Every so often, we need a really good laugh. And a funny movie is a great way to do that. There are more than a few comedies out there, and in a genre that’s changed quite a bit over time, it’s always nice to revisit the standards that have helped to ground those around them and made a positive impression. This in mind, Warner Bros. is releasing another 20 film collection, this time with its comedy classics in focus.
20 films span 20 standard definition DVDs in this set, reaching from the mid-1930s to 2009. I recognized most of the titles at face value and had seen quite a few of them at some point or another, but in a comprehensive package like this, they’re even more enticing as ways to balance, compliment and off-set each other. At the end of the day, we’ll each have our favorites, but this doesn’t mean we can’t diversify just a bit.
The comedy genre doesn’t always have the best reputation. I know many friends who think going to see a comedy is like checking-out for 2 hours, with laughter being the only real thing interrupting that process. Comedies have to behave within the same rules other genres do, of course. They must establish characters, identify a problem or issue, address it and entertain the audience. Their themes and messages can run deep, while providing both commentary and chuckles in the process. I suppose my recommendation is that we don’t underestimate these titles just because we enter with the idea that we should or will cackle with laughter. There’s often a bit more below the surface.
I’ll provide a brief over view of the 20 films provided in the “Best of Warner Bros. 20 Film Collection: Comedy” set in chronological order (seems logical, right?)
“A Night at the Opera” – from 1935, this Marx Brothers classic is believed by many to be their best film of all, and also gets a spot on those lists that pop up periodically ranking the best comedies ever made. It’s up to our favorite trio to save the opera, fool City Hall, pass as stowaways, fight for two young up and coming opera hopefuls and dig into a few hard boiled eggs. The Marx Brothers are in rare form, and they’re a fitting start to this set.
“Stage Door” – this 1937 classic features Ginger Rogers and Ann Miller tap and rat-a-tating lines, Lucielle Ball braving an obnoxious date, Eve Arden unsuccessfully recalling Hamlet and Katharine Hepburn becoming Broadway’s biggest star in this fast, witty story of aspiring actresses living in a theatrical boarding house. “Stage Door” suggests that some things might be more important than the stage, even to an acting hopeful. This is a superb collection of some of the finest actresses from a golden era of film.
“Bringing Up Baby” – the unmistakable Cary Grant stars in this 1938 film as a paleontologist wanting an intercoastal clavicle to complete a Brontosaurus skeleton. Instead, a scatterbrained heiress (Katharine Hepburn) who is crazy about him tags along for the hunt, along with a dog, a leopard, a matron and a sauced caretaker. The group has just about everything go wrong that could, and “Bringing Up Baby” is a fun adventure that charms as it unravels. Grant is excellent, and while not at his best, he’s able to demonstrate his full range as an actor.
“The Philadelphia Story” – from 1940, this sophisticated romantic comedy found a place on the American Film Institute’s top 100 films list not too long ago. Big names James Stewart, Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant take center stage as the story of a blushing bride to be has her plans complicated when her former husband and a journalist show up and want a piece of the action. Winning two Oscars for Best Actor (Stewart) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Donald Ogden Stewart), “The Philadelphia Story” is often named a classic by its fans and critics alike.
“Arsenic and Old Lace” – from 1944, Frank Capra directs this funny adventure of mishaps and misperceptions. Based on Joseph Kesselring’s Broadway hit, “Arsenic and Old Lace” follows frazzled drama critic Mortimer Brewster (Carey Grant) who is dealt a less than great hand: two aunts going after old geezers, a sociopathic brother, a second brother who believes he’s Teddy Roosevelt and an impatient new bride. Hold on for a laughter adventure unlike most you know and have previously experienced.
“The Long, Long Trailer” – this 1954 laugh-a-thon features Lucielle Ball and Desi Arnaz driving around happily in a 40-foot trailer. Inventive sight gags and physical humor abound, as they did in “I Love Lucy,” which was at its height when the pair stepped away to film “The Long, Long Trailer.” It’s a bit less polished than some of the earlier titles in this set, but it doesn’t skimp on the laughs one bit.
