Sunday night, my husband and I were reorganizing our linen closet, which contains not only linen but all our CDs and a box of my old videotapes. It was pointed out that I don’t watch the videotapes anymore and perhaps I should get rid of at least a few of them. I pointed out that some of those movies are not on DVD yet, and what if I had some sort of emergency where I needed to see part of Quality Street? So we made an Amazon wish list of all the movies I had on videotape — except the ones that aren’t on Amazon because there are no plans for DVD — and I prioritized them to indicate which I would really like to own on DVD (Persuasion), and which I would probably just want to rent sometime and watch again (Stranger Than Paradise, which costs more on Criterion DVD than it probably cost to make).
We got to Midnight, Easy Living and The Major and the Minor and I read out the titles to my husband to look up on Amazon, although I noted it was futile because who knows when those movies might ever get to be on DVD.
April 22, 2008, as it turns out. I was stunned. Midnight is getting a DVD release! I wondered if someone might remember it, since it’s supposedly being remade (please let the remake be a victim of the writers’ strike, please please). And the other two movies will be released too, all as part of something called the Universal Classics Collection. No details are available yet on extras and so forth, and I suspect the DVDs might be bare-bones, but I don’t care because I would just like to see the movies. All I want is a pretty good transfer — all three videotapes were taped from AMC or TCM in the distant past, so a DVD can only be an improvement.
The thing about these three movies is that I don’t think any of them are especially great, but they’re charming Thirties/early Forties light comedies with witty dialogue, wonderful actresses in the lead roles, and familiar, funny supporting character actors. More details about the movies are after the jump, in case you have no idea what I’m talking about.
Now, can we have A Foreign Affair next? That’s the comedy I really want to see on DVD, and my videotape is barely watchable. It was one of the few videotapes I didn’t throw/give away on Sunday, but I’d like to toss that TCM-recorded, noisy tape in the trash by the end of 2008. I’d also like to cross it off the still-populated 20 Gaps on DVD list, which incidentally I’ve updated with the info about the three upcoming DVDs.
Midnight is my favorite of the three, even though there are parts of it I don’t like much — the updated Cinderella story is tissue-thin, and Claudette Colbert’s speech in the courtroom is cringe-inspiring. One weekend when my sister was visiting, we had the battle of our favorite Cinderella-story movies, watching mine one night and hers the next. She liked Midnight but we agreed that the ending of her Cinderella movie, Ever After, was much more satisfying. The ending may be a bit lame but Midnight more than makes up for it with a stellar cast, led by John Barrymore in what was probably his last good screen performance. The movie was scripted by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett and directed by Mitchell Leisen, who was well-known for his frothy comedies. Allegedly Wilder and Leisen didn’t get along very well, which was one inspiration for Wilder to decide he should be directing his own scripts himself. (I wrote more extensively about Midnight here, if you’re interested, and compared it with The Wedding Crashers for some odd reason.)
Easy Living was made a couple of years before Midnight and it’s always being held up as a fine example of Depression-era comedy: a young woman’s life changes drastically when a mink coat falls out of a building and onto her head. She’s fired for “loose morals” but along the same lines, because she’s suspected of being the mistress of the guy who threw the mink coat, she ends up with a fancy hotel suite. Jean Arthur is the poor working girl who gets the coat, and you know she’s probably going to get the rich man’s son by the end of the movie. This is another Mitchell Leisen film, but the script was from Preston Sturges … another writer who decided he’d rather direct his own films. A couple of character actors who were later regulars in Sturges films, Franklin Pangborn and William Demarest, are in Easy Living as well.
The Major and the Minor is a strange film — it flirts with pedophilia and you can’t imagine this film would ever, ever be remade. It’s also Wilder’s directorial debut. Ginger Rogers decides she’s had enough of sexual harassment (by Robert Benchley!) in NYC so she decides to take a train home to her mom, but she can’t afford full fare. So she disguises herself as a 12-year-old to get the child’s fare, and ends up befriended by Ray Milland, who at least has the excuse of poor eyesight in one eye. Because otherwise it’s impossible to believe she gets away with it. My favorite scene is the dance with the girls’ school in which every single student and all the teachers have the Veronica Lake “flip” hairdo, but otherwise it’s more bizarre than genuinely funny. I think it’s a movie you should see once if you like Thirties comedies or Billy Wilder, but the froth of the 1930s is giving way here to a pre-WWII patriotism, and that doesn’t help matters much.