betty Grable
Show #23—Nanette Fabray, actor Art Carney
Show #29—actor Peter Lawford, Grand Ole Opry star Minnie Pearl

From Season 2:
Show #113—opera stars Eileen Farrell, Marilyn Horne

From Season 3:
Show #302—actress/dancer Gwen Verdon, singer Pat Boone
Show #317—comedian Soupy Sales, singer Mel Tormé
Show #318—Get Smart! actress Barbara Feldon, comedian Joan Rivers
Show #326—Family Show

From Season 4:
Show #404—Nanette Fabray, actor Ken Berry
Show #413—actress Dyan Cannon, comic actor Paul Lynde
Show #426—Nanette Fabray, Paul Lynde

Fans of Saturday Night Live will marvel at how LONG these sketches go on, how character-driven they are, and ultimately how much the “players” trust the material and their performances. CarolBurnettTreasuresscreenIt will also seem amazing to people of the anti-social social media generation that at the beginning of each show Burnett strides out in a gown that was glamorous then (kitschy now) and answers questions from a live audience. When an adolescent boy asks if he can read a poem he wrote for her and she says, “Sure, stand up and read it,” could you see that happening today? He starts reading the poem and when he gets to the part where he says he’s in love with a girl old enough to be his mother, she says, “Sit down.” In a truly historical moment, then Gov. Ronald Reagan walks onstage to join Carol in that opening Q&A and answers questions from the audience—one of them from a woman who asks if he has any interest in moving to Washington, D.C. His response is what you’d expect from a man known as the Great Communicator: he says he can’t see why anyone would ever want to leave California. Earlier he had gotten a big laugh when he offered a comic counterpunch. A woman asked, “Does the mayor know you’re in town?” Everyone laughed and Reagan shot back with, “The important thing is, is Yorty in town?” Mayor Sam Yorty had a number of nicknames, among them Travelin’ Sam, Suitcase Sam, and Airplane Sam.

There are some terrific sketches here, as well as some that aren’t so successful. Ultimately, though, the sketches seem less dated than the clothes or the musical numbers, and they are the reason people remember Carol Burnett and buy DVDs like this. The fun is in watching how many different characters Burnett can convincingly pull off, and whether she can stay in character or crack up with her co-stars. Some of her characters are convincingly ugly, others glamorous, and she even dons a Bugs Bunny costume for a sketch paying tribute to Warner Bros. animation. You get the feeling that Burnett would do anything for a laugh, and she provides a lot of them in this collection.

PITCH PERFECT 2 (Blu-ray combo)

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PitchPerfect2coverGrade: B
Entire family: No
2015, 115 min., Color
Universal Pictures
Rated PG-13 for innuendo and language
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Featured audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Bonus features: B+
Included: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD
Trailer
Amazon link

Pitch Perfect (2012) and this 2015 sequel aren’t as solid or compelling as the first few seasons of Glee, but they’re still a lot of fun for a cappella lovers. Perfectly pitched at teens, Pitch Perfect 2 barely wriggles under the PG-13 limbo bar, and you don’t have to wait long to see why:

Nothing graphic is shown, but there’s plenty of innuendo. What sets this musical-comedy plot in motion is a Janet Jackson-style wardrobe malfunction that involves the character Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson). Her southern exposure is enough to disgrace the Barden Bellas, costing them a publicity tour and a ban them future competition—except, conveniently, Internationals, which a U.S. group has never won. It’s a tried-and-true formula we’ve seen in every fraternity-on-probation screenplay, combined with the standard underdog-in-competition story.

With that kind of fallback plot and a group of über a cappellists from Germany that are perhaps a little too smugly Master Race, Pitch Perfect 2 isn’t quite as good as the first film—at least not to a film critic trying to be objective. But it doesn’t miss the mark by a lot, and my teenage daughter and wife liked it every bit as much as the first movie. In other words, it’s a title that’s certainly worth adding to your family movie collection if you have junior high and high school age children.  More

THE HEE HAW COLLECTION (DVD)

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HeeHawcoverGrade: B/B-
Entire family: Yes
1969-71, 369 min. (5 episodes), Color
Not rated (would be G despite some innuendo)
Time Life
Aspect ratio: 1.33:1
Featured audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono
Bonus features: B-
“Pfft You Was Gone” clip

The hay-day (sorry, bad pun) of rural comedy on American TV was between 1960, when The Andy Griffith Show debuted, and 1971, when all of them were put out to pasture. The novelty of The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, Gomer Pyle: USMC, Green Acres, and Mayberry R.F.D. had worn off, so it was no surprise that in 1971 CBS also cancelled Hee Haw—a country version of Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In.

But like the Grand Ole Opry, this corny variety show, which debuted in 1969 and featured a group of talented regulars and some of the top country stars of the time, had a life of its own. It became an institution, going into syndication and lasting nearly another 20 years.

Hee Haw managed to have it both ways, featuring characters and jokes that celebrated rural life, but also poked fun of rural stereotypes. You’ll see nostalgic, folksy segments that lament the loss of cracker barrel philosophers, with Archie Campbell playing a barber and regaling customers with stories, Grandpa Jones and Junior Samples doing the same at Gordie’s General Store, or Stringbean reading a letter from home. Always it was a tall tale modernized or a long simmering lead-in to a corny punch line. Yet there were also recurring segments featuring not-too-bright farmer’s daughters in short-shorts or the country equivalent of mini-dresses, and a recurring sketch about barefooted moonshiners in overalls lying in the front yard next to a jug and a bloodhound. In fact, Junior Samples, with his slow-witted and deliberately speaking persona, was the anti-sophisticate, and darned proud of it. Put Junior in a Shakespeare sketch (as they often did) or making a used car commercial and it was instant laughs.