“The Great Race” – from 1965, “The Great Race” stars recognizable actors Jack Lemmon, Natalie Wood and Tony Curits as colorful characters en route to Paris from New York City. As everyone makes their way across 20,000 miles of land, sea and air, both sabotage and slapstick enter “The Great Race” on more than one occasion, culminating in a really awesome pie fight that you basically have to see to believe. Cars, laughs and no sympathy dominate this lesser known but mightily entertaining motion picture.
“Blazing Saddles” – from 1974, this classic Mel Brooks classic Western mocking film takes audiences back to the mid-1870s with Cleavon Little playing the Sheriff and Gene Wilder playing his trusty deputy sidekick gunslinger. Brooks himself is the Governor, who can’t differentiate between left from right and gets pushed into more than a few corners he enjoys rather than gets stuck in. “Blazing Saddles” keeps nothing sacred, and from the famous lines (such as, “Where the white women at?”) to the excessive farting around the fire, it’s an over the top humor fest.
“The In-Laws” – from 1979, Alan Arkin and Peter Falk star as a Manhattan dentist overwhelmed by his daughter’s upcoming marriage and the groom’s CIA (maybe) father out for nothing but the whole truth. Their on-screen antics are nothing short of awkwardly dynamic, and when combined with direction from Arthur Hiller and an Andrew Bergman script, you’ve got a rocket in your pocket.
“Caddyshack” – the 1980 classic about a greens keeper battling a resilient gopher, a pompous judge who golfs so he can mock those around him and a former playboy still trying to make it takes off when these stories collide. Centering on a young man’s coming of age, “Caddyshack” also features the unmistakable Rodney Dangerfield in a terrifically recognizable part that he fits flawlessly. It’s haphazard, slapstick and downright fun to watch a version of “Animal House” invade a country club.
“National Lampoon’s Vacation” – recently released on Blu-ray disc for its 30th anniversary, the one that started it all stars Chevy Chase on a quest for fun as he drives his wife and two unsuspecting children across the United States so they can make it to Walley World for the picture perfect summer vacation. Persistence does pay off for the Griswold family, but not before some serious mishaps along the way. We’ve all been there at least once, haven’t we?
“Risky Business” – from 1983, a young Tom Cruise takes center stage as an industrious 17-year old boy bound for college who crosses paths with the wrong crowd and has his once picturesque life come spiraling downward at a rapid pace. Rebecca De Mornay co-stars as a call girl caught in the middle of what becomes a series of big problems building on themselves to crash and burn when mommy and daddy return from vacation.
“The Goonies” – this 1985 title comes from none other than Steven Spielberg himself. A small team of friends decides to pursue a mysterious treasure map into a spectacular underground realm of twisting passages, outrageous booby traps and a pirate ship full of golden doubloons. A few stumbling, fumbling, bumbling bad guys round out the adventure. Shot on location in Astoria, OR, I’ve been to the house the kids inhabit, and while it’s special, it’s not nearly as fun as the quest they pursued.
“Spies Like Us” – a 1985 title starring Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd as double agents without a sneaking suspicion of their assignment. The first film this talented pair made tougher, each is out of his league thanks to some pretty hefty cheating on a civil-service exam that crowns them as globetrotting undercover operatives. They laugh, they cry and they somehow manage to make themselves realistically close to being good at their assignment (once they learn just what the heck it is, of course).
“Beetlejuice” – from 1988, this is Tim Burton’s early masterpiece featuring Michael Keaton in the lead role. He’s hired by Geena Davis and Alec Bladwin to tame some trendy New Yorkers who invade their New England home. Riddled with some dark comedy and a few rather unsettling and disgusting moments, “Beetlejuice” is funny because it’s starkly different, and Burton as the man in the director’s chair is the reason why. Winona Ryder, Catherine O’Hara, Jeffrey Jones and Sylvia Sidney share excellent performances along the way.
“Grumpy Old Men” – this 1993 title features Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau playing Minnesota neighbors who have a long-running feud that turns into an all-out rivalry when a new attractive widow (Ann-Margaret) moves into the house across the street. The stars of “The Odd Couple” pair up again to push one another’s buttons in pursuit of the latest pretty lady to catch their eye. In the end, it’s a friendly romp that plays out with laughs from a sharp script written by Mark Steven Johnson.
“Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” – among the more memorable films from 1994, this title features Jim Carrey in perhaps his most memorable role. Hired to find the Miami Dolphins’ missing mascot and quarterback Dan Marino, he goes eyeball to eyeball with a man-eating shark, stakes out the team and woos the ladies before saving the day. It’s vintage Carrey in an example of what it means when an actor seizes a role and makes it his own, taking no prisoners in the process.
“Analyze This” – Billy Crystal and Robert De Niro go back and forth as a mobster and a psychiatrist in a pretty laughable mob comedy that portrays both slightly out of their elements. De Niro has become insecure in his old age, and doesn’t necessarily think guns and cement are the answer anymore. Crystal’s the shrink who gets hired to calm his patient’s nerves, but struggles with overcoming how this particular client might react if he doesn’t get the results he wants. The result is quite a few good one-liners and some awkwardly funny moments.
“Wedding Crashers” – this 2005 comedy pits Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn together as good friends who show up at weddings they aren’t invited to in search of a good time. When one of them breaks a cardinal rule and falls for the daughter of the US Secretary of the Treasury, the pair gets invited to a weekend at the family estate where their lies and fun stories get exposed. But the lead up to the climax is riddled with situational comedy that has more than a few memorable moments. Wilson and Vaughn work very well together, and they salute each other’s mishaps better than most.
“The Hangover” – a hilarious concept with this 2009 comedy features a group of friends who planned an unforgettable bachelor party in Las Vegas, only to wake up the next day and have no idea what the heck happened. Apparently there’s a baby in the mix, along with a tiger and a missing tooth. It’s hazy clue after hazy clue, meaning more than a few funny and awkward moments are in store for their sober day, thus making the drunken day before all the more remarkable. It’s funny, fowl and worth investing in to garner a laugh.
Separated into two volumes (Class Acts from 1935 to 1980 and Class Clowns from 1983 to 2009), this spread of comedy titles is about as diverse as you can get. Many of them feature big names that hold their recognition into the present, and their talents remain valued for the path they paved. It’s probably still up in the air whether or not today’s performers will ever have the value those from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s possess, but some of the work in this set is strong enough to make me think it’s an excellent possibility.
Another element I appreciated about “Best of Warner Bros. 20 Film Collection: Comedy” is how it highlighted different comedy formats. Everything from situational to slapstick, subtle to over the top and direct to indirect has a moment in the sun. The older films are less obvious, of course, which might be a reflection on how the viewership has changed over time. The modern films stick out for their depth and writing, allowing the story to develop in different (not necessarily better or worse) capacities. Whatever comedy type you prefer the most, you’re likely to find it somewhere in the “Best of Warner Bros. 20 Film Collection: Comedy” box set.
Of course, while funny, not all titles here are the best of the best. Each has its high points and lower moments, but the humor, not the film quality, are what this set is really working hard to portray. My guess is that some of the titles will be more closely regarded by individual audiences than others, but if we’re given the option to compare and contrast, it only enhances our knowledge base as film buffs come the end of the day.
“Best of Warner Bros. 20 Film Collection: Comedy” is a good set, but it’s not the set you should buy if you have the films that are your favorites already. It would be even better if it were in High Definition, of course, but when you can’t always get what you want, it’s best play the cards you’re dealt.
These are standard definition DVD presentations that vary quite a bit in their video quality. Some, in particular the older titles, show their age, and are presented in standard formatting: “A Night at the Opera,” “Stage Door,” “Bringing Up Baby,” “The Philadelphia Story,” “Arsenic and Old Lace, “The Long, Long Trailer,” “Spies Like Us,” “Grumpy Old Men” and “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.” The remaining films are presented in varying levels of widescreen: “The Great Race,” “Blazing Saddles,” “The In-Laws,” “Caddyshack,” “The Goonies,” “Wedding Crashers,” “The Hangover,” “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” “Risky Business,” “Beetlejuice” and “Analyze This.” Grain and coloration are issues more often than they should be, but I appreciated the work done on the older titles especially. I had slightly higher expectations for the video quality at the end of the day, but while not pristine, these titles are far from sub-par.
