It's all a matter of quantity vs. quality. Over the course of its four decades as part of the entertainment experience for audiences, home video has often turned on numbers instead of nuance. After all, filmmakers cranking out product during the '30s, '40s, and '50s couldn't have imagined that, a few decades later, their efforts would turn into endlessly repeatable cassettes loaded with magnetic tape. Even worse, the studios sold their rights away early on, believing (rightfully so) that there was no current need, outside of the Late Late Show on local TV, to protect their copyright. Thus we have the Hollywood Comedy Legends - 50 Movie Pack, an overstuffed sampling of sometimes subpar fare that finds its purpose in giving the cautious consumer as much bang for the minor buck as possible. While better than some other bulging compilations (especially ones revolving around someone's idea of "horror"), you still have to weed through the waste to find the gems - and said solid stones are few and far between.
As usual, it's time for the disc by disc, film by film narrative breakdown, beginning with:
Angel on My Shoulder (1946) - Paul Muni is a gangster, recently arrived in Hell, who makes a deal with the satanic "Nick" to go back to Earth and inhabit the body of a stern judge.
Beat the Devil (1953) - conmen head to Africa to buy some uranium rich land, only to catch up with an equally suspicious British couple (including Humphrey Bogart) off to do the same.
Catch Me a Spy (1971) - Kirk Douglas and Trevor Howard start in an international espionage spoof in which a bride falls for the secret agent she is using to free her new husband from the Polish police.
That Uncertain Feeling (1941) - a discontent wife heads to the psychiatrist when her case of persistent hiccups won't end. The doc's answer? Leave her weakling husband.
Broadway Limited (1941) - a publicity stunt goes horribly wrong when a starlet, train-bound to Manhattan, is accused of kidnapping, not adopting, a small child.
Eternally Yours (1939) - Loretta Young falls for a magician, leaving her fiancÚ to wonder what happened. Years pass, and feeling forgotten, our heroine pulls her own "disappearing" act.
Rescue from Gillgan's Island (1978) - a tepid TV movie which sees everyone's favorite castaways finally make it back to civilization, only to have our hero run into the Russian mob.
Texas, Brooklyn and Heaven (1948) - a cowboy hoping to become a playwright runs into a simple country gal hoping to make it as an actress in the Big Apple.
Earthworm Tractors (1936) - a salesman tries to sell a disinterested lumberjack on the latest farming equipment, while the axe man's daughter discovers love.
Lovers and Liars (1979) - Goldie Hawn and Giancarlo Giannini become lovers in Italy.
Ginger in the Morning (1973) - Sissy Spacek is the title character, a sweet hitchhiker that comes between a traveling salesman and his old army buddy.
Love Laughs at Andy Hardy (1947) - Everyone's favorite recurring Mickey Rooney role returns from WWII preparing for college. There, he falls for a coed who breaks his heart.
Something Special (1986) - after being bugged about being a tomboy, a young girl takes a magic potion - with unexpected results.
The Nasty Rabbit (1963) - Arch Hall Jr. stars as rock and roll star sent undercover to stop a Russian plot involving a deadly plague and the title rodent.
The Fat Spy (1965) - nightclub comedian Jack E. Leonard is identical twins Irving and Herman. They both end up on a Florida island purporting to contain the mythic Fountain of Youth.
There Goes the Bride (1979) - a crazy advertising executive becomes psychotically obsessed with a cardboard cut-out of a lingerie model.
The Steagle (1971) - Richard Benjamin is a college professor during the Cuban Missile Crisis who decides to quit his job and take a hedonistic road trip across America.
The Seniors (1976) - a group of male university seniors decide to avoid the responsibilities of the real world and apply for a grant. The purpose? To open a clinic for "sexually active" women.
Three Broadway Girls (1932) - hoping to attract wealthy husbands, a trio of former showgirls decide to "play rich" in order to find Mr. Right.
Second Chorus (1940) - desperate to join the famed Artie Shaw Orchestra, Danny and Hank have been competitive bandmates since college. Naturally, a woman comes between them.
The Over the Hill Gang (1969) - when one of their daughters has a run in with the local law, four former Texas Rangers come out of retirement to set things right.
