The Busby Berkeley Collection: Volume 2 (The Extras) Review

This final piece of the Busby Berkeley story is all extras and, as with the previous six-film volume, there's a lot of them.

On Varsity Show: There are two short films included on this disc, beginning with A Neckin' Party (11m02s), which sounds like it might be very rude (and might require scarves to be worn the following morning) but which actually involves the hanging of a ventriloquist's dummy during a party down Mexico way. The second is the animated Have You Got Any Castles (7m25s), which features a cast of literary characters bursting out of their books for a Christmas party in the library. This is preceded by a warning that it may cause offence due to its portrayal of racial stereotypes, which I'm assuming refers both to Fu Manchu and to its cast of black singers and dancers, all of whom are drawn as you might expect. However, doing what Warner Brothers have done is the right thing, including the cartoon in this set but also explaining that it was, "...a product of its time" and that they are not only wrong now but were wrong then. Better that than to pretend such cartoons were never produced. The disc also offers a Theatrical Trailer (2m38s).

On Hollywood Hotel: This disc kicks off with Double Talk (10m36s), a comedy short that tugs at the heart strings from the very beginning with talk of a rich lady arriving at Bergen's Orphanage who might adopt one of the children there. As it happens, there's also a ventriloquist's dummy - the same one by the look of it! - which suggests that this woman might arrive home disappointed when she finds that the wisecracking, if mature-looking child, that she has adopted is as lifeless and as wooden as, well, a dummy. To the sound of Auld Lang Syne, a backdrop of tartan and an invitation to walk the heather with the poet who penned this immortal ballad, the disc continues with The Romance Of Robert Burns (15m46s), a romantic short that gets off to a rocky start by it having been set in a location that is no more Scottish than is Timbuktu. There's some romance and the Technicolor photography looks beautiful but the real pleasure comes from hearing the actors wrestle with Burns' Gaelic. "Ah lef figgitya Robbie!" says a tearful young lass as Burns departs for Edinburgh. Ah lef figgitya either. This is followed by the cartoon Porky's Five & 10 (7m09s) that features, as you might expect given the title, Porky Pig but also tune of Let That Be A Lesson To You. Finally, there is a Theatrical Trailer (4m17s).

On Gold Diggers Of 1937: The Technicolor of Romances Of Louisiana (18m19s) seems out of place on the thoroughly black-and-white films of this set. As is Thomas Jefferson telling Americans that his country is bonded to no other as it is to France. How times have changed. This short film describes the buying of the state of Louisiana from France for the sum of fifteen million dollars. While Napoleon rubs his hands in glee at creating, in America, a naval superpower that will eventually find itself at war with Britain. James Munro leads the negotiations for the purchase of the land and, for that, finds himself branded a traitor. Two cartoons follow, being Plenty Of Money And You (7m14s), in which the birds of the chicken coop find themselves a-flutter at the birth of a curiously large and ugly chick, and Speaking Of The Weather (7m23s), which comes with the same warning over the racism of the times. In this, the problem would seem to be the African characters, dressed as savages in loincloths, who run through the jungles of Nature magazine.

However, the main attraction amongst these extras will be the excerpts from Gold Diggers Of Broadway, produced in two-colour Technicolor before Busby Berkeley arrived at Warner Brothers. Now considered lost, two fragments remain, Tip Toe Through The Tulips (5m33s) and the Gold Diggers Of Broadway Finale (10m11s). Looking worse than the completely restored Berkeley films, it's still obvious that a good deal of care and attention has been spent on these excerpts. There are a lot of scratches on the prints but the picture is reasonably sharp and colours are as bright and as rich as one could expect. The Finale, though, plays out to completion over a black screen through its final minute. The biggest difference is in comparing Gold Diggers Of Broadway to what Berkeley would do with his arrival a few years later. Though still impressive, they are also a world away from the kind of fantastical settings that Berkeley could conjure up, particularly in these taking place on a Broadway stage whereas Berkeley's choreography, though apparently set in a theatre, were anything but. Only the sound stages of Hollywood could accommodate Berkeley's vision, which was very much more grand than is seen here. Finally, there is a Theatrical Trailer (3m54s).

On Gold Diggers In Paris: Phil Silvers stars alongside Josephine Huston in The Candid Kid (20m47s), the short film that opens the extras on this disc. In this, Phil, Josephine and others at the Kandid Kamera club are challenged with having to take pictures of themselves in unusual places. Josephine has to take a photograph of herself sitting in a gondola while Phil must do so while in a padded cell. The problem with this short film is that it's let down by problems with the sound and picture. Little has been done to the latter but not only is there an obvious amount of background hiss but there is a very distracting humming noise which comes and goes throughout, occasionally even drowning out the dialogue. This is followed by two cartoons, Cinderella Meets A Fella (8m25s), in which a Merrie Melodies retelling of the famous fairy story, and Love And Curses (8m23s), in which an old couple sit together on a sofa to remember the gay old days of the gay 90s. All this happiness conceals an adventure in which a moustache-twirling villain attempts to steal away our hero's girl. Finally, there is the Theatrical Trailer (2m28s) for Gold Diggers In Paris.

On the whole, these extras are in good shape. There are some that wear the ravages of time, which I've highlighted in the text above, but they are, on the whole, very reasonable. They are also presented in DD1.0 Mono with the audio tracks similar to the picture, being good but not quite on a par with the main features. Finally, there are no subtitles on the bonus features although the description on the back of each DVD does indicate this.

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