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ANNIE GET YOUR GUN

Movie 3.5; Disc 4.0 (Warner Video)

To classic horror film fans the devoutly sought cinematic Holy Grail is London After Midnight. As a avid musical fan, my Holy Grail consists of two titles—Paramount’s 1937 Western musical High, Wide and Handsome and Annie Get Your Gun, which had not legally been shown on television since 1973 and had never been released on Video, Laser or DVD due to litigation. Finally, after mentioning my quest, a fellow film fanatic sent me a grainy videotape of Annie Get Your Gun. Of course, I had seen clips (which only whetted my appetite) and had previously seen the Judy Garland scenes shot (Garland was eventually replaced by Betty Hutton). With great anticipation and trembling hands I popped in the videotape. To say I was disappointed was an understatement. It seemed at the time Betty Hutton, as Annie, was over-the-top, the production numbers didn’t do the fabulous songs justice and the ending really bothered me where Annie had to throw the shooting contest to get her man, after all “You Can’t Get a Man with a Gun.” But...

Let’s fast forward to Christmas 2000. Gary bought me Annie Get Your Gun on DVD. Since we had decided to add a home theater to our house, I wanted to wait to get the full theatrical experience. Wow, was I wrong about this film. The DVD is simply spectacular—the Technicolor is mind-boggling with dark, rich reds, greens and blacks, the soundtrack crisp, clear and surprisingly full-bodied, the grand Irving Berlin musical production numbers such as “There’s No Business Like Show Business” and “I’m an Indian Too” provide cinematic chills galore and Betty Hutton, rather than over-powering the small television screen, lassos the role of Annie Oakley and makes it her most stellar cinematic performance. Howard Keel is outstanding in the difficult role of Frank Butler, which requires him to be a cocky, petty and jealous rogue but at the same time the audience must like him enough to accept the unabashed love Annie feels for him and embrace the union of the two sharpshooters. Louis Calhern, tapped to replace Frank Morgan as Buffalo Bill when Morgan died, is everything you’d expect from the famous old West hero and his parental affection for Annie is touching. The film is also interesting as a historical tool in the representation of the American Indian in Hollywood. The Indians are most often used in Annie... as comic relief, but J. Carrol Naish’s Chief Sitting Bull is shown as a shrewd and clever man who sees things more clearly than other characters. It’s also interesting to note how this buoyant musical lets us know the Indians were segregated and treated as second class citizens. Keenan Wynn, one of my favorite character actors, once again provides outstanding support and opens the film with the production number “Colonel Buffalo Bill.”

The DVD supplemental materials provide the two filmed Garland musical numbers, “Doin’ What Comes Naturally” and “I’m an Indian Too.” We also see the opening “Colonel Buffalo Bill” as it was filmed with Frank Morgan and get a deleted musical number, “Let’s Go West Again.” I must confess I always thought Judy Garland would have done a better job as Annie, but after viewing Betty Hutton’s glorious performance and Judy Garland’s filmed scenes on this outstanding DVD, I must conclude Hutton was the definitive Annie Oakley. The film would be nominated for four Academy Awards winning the Best Score Oscar for Adolph Deutsch and Roger Edens. The DVD of Annie Get Your Gun is right up there with the best of cinematic experiences.—Susan Svehla

SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN

Movie: 4.0; Disc: 4.0

[Warner Video]

Unfortunately, happy-go-lucky musicals have gone the way of the dinosaurs. The films that today pass themselves off as musicals are usually vile, venom-spewing “artistic” nightmares (Hedwig and the Angry Inch comes immediately to mind). But for those classic film musical lovers still out there, Warner Video has finally given us the ultimate musical gift package with their two-disc special edition release of the greatest musical ever made, Singin’ in the Rain.

I have always considered Singin’ in the Rain to be a perfect film. There is never a dull moment or unnecessary scene; each sequence moves flawlessly into the next. The musical numbers from the Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown catalog are all first rate. The story by Adolph Green and Betty Comden wittily entwines the songs with a backlot story of the impact of sound on motion pictures. Comden and Green would provide the inspiration for two of the main characters in my second favorite musical of all time, Bandwagon (I’m still waiting for that on DVD). Sadly, Adolph Green passed away in 2002, but his contribution to the glory days of Hollywood and the golden age of the movie musical will live on forever.

Gene Kelly was smart enough to let his co-stars shine on their own as can be seen in the Donald O’Connor number “Make ’Em Laugh,” one of the best in the film. O’Connor would prove himself Kelly’s best partner as they tear up the set, literally, in “Moses Supposes.” Kelly would also feature co-stars wonderfully in On the Town in dazzling sequences such as the Ann Miller number “Pre-historic Man” and the Betty Garrett/Frank Sinatra numbers “You Can Count on Me” and “You’re Awful.” Stanley Donen presents a much different portrait in his autobiography, but I say the screen doesn’t lie and often egos do.

Casting for the female leads was equally successful with Jean Hagen as the sly silent star Lina Lamont, whose shrewish personality was matched only by her irritating voice. Hagen would earn an Oscar nomination for her performance. Unfortunately, in Hollywood’s bizarre book of rules, Singin’ in the Rain, one of the best films ever made, would not win an Academy Award because Kelly’s An American in Paris had practically swept the Awards the year before. Ingenue Debbie Reynolds’ tart sweetness played well off the more worldly Kelly’s Don Lockwood, and Cyd Charisse set the screen ablaze with her sexy siren in the spectacular “Broadway Melody” number.

I doubt anyone can watch the most famous film musical number ever made, “Singin’ in the Rain,” without smiling with idiotic delight. Kelly brilliantly enacted the joy of love, rain and life with those few shining cinematic moments. And with the terrors of the real world coming closer and closer to home, isn’t it nice to escape to the glorious Technicolor merriment of Singin’ in the Rain.

The two-disc set print is stunning and offers brilliant Technicolor, plus commentary by Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor, Cyd Charisse, Kathleen Freeman, Stanley Donen, Betty Comden, Aldolph Green, Moulin Rouge director Baz Luhrmann and film historian Rudy Behlmer. Also included on disc two is the 50th Anniversary Documentary What a Glorious Feeling hosted by Debbie Reynolds, and clips of the greatest products of the Freed unit including Meet Me in St. Louis, Ziegfeld Follies, Annie Get Your Gun, On the Town and An American in Paris.—Susan Svehla