Warner Bros. is celebrating their 90th anniversary this year with the release of a series of expansive box sets highlighting 50 and 100 of the best/most celebrated films the studio’s ever released, 20 Academy Award-winning Best Pictures, adaptations of Superman on television, and selections of the studio’s output in the genres of romance and the musical. Today, we’ll be looking at the 21-disc DVD set of The Best of Warner Bros. 20 Film Collection: Musicals. The set includes the following 20 pictures, released between 1927 and 1988:
The Jazz Singer (1927)
Broadway Melody (1929)
42nd Street (1933)
The Great Ziegfeld (1936)
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)
An American in Paris (1951)
Show Boat (1951)
Singin’ in the Rain (1959)
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)
A Star Is Born (1954)
The Music Man (1962)
Viva Las Vegas (1964)
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
That’s Entertainment! (1974)
Victor Victoria (1982)
Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
Those extremely familiar with the output of the particular studios will notice right away that not all of these films, although currently owned by Warner Bros., were originally released by the studio. Many were in fact the product of MGM. When compiling a collection of musicals spanning such a vast timeframe, this of course provides a greater breadth of cinema from which to choose, and I, for one, certainly couldn’t hold the decision to do so against the distributor. After all, in doing so, they’ve compiled here a collection of films that will appeal to the broadest audience with a range of films for the cinephile and casual viewer alike. With this in mind, though, the set is, broadly speaking, an admittedly mixed bag collecting many excellent films alongside some more marketable, if far less respectable, pictures, rounded out with a handful of head-scratchers to boot.
But the set does boast some absolutely essential musicals from a historical perspective, including Broadway Melody, 42nd Street, The Wizard of Oz, An American in Paris, Singin’ in the Rain, A Star is Born, Cabaret, and the film that popularized the talking picture, 1927’s The Jazz Singer. One could hardly deny the significance of these pictures, either in light of the musical alone or in the entire scope of cinema history. Also, highly debated though this statement may be (I know some among the FilmMonthly staff, in fact, who outright loathe the picture), I would also put Yankee Doodle Dandy among those listed above, if for James Cagney’s performance and the terrific studio cinematography alone.
The set also includes a host of crowd pleasers, most notably Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, The Music Man, Camelot, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Little Shop of Horrors, Victor Victoria, John Waters’ original Hairspray, and Viva Las Vegas for the obligatory Elvis picture, I guess. Whether or not these particular films belong in a set celebrating 100 years of Warner Bros. musicals is really up to your individual interpretation, I suppose, although the reason for their inclusion is apparent nonetheless. That said, I do, for one, have a great affinity for Willy Wonka and Hairspray alike, and am also admittedly rather fond of Victor Victoria as well.
Viva Las Vegas, however, is a film I would desperately try to avoid, and perfectly bridges the discussion of crowd pleasers to my final division of these pictures, which highlights those that really have no business being here. This is a far slimmer category, though, and a label I have reserved for the superfluous clip movie That’s Entertainment!, the exceedingly-long Great Ziegfeld, and the 1951 Show Boat, which somehow earned a spot in this set over the far more historically significant 1936 version of Show Boat directed by James Whale. Films such as these perplexingly take up spots that might have been otherwise given to such notable omissions as West Side Story, Meet Me in St. Louis, crowd pleaser Guys and Dolls for what it’s worth, and, oh I don’t know, anything at all starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers!
As for the set itself, the packaging is rather sensible with the 21 discs (which includes two discs for A Star is Born) divided between three, 7-disc flip cases, housed in a matching cardboard sleeve. The films are collected therein chronologically. These are not renewed transfers or even re-pressings of old releases to give the discs in the set a uniform presentation. The DVDs in this set are exactly those you would find in previous releases of the films, simply repackaged. As such, it breaks my heart flipping through this set to come across those discs that are marked something like “Disc 1: The Movie,” only to find that the second, special features disc of that particular release was not included. This, in fact, is the case with seven films in the set. Had the discs been relabeled, the omission of supplemental discs would of course go unnoticed, but there it is. Additionally, given that these are the same releases as those previously distributed by Warner Bros., the quality of some of the transfers here is simply not up to par with current standards for home video releases. For instance, Show Boat looks like it could have been transferred from VHS, and the picture quality of Little Shop (which is the theatrical cut, I should add) is highly pixelated. That said, many of the releases here are still the most recent and therefore the highest quality versions available.
So if you own a number of the films included in this set already, be aware that the set would likely not be an upgrade for you lest you owned some truly archaic, outdated releases of the films. However, if you don’t already own the bulk of these and aren’t bothered by the transparent exclusion of the special features that typically accompany seven of the pictures, this set will provide you with a broad array of musicals to appeal to any taste, and a handsome set to add to your collection at that. Check it out on the official site!
(Author’s Note: I would like to thank Jeffrey Jon Smith for his invaluable input on the relative merit of some of the pictures included in this collection.)