STUDIO: Warner Home Video
MSRP: $19.97 RATED: NR
RUNNING TIME: 109 Minutes
Reuinited: Astaire and Rogers Together Again featurette
Annie Was A Wonder vintage short
Wags to Riches cartoon short
Theatrical trailer

In the midst of yet another summer full of vapid, joyless films with huge special effects and no brain, it’s hard to imagine a time when just putting two actors with great chemistry on screen for 100 minutes was enough to bring in moviegoers.

The pairing of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers was all it took to please many people in the 1930s. There doesn’t really seem to be any counterpart for the two in modern Hollywood. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie? Half their appeal came from the tabloid controversy. Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks? People can only stomach so many identical romantic comedies. Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan? That pairing was tarnished when Jackie Chan was caught cheating on Chris with Owen Wilson. There’s no equal for the dynamic duo of Astaire and Rogers, and the release of several of their films this month will only serve as evidence to that fact.

Oh boy. A Lemony Snicket pancake pan. Just what I’ve always wanted.

The Flick

The Barkleys of Broadway is the oddball picture out of the Astaire/Rogers films and also the most unique. It’s their last film together, and came ten years after The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle. It’s also their only color picture and only non-RKO picture. This combination of all these significant “firsts” and “lasts” gives the film an aura of importance that is deserving of the two actors’ final pairing.

The two leads haven’t lost an ounce of their chemistry even though ten years have passed between films. The plot remains similar to most of their films and only presents a conflict in the most basic definition of the term. In their earlier films, the plot basically boiled down to Astaire chasing after Rogers and wooing her, with the two being married in the end. The Barkleys of Broadway starts with the characters already married, but an argument pulls the two apart.

The Highlander series continues its downward spiral.

Astaire and Rogers play Josh and Dinah Barkley, a successful husband and wife team of musical theater dancers. In between performing their dances for sold out audiences, they attend gala events and parties. At several of these events, Dinah runs into a playwright who thinks Dinah is perfect as the leading lady in his newest play. He convinces her to abandon musical theater and become a dramatic actress. Josh is hardly pleased at this and the two split up, with Josh remaining in musical theater and Dinah moving on to drama. It’s a situation that mirrors the real life pairing of Astaire and Rogers, as Rogers left the world of dance films to take on more dramatic roles and ultimately win an Oscar.

The marital conflict between the two is never that serious and their reuniting is a mere formality. The plot exists only to nudge the characters in the appropriate direction needed to make them dance again. The movie says it best itself – “No more worrying about the plot. We’ll have nothing but fun set to music.” The musical numbers run the gamut from traditional to bizarre. Highlights include a Scottish song and dance in which Rogers rolls her tongue so much I expected her to choke on it, and Astaire in a solo piece where he is accosted by a ruthless gang of shoes.

I would be half tempted to skip directly to the dance numbers in subsequent viewings of the film, as they completely outshine the dramatic portions of the film. It’s not compelling drama, but it sure is a fun film and a fitting end for an exciting pair of actors.

7.5 out of 10

Another packed house for the Stealth/The Island double feature.

The Look

The Barkleys of Broadway is presented in a standard format that preserves the film’s original aspect ratio. Given the film’s age and its early use of Technicolor, it looks great. The absence of grain throughout most of the film is an impressive achievement. A few isolated scratches appear a few times, but they’re more of the exception than the rule.

8.0 out of 10

Payless Shoes are cheap because they contain the souls of the damned.

The Noise

The audio track is presented in Dolby Digital Mono. The track preserves the original audio presentation of the film, but I don’t think wanting a Stereo track for a film in which the music is so vital is expecting too much. For what it is, the mono track is great and maintains an even audio level throughout the feature with no hiss or pops.

6.0 out of 10

Hellooooo, nurse.

The Goodies

The only special feature based on the movie itself is a short featurette about Astair and Rogers in general. Since none of the big names involved with the film are with us today, film critics and theater professionals talk about how the film came together and the charisma of its two stars. There are a few nuggets of information in here, such as the fact that the film was originally conceived as an Astaire/Judy Garland feature until she fell ill. Most of the feature is just constant praise for the stars though.

Apparently the WB reasoned that since the film is old, they might as well toss in some old shorts to let the DVD audience replicate the 40’s cinema experience. The live action short, Annie Was A Wonder, is the story of a Swiss immigrant who comes to America. She is given a job as a maid for an American family. If she does well she can send for her things and begin a new life there. If she fails, she is sent packing back overseas. She makes the fatal mistake of actually having fun and playing with the kids, so the man of the house is ready to ship her out. Luckily for her, her cooking is so good that he reconsiders. What an inspiring tale of ‘40s era immigration policies…I guess.

Tonight on a very special Leave it to Beaver – The Beav gazes into the mouth of madness.

The other short is a classic cartoon featuring Droopy the dog. Droopy’s master dies and leaves his entire estate to the dog. The late master’s other dog, Spike, is upset over this. The will states that if Droopy somehow dies, Spike will receive the estate. Naturally, Spike tries to murder Droopy in various ways and continually fails. I have to admire the sheer brutality of this short, in which Spike is routinely decapitated and blown apart. Somehow I doubt the Parent’s Television Council would approve of this type of stuff in today’s age. I’m sure Astaire and Rogers fans would appreciate some more special features that actually focused on the starring duo, but at least WB compensated for the absence of these features with some neat shorts that probably wouldn’t see a DVD release otherwise.

5.0 out of 10

Droopy had crossed the family for the last time. It was time to pay the piper.

The Artwork

The DVD artwork is a reproduction of the film’s original theatrical poster, with the conveniently placed Coca-Cola sign intact. There’s no question who the stars of the show are, but if you’re particularly dense then the giant star billing and pictures of Astaire and Rogers dominate the art to let you know. The WB couldn’t resist shilling the film’s soundtrack of the front cover, but they picked a small area with no artwork in it to place an ad bubble. It’s ugly but unobtrusive.

7.0 out of 10

Overall: 7.0 out of 10