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ABBOTT & COSTELLO, HARPO MARX AND MORE ON BLU-RAY



JACK AND THE BEANSTALK (ClassicFlix)

While I would never tout this as a great Abbott and Costello comedy, the vast array of bonus features on this release supersedes my interest in the film itself. Kudos to Bob Furmanek and the team at the 3D Film Archive for all the work they put into this production. An informative commentary track features recollections of the movie’s young costar David Stollery (better remembered for Walt Disney’s Spin and Marty serial) and Lou Costello’s daughter Chris. Jack Theakston explains the history and technology of CineColor, which reached its zenith with SuperCinecolor, as seen in this feature. The musical aspect of Jack is ably handled by Ray Faiola. A&C expert Ron Palumbo guides us through scenes that were cut from the final release print. For completists there is a terrific 1940 version of “Who’s on First?” that hasn’t been seen before and an excerpt from the Colgate Comedy Hour featuring Lou with the Frankenstein monster (Glenn Strange) and the Creature from the Black Lagoon (Ben Chapman). You certainly get your money’s worth with this release, which is clearly a labor of love.  www.classicflix.com



DOUGLAS FAIRBANKS: DOUBLE TROUBLE AND MR. FIX-IT (Film Preservation Society)

Two exceedingly rare Douglas Fairbanks features make up this Blu-ray release. Double Trouble (1915) was missing in action for most of the past century. This Film Preservation Society copy has been painstakingly cobbled together from various sources and still shows signs of nitrate decomposition in several scenes. Fairbanks aficionados will still be happy to see this early example of the stage actor in transition to a man of the screen. That metamorphosis is completed by the time of Mr. Fix-It (1917), a delightful star vehicle written and directed by Doug’s longtime collaborator Allan Dwan. I saw this restoration several years ago at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, where it met an enthusiastic response. Two examples of early Biograph one-reelers wondrously brought back to life by the FPS complete the program. It’s hard to believe that one is watching films made in 1909 when confronted with the incredible quality of these prints; they look like they were photographed this morning. www.filmpreservationsociety.org



TOO MANY KISSES (Film Preservation Society)

This pleasant 1925 silent-film vehicle for handsome leading man Richard Dix would be forgettable if it weren’t for the brief appearance of one “Harpo” Marx in his screen debut. The romantic comedy takes place in a Basque community where Dix is supposed to be doing mining business for his father. Harpo is billed as “The Village Peter Pan” and plays an impish character with mischief in his eyes. The film was shot at Paramount’s Astoria, New York studio and the Marx brother’s role—what little there is of it—was something of a lark for him and the filmmakers as well. The FPS is presenting it looking splendid with its original color tints and a newly commissioned score by Harpo’s son Bill Marx which is quite good. Bonus features include The House That Shadows Built, a 1931 promotional feature in which the Four Marx Brothers do one of their well-oiled vaudeville routines which was later shoehorned into Monkey Business. As an example of the work the Film Preservation Society is doing restoring D.W. Griffith’s Biograph shorts, an early Mary Pickford one-reeler A Child’s Impulse is also included. You’ve never seen a film from 1910 looking this vivid; in fact, it’s flawless.  www.filmpreservationsociety.org



THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT (Criterion)

Much as I admire filmmaker Frank Tashlin, I’ve never been terribly fond of this film, but I must admit the parts are greater than the whole. Those parts include a memorable pre-credit sequence featuring Tom Ewell, who visually introduces CinemaScope and DeLuxe Color… complete performances by a top-tier roster of rock ‘n’ roll acts including Little Richard, Fats Domino, Gene Vincent, The Platters, and Eddie Cochran (not to mention Julie London, Abbey Lincoln, The Treniers, Barry Gordon, and Ray Anthony and some uniquely Tashlinesque sight gags revolving around the cartoonish anatomy of the movie’s star, Jayne Mansfield. The Criterion bonus features are especially good, including an interview with the picture’s number-one fan, John Waters; a perceptive video essay by David Cairns; an irreverent conversation about the musical acts on display by two savvy djs from radio station WFMU; a vintage local television interview with Jayne Mansfield; a useful rundown of her career by biographer Eve Golden; and a partial reprint of Frank Tashlin’s impossible-to-find booklet How to Create Cartoons. As with Jack and the Beanstalk (see review above) this material outweighs the value of the movie itself and is well worth the cost of the Blu-ray. www.criterion.com

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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