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Busby Berkeley and Discs: A Spectacular Marriage

December 18, 1992|BARBARA SALTZMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Spectacular effects produced by the screen's ultimate dance wizard tumble off MGM/UA's crisp new "Busby Berkeley Disc," available only on the laser format (two discs, $40). For once, the silly stories of the '30s musicals don't get in the way of Berkeley's unforgettable, innovative geometric staging.

Twenty-three chapter stops (including an introduction) key 22 numbers from nine musicals, starting with 1933's "42nd Street" and ending with "Gold Diggers of 1937."

Excerpts from several features--"Wonder Bar," "Gold Diggers of 1937," "In Caliente" and "Fashions of 1934" that are not yet available on any other form of video--make up some of the high-kicking, back-bending highlights.

Classic numbers with Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell abound, among them: "Pettin' in the Park" from "Gold Diggers of 1933" and "I Only Have Eyes for You" from 1934's "Dames." You can catch James Cagney dancing almost a decade before his "Yankee Doodle Dandy" days in 1933's "Footlight Parade."

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday December 19, 1992 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 12 Column 3 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 23 words Type of Material: Correction
Incorrect identification-- Ron Haver is head of the film department at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. He was incorrectly identified in Friday's Calendar.

Busby Berkeley and laser discs are the perfect marriage: There is nothing like freeze-framing to take apart every cut, dissolve, effect and camera angle. The only quibble is that this nearly three-hour set is not on CAV (which would have required more discs and probably made it prohibitive). The difference between a CAV freeze-frame and a digitally artificial CLV freeze-frame is that the CAV freeze-frames are more precise. But what a way to spend an evening, with all those dames, and occasional guys, strewn about in the most unlikely arrangements, showing just what a movie camera and an innovative choreographer could accomplish.

MGM/UA also has produced several noteworthy boxed sets this year that make for imposing holiday gifts: "The Greta Garbo Collection," a four-disc CLV set ($100), offers the legendary star in four classic films--"Flesh and the Devil," "Anna Christie," "Anna Karenina" and "Camille." If that isn't enough Garbo for you, MGM/UA has also dipped into its vaults to offer her with John Gilbert in "A Woman of Affairs" (1 hour, 37 minutes; $35). The disc is part of MGM's "Silent Classics" series. There's also the incomparable "Ninotchka," directed by Ernst Lubitsch, co-starring Melvyn Douglas with a screenplay by Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder and Walter Reisch (1 hour, 48 minutes; $35).

"The Al Jolson Collection" is an MGM/UA seven-disc set ($150) beautifully presented, but unfortunately tainted with embarrassing racial stereotypes of the day that have carried over to the set's cover, which was part of the original marketing campaign. The first "talkie," "The Jazz Singer" (1927) is really more like the first "singee," basically a silent with songs, including "Toot Toot Tootsie" and "Blue Skies." Other Jolson films included are: "The Singing Fool" (1928); "Say It With Songs" (1929); "Mammy" (1930); "Big Boy" (1930); "Wonder Bar" (1934); "Go Into Your Dance" (1935) and "The Singing Kid" (1936).

"The Bette Davis Collection" ($100) brings some of her most well-known roles to disc in crisp transfers: "The Old Maid" (1939); "The Letter" (1940); "In This Our Life" (1942); "Now, Voyager" (1942); "A Stolen Life" 1946.

"The Bogart Collection" ($100) is a four-disc salute that also includes one film with Davis, "The Petrified Forest" (1936). The other three films are vintage Bogart: "High Sierra" (1941), "Across the Pacific" (1942) and "Passage to Marseille" (1944). A separate MGM/UA disc features Bogart and Lauren Bacall "together again" in "Dark Passage" (1947, $35). This is the film in which an escaped convict has plastic surgery and ends up looking like Humphrey Bogart.

If you want "Casablanca" (1942, 1 hour, 43 minutes), the Criterion Collection has the best-looking version on disc; both CLV ($50) and CAV ($100) editions offer a second audio analogue track by Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences film scholar Ron Haver. The CAV edition also provides stills, the original trailer, Hal Wallis' notes on the editing of the film, plus, assorted other memorabilia, including excerpts of the "Lux Radio Theatre" version. MGM/UA also offers a 50th-anniversary two-disc set on CAV for $50 (without any other notable bells or whistles) and on one disc in CLV for $30.

There's also MGM/UA's "Gone With the Wind," which cost about $250,000 to restore to pristine condition and in seven years of release has sold more than 100,000 copies on laser disc (a very healthy number for this format). It's available in a deluxe CAV edition for $100 and on CLV for $50.

And just in time for Christmas is Volume 3 of "The Golden Age of Looney Tunes, 1931-1948" (MGM/UA, five discs, CLV, $100). Many credit the first volume (originally available only on laser, but now on VHS) with enticing a host of consumers to lasers. With cost-per-disc averaging $20, it's a tough bargain to beat.

The latest nine-hour-35-minute package continues what Volumes 1 and 2 started, with more classic cartoons featuring familiar favorites (Bugs Bunny, Porgy Pig and Daffy Duck) and lesser-known cartoon characters such as "The Evolution of Egghead."

There is also a special tribute to Looney Tunes founders Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising. And who says decades-old romps can't be timely? One very funny side features seven cartoons labeled "politically incorrect" as well as more vintage cartoons from Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng, early Avery, Frank Tashlin and Bob Clampett.

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