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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » TCM Greatest Classic Legends Film Collection: Debbie Reynolds
TCM Greatest Classic Legends Film Collection: Debbie Reynolds
Warner Bros. // Unrated // April 7, 2015
List Price: $27.92 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Tyler Foster | posted June 27, 2015 | E-mail the Author
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In addition to the normal convenience of getting several films in a more compact package, one of the things that's nice about Warner Bros.' multi-feature sets is that some of them include films that were otherwise out of print. One of the newest entries in TCM's Greatest Classic Legends collections is a set of four Debbie Reynolds films: Singin' in the Rain, How the West Was Won, and The Unsinkable Molly Brown and The Singing Nun, the latter two of which have been unavailable for individual purchase for some time, aside from DVD-R editions via Warner Archive. Since most readers will almost certainly be familiar with either Singin' in the Rain (arguably the greatest musical of all time and an utter delight), How the West Was Won (a genuine epic that not only required three directors and features 24 big-time movie stars, but initially played in the Smilebox format, requiring three projectors to put it on the screen), let's focus instead on the two other films in the collection.

The Singing Nun is a fictionalized version of the story of Jeanne Deckers, a nun who loved to play the guitar and ultimately recorded a hit single, "Dominique." Reynolds plays the movie version, Sister Ann, a young woman who is struggling a bit with how to properly express her faith in a way that helps others. She's just arrived at a small convent near Brussels, and her most potent connection is with a young troublemaker named Dominic, who kicks her during soccer and bonds with her during the subsequent scolding. She wants to help Dominic, who is being raised by his older sister Nicole (Katharine Ross), but Nicole rejects her offers after Sister Ann inadvertently snoops through her house and gets her into trouble. Meanwhile, Father Clementi (Ricardo Montalban) insists that she record some of her folksy gospel songs, and her struggles with Dominic are exacerbated by her rising fame.

Nun is a decent movie, but it has a tendency to have the same problem as Sister Ann faces. The film seems slightly concerned that audiences don't want to watch a film about nuns, so it consistently falls back on Reynolds' natural charisma in cracking some good-natured humor or her magnetic voice when she finally starts to sing. This happens so frequently the movie never seems clear on what it's trying to say about Sister Ann's struggle. Her confrontation with Nicole is over some racy photos she's taken to help feed the family, and later she scolds a woman for considering an abortion. Interestingly, the film doesn't actually seem to view these as moral transgressions (possibly what one would expect from a 1960s film about religion), but brings it back around to the way Sister Ann is delivering her faith. Her close friend, Sister Mary (Juanita Moore) gives her advice that still seems relevant today: "Even though you believe there is a war between right and wrong, do not enjoy the battle too much." It's a shame the movie doesn't have more time to actually get into how Ann is wrestling with this, or how she resolves it; the ending seems kind of like a cop-out on her part. Still, Reynolds is radiant and the supporting cast, especially Montalban as the slightly silver-tongued Father, make it a pleasant experience all the same.

Although The Unsinkable Molly Brown does not come up nearly as much as Rain or West, Reynolds earned an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of the title character, another fictionalized version of a living person (who memorably survived the sinking of the Titanic). Brown is a rowdy and free-spirited young woman who lives in the mountains but dreams of marrying a wealthy man and living in a fancy house. After a brief stint singing in a saloon, she finds the man to marry in Johnny Brown (Harve Presnell), a goofy miner who doesn't have much but loves her just the same, then discovers the wealth after the fact when they stumble on the biggest gold strike in history. The Browns move to Denver, where they get the fancy mansion, but their refined, socialite neighbors aren't particularly thrilled to have a couple of country bumpkins as their neighbors.

There's no question that Reynolds gives a worthy performance in the movie. This batch of four is particularly good at highlighting Reynolds' range, and this is her biggest, boldest, and most boisterous character, pushing Reynolds into straight-up slapstick at its wackiest moments (at the end of the first musical number, she actually gets hit in the face with a tomato, which sets a certain cartoonish tone). Actually, she might even be too boisterous: despite her efforts, the first half of the movie seems more exhausting than lighthearted, breaking a flop sweat trying to emphasize the goofy likability of the Browns as opposed to their stuck-up neighbors. As Brown works on her cultured side, hoping to fit in among the Denver elite, and then the upper class of Europe, Reynolds and the movie pull it back a little, but the even with a slightly more controlled movie never quite convinces as a rollicking good time. It's also too long, with most sequences (both enjoyable and underwhelming) outstaying their welcome by a couple of minutes (the one sequence that could stand to be longer is the sinking of the Titanic, which is kind of hilariously brief). It's far from a bad movie, but it lacks a certain spark. On the other hand, it's the weakest film in the set -- not a bad batting average at all.

As with all of TCM's Greatest Classics Legends sets, the artwork follows a standardized template: four boxes on the cover with a simplified version of each DVD cover, a banner at the top identifying this set's star as Reynolds, and a list of bonus features and billing blocks for each on the back. The entire package comes in a gold-foil slipcover, with a synopsis for each film on the slipcover instead of the extras and billing blocks, and there is no insert inside the case. When Warner first started making these multi-feature sets, they would create new double-sided discs, but at some point they switched to the original discs and stack hubs. This one has a special hub that holds the set's five discs (two for How the West Was Won), but is still a single-width case.

The Video and Audio
Three of the DVDs in this set, which are identical to the editions initially released, came out as DVD was only gaining steam, back in the early 2000s. None of the transfers or soundtracks presented here are bad, but a fresh run at them would probably reveal slightly more colorful, vivid, and immersive images. Singin' in the Rain is the one newer disc, and it has that little edge, an extra pop to the picture and sound. All are presented in their original aspect ratios, with Dolby Digital 5.1 on Rain and Brown, 2.0 on How the West Was Won, and mono on The Singing Nun. English, Spanish, and French subtitles are included for Singin' in the Rain and How the West Was Won, while Brown and Nun only offer English and French (despite the lack of subtitles mentioned for Brown on the packaging).

The Extras
Supplements are the same as stand-alone editions for the movies, as far as the content on the movie discs. They include a 2002 commentary and 2012 featurette for Singin' in the Rain, a featurette on How the West Was Won and The Unsinkable Molly Brown, and trailers for all four films. The packaging also misidentifies the supplement for How the West Was Won as a making-of featurette, which was included on the older MGM edition. The included version is the first two discs of Warner's more recent restoration, with a commentary by film historians as the bonus; the third disc of that set was a documentary about Cinerama not specific to How the West Was Won.

Those who weren't able to pick up Molly Brown or The Singing Nun (and don't already own either Singin' in the Rain or How the West Was Won will likely appreciate the chance to grab them together, at a low price point. Overall, the set is a good portrait of what made Reynolds a star -- it's a strong collection of films with, at the bare minimum, two undisputed classics. Recommended.

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