A pair of new to blu-ray June releases from Warner Archive is what I have for you this week. The studio was kind enough to once again send me some titles to give a gander to. This month they bring to HD 1945’s “Ziegfeld Follies,” a dazzling MGM technicolor musical variety show. Plus, one of Humphrey Bogart’s last movies for Warner Brothers, 1950’s “Chain Lightning” about a test pilot experimenting with a jet plane.
From the classic Hollywood era to today, the MGM Musical has remained a trademark and brand all unto itself. MGM itself never quite was able to gain the financial domination they enjoyed during the 1930s and 1940s once musicals fell out of favor with audiences. But during that heyday the head of MGM’s musical unit, producer Arthur Freed, had the idea that he’d like to put together a movie emulating producer Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr.’s legendary Broadway stage revues. Noted for being packed wall to wall with talent and lavishly produced.
Freed was in the catbird seat, as MGM had the best of the best in film musical talent at their disposal. So in 1945, after two years of filming, MGM released “Ziegfeld Follies” a musical variety film, unlike anything they had made before, spanning multiple directors and nearly every single star MGM had under contract. “Follies” cast list reads like a “Classic Hollywood’s Greatest Hits” list, but I’ll just give you the highlights of this list of highlights.
In various sequences, we have Fred Astaire, Lucille Ball, Judy Garland, Lena Horne, Gene Kelly, Red Skelton, Esther Williams, and William Powell. Powell had played Flo Ziegfeld in a musical biography nine years prior, and here he reprises the role in the film’s 15 minute opening set in the afterlife with him wondering how he’d do a modern version of the Follies. Since the movie is a variety show, every segment won’t work for everyone, but on the whole, it’s a great film that shows off the artistry that made MGM the best at putting musicals on film.
This new blu-ray is made from a new HD transfer of the film and it looks fantastic, that dazzlingly Technicolor color pallet really shines with such vivid hues it’s a joy for the eyes. I was also surprised, when I hit play on the disc’s menu, that it asked me if I wanted to listen to the movie in mono or stereo. Stereo movies weren’t common in the 1940s, and it turns out that when the film was being prepared for a deluxe Laserdisc edition in the ‘90s, enough original audio elements had survived that would allow for a stereo mix to be made. It really opens up the musical landscape and sounds great.
That same LD edition included a bunch of audio outtakes and some rare footage to sequences that were cut from the film, those are included on this blu-ray as well as the bonuses from the DVD release of the film. These are some vintage shorts, two cartoons, and a featurette on the making of the movie. All in all, it’s a great edition of the film and perhaps the best home video release ever. This one is very much worth your time and would be a great gift for the MGM musical lover in your life.
After a nearly 20 year tenor at Warner Brothers, where he became one of the studio’s biggest stars, Humphrey Bogart was winding up his contract with the studio in the late 1940s into the very early 1950s. “Chain Lightning” was one of Bogart’s last efforts for the studio. As jet planes were starting to come into vogue, Hollywood started to look at making movies about the craft. Bogart plays Matt Brennan, a former war pilot who is working with an experimental jet he hopes to fly from Nome to Washington, D.C. There’s also an experimental ejector seat he wants to try out, despite a test of it before ending in a fatality.
The movie, which was featured as part of Turner Classic Movie’s Virtual Film Fest a few months ago, looks great. At the time, I thought “This looks like a new HD scan, I wonder if a blu-ray is coming?” and indeed a blu-ray did. This is an OK movie, it’s not bad, but it’s not among Bogart’s best. The use of special effects models for flying sequences is a standout though. Fans of this type of adventure movie and Bogart completists will be thrilled to own the film on blu-ray. The scan looks great and is as sharp and vivid as anything WB has ever put out on blu.
That’s if, for June titles from Warner Archive, I hope you’ll give a gander to the ones you’re interested in, you really can’t go wrong. See you next week.