It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time (1976) - a down on his luck playwright continues a weekly tryst with his ex-wife, causing problems for all who associate with her.
Happy Go Lovely (1951) - David Niven is a millionaire who is mistakenly paired with a helpless hitchhiker by a scoop hungry media. Troubles increase when the two actually fall in love.
Take Your Best Shot (1982) - a down on his luck actor hopes a change of career will solve his personal and professional problems.
Swing High, Swing Low (1937) - a famed band leader lets his ego and his love of alcohol ruin both his personal and professional prospects.
Passport to Pimlico (1949) - it's WWII and an accidentally exploded bomb in a remote section of London reveals a cavern filled with treasures. This leads to the little burg trying to start their own country.
Wackiest Wagon Train In the West (1976) - a courageous wagon master and his bumbling assistant must drive some pioneers across precarious territories.
The Great Rupert (1950) - a squirrel helps a down on their luck family find some holiday cheer with the help of some money hidden in the rafters.
Fit for a King (1937) - while on assignment for his uncle's newspaper, a cub reporter falls for a princess, and uncovers an assassination plot.
Made for Each Other (1939) - James Stewart and Carole Lombard are newlyweds who must overcome the disapproval of their friends and family in order to make their marriage work.
Oh Alfie - (1975) - our hero is a roaming Casanova, using his career as a truck driver to travel around and meet women. A budding relationship makes him face his fractured past, however.
Antonio (1973) - a poor South American potter is given the keys to a car by a wealthy businessman hoping to avoid divorce court. Hispanic hijinx ensue.
The Over the Hill Gang Rides Again (1970) - when they find out when of their own is a drunk, our retired Texas Rangers rally around the fallen comrade, helping him sober up and clean up his felonious small town.
The Sins of Harold Diddlebock (1947) - Harold Lloyd is the former college hero, now aged and bitter, who goes on a drunken bender with decidedly slapstick results.
His Girl Friday (1940) - Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant are a divorced couple working together on a big city paper. Tensions are tested when she is given the scoop of interviewing a convicted death row murderer.
Pot O' Gold (1941) - a failed businessman returns to his uncle's factory, where he finds his family feuding with the musical neighbors next door.
Something to Sing About (1936) - James Cagney is a big band leader turned Hollywood sensation whose down to earth attitude is viewed as arrogant by sheepish studio bosses.
My Man Godfrey (1946) - a ditzy rich girl brings a hobo home and makes him the family's new butler.
The Smallest Show on Earth (1957) - a young couple inherits a local movie house. When they arrive to shut it down and sell it, they find an endearing group of eccentric employees.
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1972) - a musical adaptation of the Lewis Carroll favorite, featuring Dudley Moore, Peter Sellers, and Michael Crawford.
Private Snuffy Smith (1942) - everyone's favorite comic strip hillbilly joins the Army for the free room and board. Running from the revenuers, he returns to his Ozark digs.
Misbehaving Husbands (1940) - mistaken identity leads to a marital crisis for a department store owner. It was mannequin that caused the misunderstanding, however.
Spooks Run Wild (1941) - it's time for the jargon-filled hijinx of the East End Kids, as they come face to face with the creepy owner of a spooky old mansion, played by Bela Lugosi.
Wake Me When the War Is Over (1969) - Ken Berry is a US airman trapped behind German enemy lines during WWII. Eva Gabor is the lovely Baroness that hides, and then falls for, him.
The Hoosier Schoolboy (1937) - hoping to help a troubled kid go straight, a compassionate schoolteacher tries to get the boy's alcoholic father to sober up.
Ghosts on the Loose (1943) - the East End Kids are back, this time running into a secret enclave of Nazis, led by none other than Bela Lugosi.
Hillbilly Blitzkrieg (1942) - more Snuffy Smith silliness as the grubby son of the soil as the reserved redneck tries to keep Hitler from hijacking the Army's secret rocket plans.
The Amazing Adventure (1937) - Cary Grant inherits a great deal of money, but feels guilty for doing so. So he bets a friend he can find a legitimate job within a year.
