Two early musicals are a treat

New on DVD

Movies: on screen, DVD/ Video

January 08, 2004|By Susan King | Susan King,LOS ANGELES TIMES

HOLLYWOOD -- If you're among those whose holiday bounty included either a DVD player or DVDs -- or, just as likely, if you're hankering to exchange those Brother Bear fluffy moose slippers for some movies on disc -- know that you have options beyond hot holiday titles like Finding Nemo and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.

Two vintage musicals that recently made their DVD debuts may fit the cinephile bill.

Singin' in the Rain illustrated in high comedic terms the problems moviemakers had when Hollywood switched from silent films to sound in the late 1920s. But that wasn't the case with the early films of theater director Rouben Mamoulian. Not only did he keep the camera moving, his sound design was also inventive and influential. Two of his early musicals, Applause from 1929 and Love Me Tonight from 1932, are now available on disc (Kino, $30 each).

Applause, Mamoulian's first feature, has a creaky story line that is more soap opera than dramatic musical. Helen Morgan, fresh from her success on Broadway as Julie in Show Boat, plays Kitty Darling, a good-hearted but over-the-hill vaudeville performer who has sent her daughter, April, to a convent school. When Kitty's latest boyfriend insists that the teen-age April come home and earn her keep, the daughter soon finds herself working in the chorus.

Although it's a potboiler, Mamoulian's formidable staging of the musical numbers, his fluid camerawork -- shot atop skyscrapers, the Brooklyn Bridge and inside the old Penn Station -- and Morgan's heartbreaking performance make Applause a must for any movie musical fan.

The DVD includes an excerpt of Morgan performing in the 1929 film Glorifying the American Girl, a newsreel interview with Morgan from the early '30s, a filmed interview with Mamoulian and rare photographs.

Audio commentary by Miles Kreuger, president of the Institute of the American Musical, proclaims Love Me Tonight the best movie musical ever made. Fans of Singin' in the Rain may beg to differ, but Love Me Tonight is indeed a masterpiece. Featuring an original score by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart that includes the standards "Isn't It Romantic?" and "Mimi," the musical romance stars a joyous Maurice Chevalier as a Paris tailor who goes to the family chateau of a client to get the money the aristocrat owes him. Arriving at the chateau, he sets his sights on the lonely, widowed Princess Jeanette, played by Jeannette MacDonald. Myrna Loy and Charlie Ruggles co-star.

As with Applause, Mamoulian's clever use of sound and imaginative staging of the musical numbers are years ahead of their time -- check out the opening scene set on a Paris street and the "Isn't It Romantic?" number.

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