Immersed in Blu-ray/DVD

Steven Soderbergh’s Side Effects, Eddie Cantor’s Whoopee and Kid Millions, Wilson, and “Forbidden Hollywood Volume 6″ are my picks of the week.

Side Effects (Universal Home Ent.)

It’s been a  great year for Steven Soderbergh with both Side Effects and Behind the Candelabra. He’s in the prime of his career and it’s a shame he wants to walk away in disgust at the state of the industry. He’s been proof that you can meld a ’70s sensibility with today’s more ADD inducing cultural vibe. In fact, the brilliance of Side Effects is that address this schizophrenia and giving us the best of both worlds. It starts off as a slow moving psychological/political drama about the ills of the pharmaceutical industry via the wonder drug for depression, Ablixa, and then shifts gears in exploring the horrifying impact on both patient (Rooney Mara) and psychiatrist (Jude Law). The movie gets under your skin in more ways than one and the art house/commercial hybrid is a thrill.

Whoopee/Kid Millions (Warner Archive)

The eye-rolling, Depression-era song and dance comedian and multimedia sensation, Eddie Cantor, stars in his two greatest gems for Sam Goldwyn: Whoopee (1930) and Kid Millions (1934). The vaudevillian antics prove why he was “the apostle of pep.”  Both look terrific on DVD and show off the glories of early Technicolor.

Whoopee is two-strip Technicolor marvel, adapted from Cantor’s smash Broadway show, in which  Cantor plays a neuroses-laden hypochondriac (a precursor to Woody Allen) who becomes an accidental matchmaker when he offers a ride to a runaway bride way out West.  Includes the hit songs “Makin’ Whoopee” and “My Baby Just Cares for Me” along with the historic debut dance number of choreography Busby Berkeley.

Cantor returns in Kid Millions as a humble Brooklyn boy who finds himself on a collision course with charlatans, connivers, sheiks, and she-devils on the way to inherit a fortune in Egypt. Ann Sothern, Ethel Merman, George Murphy, Paul Harvey, and Edgar Kennedy are along for the ride, which climaxes with an experimental three-strip Technicolor ice cream fantasy (featuring the cast of Our Gang). Among the Goldwyn Girls are Lucille Ball and Paulette Goddard.

Wilson (Fox Cinema Archives)

Speaking of three-strip Technicolor, Fox’s much maligned 1944 biopic about the 28th President is earnest enough but certainly not great drama. However, there’s a certain charm to the Henry King movie, which was a fave of producer Darryl Zanuck’s.  Alexander Knox is sturdy as the independent-minded academic hurled into politics in the early 20th century, trying to be a voice of calm and reason through the First World War. The gulf between theory and practice is a fascinating topic. An acceptable Technicolor representation of the Oscar-winning cinematography.


A pre-Code quartet of adultery, alcoholism, prostitution, and racism. The highlight is Victor Fleming’s The Wet Parade (1932), an intoxicating adaption of Upton Sinclair’s anti-alcoholic polemic. Dorothy Jordan and Robert Young are the central figures in the story of two families ruined by whisky, taking us from the post-bellum South to Great Depression New York. There’s all-star support from Walter Huston and Lewis Stone as alcoholic patriarchs, Neil Hamilton as a Southerner who can swill with the best of them, Myrna Loy as a flapper with a heart of gin, and Jimmy Durante as the Fed with a nose for trouble.

Downstairs (1932) is a curious black comedy conceived and co-written by legendary silent star John Gilbert (trying his best to make it in Talkies) as a philandering, self-loathing chauffeur bent on destroying the upper class household. Virginia Bruce and Paul Lukas co-star as the other sides of the domestic triangle created by Gilbert.

Mandalay (1934) has Russian refugee/courtesan Kay Francis abandoned to a brothel led by leering Warner Oland among the Far East high-lifers. Naturally she seeks revenge on ex-lover Ricardo Cortez for throwing her into slavery. Her final, suggestive close-up proves she had some acting chops.

Massacre (1934) stars Richard Barthelmess as a college-educated Sioux, who takes vengeance on the officials that ruined his family and nation. Ann Dvorak plays the smart girl who stayed behind and helps him look for justice instead of murder. Sidney Toler and Dudley Digges portray the reprehensible undertaker and federal agent who con the locals.

Warner Archive titles are manufactured on demand and can be ordered from the site.

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Blu-ray, Home Entertainment, Music, Tech

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