Alice in Wonderland in Paris (1966) - an animated tale which takes the fictional little girl and turns her into an actual celebrity, a visit to the famed City of Lights leading to run-ins with other famous literary characters.
The Town Went Wild (1944) - an engaged couple's wedding plans are thrown into a tizzy when their feuding families learn that the boy and girl might actually be brother and sister.
Again, it's almost impossible to do a basic overview. Fifty films require fifty mini reviews. One does have to note that, like all comedy, time does many of these titles no favors. What was hilarious during the Great Depression or WWII just doesn't fly in the Facebook age. Still, let's see what the collection has in store, starting with:
Angel on My Shoulder (***) - a nice bit of noir escapism made even more enjoyable thanks to the performances of Paul Muni and the incomparable Claude Rains.
Beat the Devil (**1/2) - a talky treat that features the always fun pairing of Bogart and pal Peter Lorre. The direction by John Huston is equally adept.
Catch Me a Spy (*) - stupid and slowly paced.
That Uncertain Feeling (**1/2) - the famed Ernst Lubitsch crafts a deft comedy of manners where the hoi polloi are viewed as more goofy than guffaw-inducing.
Broadway Limited (*1/2) - a relatively bland misfire which gives the screwball genre a locomotive smoked black eye.
Eternally Yours (**) - love conquers all in this often meandering missive on marriage.
Rescue from Gillgan's Island (*1/2) - everyone's beloved castaways...deserve a Helluva lot better. Silly and stupid.
Texas, Brooklyn and Heaven (1/2) - William Castle needed to stick with horror. This halfbaked fish out of water work is just awful.
Earthworm Tractors (**1/2) - while dated (this clearly worked better during the Depression) the performances eventually win us over.
Lovers and Liars (*1/2) - while it's nice to see Hawn and Giannini together, they generate little chemistry and even fewer laughs.
Ginger in the Morning (**) - a decent enough effort thrown off completely by the arrival of the old army buddy character, who just can't keep his irritating mouth shut.
Love Laughs at Andy Hardy (*1/2) - while Rooney is always a pimp as the harried adolescent, this is not one of the better outings in the usually entertaining series.
Something Special (*) - also known as Willy/Milly, and once you see this turd, you'll understand the necessary name change.
The Nasty Rabbit (***) - as bad as you can imagine a movie featuring everyone's favorite Cabbage Patch Elvis, but in a grand, guilty pleasure kind of crappiness.
The Fat Spy (**) - Leonard is a lot to take, and not just physically. His abusive ethnic shtick does little to enliven this otherwise listless beach movie. Even Jayne Mansfield's "talents" can't salvage it.
There Goes the Bride (ZERO) - Tommy Smothers and Twiggy should be ashamed.
The Steagle (**1/2) - a weird little relic of the early '70s which seems content to completely confuse and bamboozle the audience. Some scenes have to be witnessed to be believed.
The Seniors (***) - a tawdry T&A fest featuring an early appearance by a totally hopped up Dennis Quaid. While not the best sex comedy, definitely not the worst.
Three Broadway Girls (*1/2) - How to Marry a Millionaire is substantially better.
Second Chorus (**) - second tier Fred Astaire is just that - a lot less fun than during his wondrous RKO days.
The Over the Hill Gang (**1/2 ) - a lot of fun for the considered character actors involved, as well as a brief moment with the memorable Gypsy Rose Lee.
It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time (*) - Huh? Not even a minor turn by John Candy can save this stinker.
Happy Go Lovely (**1/2) - those used to the Hollywood musicals of the era will find something fresh, if not necessarily winning, about this unique UK songfest.
Take Your Best Shot (*1/2) - a tepid TV movie made mildly tolerable by a winning turn from former Vegas star Robert Urich.
Swing High, Swing Low (**) - about the only thing of interest is the cast (Carole Lombard, Fred MacMurray) and the Panama Canal locations.
Passport to Pimlico (***) - quite funny and charming, thanks in part to the British comic sensibility on display.
Wackiest Wagon Train In the West (*) - as Bob Denver's post-Gilligan TV sitcom comeback, Dusty's Trail was terrible. Four episodes strung together as a TV movie? Even worse.
