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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Movie Movie (Blu-ray)
Movie Movie (Blu-ray)
Scorpion Releasing // PG // June 28, 2016 // Region A
List Price: $18.48 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted May 9, 2017 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
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Stanley Donen's enjoyable Movie Movie (1978) operates from a clever premise: a contemporary satire of 1930s Hollywood genre clichés, the 106-minute film presented in the form of a classical Hollywood double feature. With most of the cast appearing in both segments, the first half of Movie Movie is a boxing melodrama entitled "Dynamite Hands," while the second half is a Busby Berkeley-style musical, "Baxter's Beauties of 1933." Faux trailers featuring the same actors separate the two "features."

Written by Larry Gelbert and Sheldon Keller, Movie Movie falls short of its full potential but is very amusing throughout, the game cast clearly is having fun, and their obvious enjoyment spreads to and is shared by the picture's audience. It's somewhat odd, meticulously recreating some stylistic aspects of older movies, but doesn't try too hard to recreate the look exactly. Rather, it's more interested in the funny dialogue and the performances, which are excellent.

Scorpion Releasing's Blu-ray has one major flaw unmentioned anywhere on the packaging and of a type I've never encountered before. The "Play Movie" button takes viewers immediately to the first moments of "Dynamite Hands," skipping entirely the opening titles and on-camera introduction by George Burns. The rest of the film, including the end titles, is there, but not Movie Movie's first two-and-a-half minutes. The titles and Burns's intro are included as an extra feature, preceded by a statement that ITC Studios could not/would not provide film elements for the opening minutes, only a standard-def master. It seems highly unlikely original elements of those segments are lost, so what happened? And why does Scorpion tout "a brand new HD master!!!" (three exclamation points) without letting buyers know this master happens to be missing the opening minutes?

Viewers are strongly advised to begin with the opening titles/George Burns intro, then switch over to the feature. The comedian is brief, but helpfully explains what the audience is about to see is an old-fashioned double-feature, like the old days. (Ironically, more time has passed between the release of Movie Movie and today than between the movies spoofed and Movie Movie. We're all getting old.)

In "Dynamite Hands," in black-and-white, Joey Popchik (Harry Hamlin), lives with his poor family in New York City, where Pops (choreographer Michael Kidd) runs a deli. Joey is going to law school, but when his kid sister, Angie (Kathleen Beller), is diagnosed with impending blindness, her only chance for a cure being a $25,000 operation in Vienna, Joey accepts an offer from Gloves Malloy (George C. Scott) to train as a professional boxer. Joey's rise in the ring attracts the attention of gangster Vince Marlow (Eli Wallach) and minutes before the championship bout, Vince orders Joey to take a dive.

After the trailers comes "Baxter's Beauties of 1933." Legendary Broadway producer Spats Baxter (Scott) is diagnosed as terminally ill, with but one month to live (and February, too). Despite this, he's determined to open one last hit show, to provide for the adult daughter he hasn't seen in years. Dick Cummings (Barry Bostwick), a talented young songwriter, and Kitty (Rebecca York), an aspiring dancer, join the show, with chorus veteran Trixie Lane (Barbara Harris) taking her under her wing. Spats's illness and the show's vain, alcoholic star (Trish Van Devere) threaten opening night.

The movie references certain story elements, actors, and character types quite accurately and amusingly. "Dynamite Hands" is basically Kid Galahad (1937), with Scott in Edward G. Robinson's part and Wallach in Humphrey Bogart's. Harry Hamlin, in his screen debut, seems to have been cast partly because of his resemblance to another Warner Bros. star, John Garfield, whose Body and Soul (1947) was a signature role.

"Baxter's Beauties of 1933," in color, is obviously 42nd Street (1932), with York and Bostwick in the Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell parts, and especially Harris expertly capturing the essence of Ginger Rogers. In that musical, the show's director likewise risks his physical health to see his show open, and played by actor Warner Baxter.

In odd little ways though Movie Movie is quite unlike the movies it affectionately spoofs. Michael Kidd, who choreographed Donen's Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) and It's Always Fair Weather (in which Kidd had a supporting part as well, 1955), captures some of Busby Berkeley's dance moves, amusingly even incorporating a Zulu specialty (!), but the musical segments are disappointingly brief and fleeting, except for one good number by Bostwick.

Some of the makeup, hairstyles and costumes capture the look of ‘30s Warner Bros. movies, but Donen seems more interested in the performances and the timing of the funny dialogue, especially in "Dynamite Hands." Joey: "Fighting's for suckers. I'm goin' to night school to be a lawyer. These hands are for readin' books" and "You know what they charge for an eye? An arm and a leg" and "With the woman that you love at your side to stand behind you, a man can move mountains with his bare heart." And, Gloves to Joey: "That ain't fair, kid. Your sister's eyes are below the belt."

The cast is a delight, with Scott, Wallach (in the first segment), Ann Reinking (as a Jean Harlow, bad-girl type), and Barbara Harris standing out particularly. Film buffs will enjoy seeing character veteran Charles Lane in both segments, in the latter playing the type of role he was doing way back in the 1930s.

Video & Audio

A Scorpion Releasing title, the 1.78:1 HD transfer of a 1.85:1 release, Movie Movie generally looks good, though viewers are again reminded to the major segment missing at the beginning as described above. The mono audio (English only) is above average and the disc is region "A" encoded.

Extras

Supplements include good interviews, each quite long and extending to other roles, with actors Kathleen Beller, Harry Hamlin, and Barry Bostwick, with Beller especially enthusiastic and informative about the picture.

Parting Thoughts

Enormous fun, Movie Movie on Blu-ray has that weird, major problem involving the first several minutes but at least viewers can access it, and the picture itself is worth the trouble. Recommended.





Stuart Galbraith IV is the Kyoto-based film historian largely absent from reviewing these days while he restores a 200-year-old Japanese farmhouse.

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