Hee_HawLaugh-In was hosted by a comic duo. Hee Haw’s hosts were musicians first and comedians second, which fit the corny concept just fine. Roy Clark, best known for his instrumental work on banjo, guitar, and mandolin, first appeared on the Grand Ole Opry at the age of 17. Buck Owens was a popular country singer and band leader whose best-known songs were “Act Naturally,” “Together Again,” and “Tiger by the Tail.” The pair appeared to have fun together and provided the perfect anchor for a boatload of sketches and musical numbers. Buck and Roy started each show with a rendition of “Hee Haw” and at some point did a vaudeville-style routine called “Pickin’ and Grinnin’” that strung jokes together with musical riffs. They also did at least one solo per episode.

Though the humor could be adult, the show was obviously intended for families because kids were included in some sketches and the show relied on animated farm animals to add to the laughs. One minute the audience could be enjoying some serious guitar-playing from Clark, and the next minute a chorus line of pigs would be dancing across the screen while he’s playing, lightening the mood.  More

FRANK SINATRA 5-FILM COLLECTION (Blu-ray)

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FrankSinatra5FilmcoverGrade: B
Entire family: Yes, but…
1945-1964, times vary (see below), Color
Approved (would be PG for some adult situations)
Warner Bros.
Aspect ratio: Varies (see below)
Featured audio: DTS-HD MA 1.0 and DTS-HD MA 5.1 (Guys and Dolls)
Bonus features: C
Amazon link

For family movie night, the best bet in the Frank Sinatra 5-Film Collection is Robin and the 7 Hoods—a 1964 prohibition musical-comedy set in Chicago that offers an amusing gangster version of the Robin Hood legend. That film and others in this collection new to Blu-ray are available as single titles as well. Whether the five-film collection is worth buying will depend on how much your family likes old musicals (four out of five films are musicals) and how tolerant the kids are of older films. But at least all five are in color, and all are the equivalent of PG-rated films. The discs seem to be identical to the single releases, with the same bonus features, but with a handsome hardcover book of color and black-and-white photos from the five films and the discs on separate plastic pages in an oversized Blu-ray case, all tucked inside a sturdy cardboard slipcase. Picture quality is terrific for all five films, though the Mono DTS on four of them may not be what viewers are used to. But if your family loves musicals—old ones included—this is a great collection.

Robin7HoodsscreenRobin and the 7 Hoods (1964, 123 min., 2.40:1 widescreen, trailer)—This clever and funny riff on the Robin Hood legend stars Peter Falk (TV’s Columbo) in a hilarious role as Guy Gisbourne (in the movies, it was Sir Guy of Gisbourne), who bumps off Big Jim and takes control of the city racketeering, with the Sheriff offering protection for a fee. Naturally Robbo (Sinatra) objects, and their rival factions square off in a battle for speakeasy supremacy. Bing Crosby stars as the troubadour Allen A. Dale, with Dean Martin playing John Little (instead of Little John), and Sammy Davis Jr. as Will Scarlet. But the Robin Hood legend really kicks in when Big Jim’s daughter, Marian (Barbara Rush), thinks the Sheriff responsible for her father’s death and Robbo responsible for his disappearance. She gives Robbo a $50,000 payoff. “Get rid of it,” Robbo says, and his merry men donate the whole bunch to an orphanage. Other charities follow, and it’s fun to watch this legend play itself out on Chicago gangsterland turf. There’s bootlegging and flappers in skimpy costumes but no sex, no language to speak of, and no onscreen violence. Great songs, clever plot, and funny moments. My teenage son gave it an A, he liked it so much. I’d say it’s more of an A-.

GuysandDollsscreenGuys and Dolls (1955, 150 min., 2.55:1 widescreen, trailer)—The second best title in this collection is the film adaptation of the Broadway hit that itself was based on a Damon Runyon story about Broadway gamblers. Nathan Detroit (Sinatra) runs a floating crap game and has been dating dancer Adelaide (Vivian Blaine) for more than a decade. He’s fond of her but unable to commit to marriage because he’s just as fond of gambling and his gambling pals, which include his “second,” Nicely-Nicely Johnson (comic actor Stubby Kaye). There are plenty of Broadway denizens in need of saving, and Jean Simmons plays Sarah Brown, who is in charge of the local Salvation Army. The action is set in motion when Lt. Brannigan (Robert Keith) puts the heat on and the only place that will host Nathan’s illegal gambling operation for one night wants $1000. How to get it? With famous better Sky Masterson (Marlon Brando) in town, Nathan tries to get him to bet on a sure thing for him. When Sky brags that he can convince any woman to go with him to Havana for the night Nathan looks out the window and points out Sarah Brown. “I choose her,” he says, and the bet is on. The song-and-dance numbers are old-school musical and the dialogue is Runyonesque, but after a while you get used to it. My son liked this one too, and we’d give it a B+.   More

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