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Solid Laughs at the Expense of Tinseltown

September 24, 1993|BARBARA SALTZMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Hollywood's fascination with itself began in its infancy. Fans, always eager for an inside look at the glamour or the backbiting that they were sure took place in the real Hollywood, went to films made about Hollywood hoping to verify the gossip and myths. It didn't matter how silly these films were, as long as they seemed to have plenty of familiar stars and behind-the-scenes looks at what really went on in Tinseltown.

Two of the sillier films in this genre, "Going Hollywood" and "Hollywood Party," are appropriately bunched together in a new MGM/UA double-feature laser disc ($40). They feature glamorous stars, irreverent comics and plenty of music, and they were probably worth the admission to an audience coming out of the Great Depression.

The 1933 "Going Hollywood" shows off a young crooner mesmerizing a nation of females, Bing Crosby, playing--what else?--a radio crooner making movies, chased by no less than Marion Davies as a fun-looking private school teacher. This is Davies before "Citizen Kane's" intense spotlight unfairly ridiculed her. Filled with the fun and spirit that obviously captivated publisher William Randolph Hearst, she's reined in too much by director Raoul Walsh, showing off just a fraction of her charm and devil-may-care attitude.

The musical numbers range from the deservedly popular "Temptation" (given rather short shrift, since it turned out to be one of Crosby's classics) to the unbelievably stupid, half-baked production number that would embarrass even the most eager farm animal, "We'll Make Hay While the Sun Shines." Better is the title song, which has long outlived the movie. "Hollywood Party" (1934) might be thought of as a black-and-white "Carol Burnett Show," throwing in one guest star after another. The story provides an excuse to trot out some of MGM's ditsiest, from Jimmy Durante and his nose to Mickey Mouse, the original Three Stooges with Ted Healy, and Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. Their run-ins with the likes of glamorous Lupe Velez provide the silly stuff.

One of the funniest scenes is Laurel and Hardy getting "Luped" by the Latina siren Velez. It's a classic variation on the old pie-in-the-face routine, this time done with raw eggs.

The best surprise in the midst of the black-and-white high jinks, however, turns out to be the guest appearance of Mickey Mouse. It's not likely that you would see current-day Disney renting out the little rodent for any other studio's house party. Disney also contributes a dazzling color cartoon musical, "Hot Chocolate Soldiers," thrown into the middle of the proceedings. It's a tour de force. The laser offers a real bonus here since that cartoon is snipped from TV showings of the film.

The transfer to laser of both films lives up to MGM/UA's standards. The packaging is attractive, using studio stills, and there are plenty of chapter stops. The three sides of material on the two discs include the original theatrical trailers for each, both watchable curiosities.

Part of another recent MGM/UA double feature, "Abbott and Costello in Hollywood" (1945), paired with the 1941 "The Big Store," $40, finds the vintage comic team in Hollywood as a barber and porter whose real aspirations, to have their own shop, turn them to a life of talent agenting. There are a few behind-the-scenes looks at MGM, with Lucille Ball, Preston Foster, Butch Jenkins, Rags Ragland and director Robert Z. Leonard popping in. It's not vintage Abbott and Costello, but there are enough laughs at the expense of Tinseltown to make it worth your while, and the co-feature throws in sub-par Groucho, Chico and Harpo demolishing a Gotham department store.

For Hollywood paying tribute to itself, however, it's hard to beat the four-disc boxed MGM/UA set "MGM: When the Lion Roars" ($80). Patrick Stewart intones the honors for this love fest, which includes the requisite film clips from the early days, beginning with 1924's "He Who Gets Slapped," right up through "Thelma & Louise." Don't look for this Turner-produced history of the studio, snapped up by Ted Turner for its library, to provide anything more than snippets that dance and sing and cavort. There is a bonus, however, in the handsome 12-page color brochure accompanying the set, which includes posters, stills, sheet music and fan-magazine covers preceding well-delineated chapter stops.

Laserbits

New Movies Just Out: "Fire in the Sky" (Paramount, letterboxed, $35), "Indian Summmer" (Touchstone, $40); "Once Upon a Forest" FoxVideo, $30); "Hear No Evil" (FoxVideo, $40); "National Lampoon's Loaded Weapon I" (Image, $40); "Fire in the Sky" (Paramount, widescreen, $35); the Emmy-winning "Barbarians at the Gate" (HBO, $35).

Coming Soon: Disney's "Beauty and the Beast"--in $30 and $50 editions--is due Thursday. "Sliver," the sexy drama starring Sharon Stone, is due Nov. 10 (Paramount, widescreen, $35). LIVE's special edition of "Terminator 2: Judgment Day," featuring 16 minutes of added footage, comes out Nov. 24, at $50; a $90-collector's package promises such extras as documentary footage.

Old Movies Just Out: "The Ghost Breakers" (Encore, 1940 $35), the Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard comedy; "The Americanization of Emily" (MGM/UA, 1964, letterboxed, $35), with James Garner and Julie Andrews.

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