The Great Rupert (*1/2) - George Pal's stop motion work is interesting. The rest of this rancid holiday movie is mindboggling dull.
Fit for a King (**1/2) - an intriguing anomaly, dated but still tolerable in an old school farce kind of way.
Made for Each Other (**) - proving that RomComs were hit and miss, even back seven decades ago.
Oh Alfie (*) - a sequel to the seminal '60s sex comedy without Michael Caine? PASS!
Antonio (*1/2) - a Trini Lopez novelty that is mired in ethnic stereotyping and Larry Hagman overacting.
The Over the Hill Gang Rides Again (**) - the old men as Western heroes doesn't quite work as well this second time around.
The Sin of Harold Diddlebock (**1/2) - while not up to the level of his classic silent work, Lloyd lifts this material, with the help of prominent director Preston Struges.
His Girl Friday (***1/2) - an absolute screwball classic. Love the rapid fire dialogue and delivery.
Pot O' Gold (**) - Jimmy Stewart saves this otherwise sappy musical romp.
Something to Sing About (**1/2) - Cagney dances his ass off. The rest of the movie just can't keep up.
My Man Godfrey (***1/2) - another old school comedy classic.
The Smallest Show on Earth (***) - a surprisingly heartfelt little film, with one of Peter Sellers' solid, eccentric character turns.
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (***1/2) - an amazingly odd interpretation of the Carroll classic, with fascinating work by the lauded British cast.
Private Snuffy Smith (*1/2) - cornpone comedy from 60 years ago that's about as funny as the rape scene from Deliverance.
Misbehaving Husbands (*) - a total snooze fest.
Spooks Run Wild (**1/2) - you'e gots to love dem irascible East Side kids, especially when they jack that haughty horror warhouse Lugosi.
Wake Me When the War Is Over (**1/2) - worth it for the supporting cast - Werner Klemperer, Hans Conried, Jim Backus - alone.
Hoosier Schoolboy (*) - not quite sure what's funny about this otherwise dated handwringing melodrama.
Ghosts on the Loose (*1/2) - not as good as the first time Lugosi met the soon to be aging Bowery Boys.
Hillbilly Blitzkrieg (*) - more snooze inducing Snuffy Smith. He remains a much better comic strip than big screen comedy character.
The Amazing Adventure (**) - it's got a very young, and very affable, Cary Grant. Nothing else.
Alice in Wonderland in Paris (**) - Carroll gets pushed aside for a middling meta experience which focuses, instead on some fabled French short stories. Boring.
The Town Went Wild (*) - they definitely didn't save the best for last. Painful.
How do you grade 50 films, almost all lifted from the bowels of public domain properties, and presented in various stages of age/disrepair/color stocks/aspect ratios. Because of the dates on most of these movies, you are looking at 1.33:1 full screen for most. A few from the '80s entries slip into letterbox, through the anamorphic aspect is questionable at best. Overall, the quality is barely tolerable. Many of these titles are faded, lacking clarity and contrasts that we expect from most DVD packages. This is really nothing more than a hodgepodge - of styles, of comic sensibilities, and of Nth generation transfers.
Same goes for the aural aspects of this release. Older films are thin and tinny, the Dolby Digital Mono highlighting the limited technological abilities of several decades ago. Oddly enough, things are much better for the '70s and '80s offerings.
Hey - you're getting 50 movies for the price of an Applebee's riblet platter. Be happy with that, won't you? In other words, no added content here.
Like a massive box of candy filled with one too many cherry cordials (YEECH!) this half century of hit and miss entertainments contains a few solid entries, a dozen or so tolerable treats, and a lot of flaccid filler. Still, the balance behooves a Recommended rating, if only on the size over substance argument. Since comedy is a personal, period specific thing, there are many who might find the proposed laughers from 70 and 80 years ago a ribtickling delight. And remember, there are really good films buried within, including classics like His Girl Friday, My Man Godfrey, and the UK take on Alice in Wonderland. If you can ignore the terrible tech specs and often absent amusement value, you'll definitely get your money's worth.