The following titles are presented with English 5.1 Dolby Digital audio tracks: “The Great Race,” “Blazing Saddles,” “Caddyshack,” “Risky Business,” “The Goonies,” “Beetlejuice,” “Analyze This,” “Wedding Crashers” and “The Hangover.” The next film titles are only offered with English 1.0 mono options: “A Night at the Opera,” “Stage Door,” “Bringing Up Baby,” “The Philadelphia Story,” “Arsenic and Old Lace,” “The Long, Long Trailer,” “The In-Laws” and “National Lampoon’s Vacation.” A few titles are presented with a Dolby Surround option: “The Goonies,” “Spies Like Us,” “Grumpy Old Men,” “Ace Ventura Pet Detective” and “Wedding Crashers.” French and Spanish options are available for most of the films from “Blazing Saddles” in 1974 all the way to “The Hangover” in 2009. As with the video, the audio goes up and down, but no particular film really jumped out of the speakers at me. Most of what we need to hear, we can pick up, but these titles don’t utilize sound the way that action titles might. Subtitles on all films are English, Spanish and French.
Pretty standard offerings that mirror the offerings provided on the standard definition DVD release for each title.
“A Night at the Opera” – commentary by Leonard Maltin, documentary “Remarks on Marx,” Groucho Marx on “The Hy Gardner Show” from 1961, two vintage shorts, theatrical trailer.
“Stage Door” – musical short “Ups and Downs,” audio-only bonus radio production with Ginger Rogers and Rosalind Russell, theatrical trailer.
“Bringing Up Baby” – commentary by filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich, Howard Hawks movie trailer gallery.
“The Philadelphia Story” – commentary by film historian Jeanine Basinger, George Cukor movie trailer gallery.
“Arsenic and Old Lace” – none.
“The Long, Long Trailer” – theatrical trailer, cartoon “Dixieland Droopy,” Pete Smith specialty short “Ain’t It Aggravatin’?”
“The Great Race” – documentary “Behind the Scenes with Blake Edwards’ ‘The Great Race,’” theatrical trailer.
“Blazing Saddles” – scene specific commentary by Mel Brooks, two documentaries, “Black Bart” pilot episode of the proposed TV series spinoff from 1975, deleted scenes, theatrical trailer.
“The In-Laws” – commentary by Peter Falk, Alan Arkin, director Arthur Hiller and writer Andrew Bergman, theatrical trailer.
“Caddyshack” – retrospective featurette “Caddyshack: The 19th Hole,” theatrical trailer.
“National Lampoon’s Vacation” – introduction by Chevy Chase, Randy Quaid and producer Marty Simmons, commentary by filmmakers and cast, Family Truckster featurette gallery, theatrical trailer.
“Risky Business” – commentary by Tom Cruise, Paul Brickman and Jon Avnet, retrospective featurette, original screen tests, director’s cut of the final scene, theatrical trailer.
“The Goonies” – commentary with hidden video treasures by director Richard Donner and select cast members, outtakes, featurette “The making of ‘The Goonies,’” “The Goonies ‘R’ Good Enough” music video, theatrical trailer.
“Spies Like Us” – none.
“Beetlejuice” – three episodes from the animated “Beetlejuice” TV series, music only audio track (5.1), theatrical trailers.
“Grumpy Old Men” – production notes, theatrical trailer.
“Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” – commentary by director Tom Shadyac, theatrical trailer.
“Analyze This” – two commentaries (Billy Crystal and Robert De Niro, plus director/cowriter Harold Ramis), gag reel.
“Wedding Crashers: Uncorked Edition” – deleted scenes, behind the scenes featurettes, two commentaries (Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn, plus director David Dobkin), theatrical version of the film.
“The Hangover” – none.
I’m disappointed in this offering, mainly because it shows that Warner Bros. basically took the DVDs and put them into different packaging without working to tie the films together.
A Final Word:
These are solid films themselves, but Warner Bros. hasn’t really impressed me with this packaging. It’s not cohesive in any way, and it shows. Thankfully, the packaging is just that, and the films can more or less hold their own. Sometimes less is more, but in this case I’m not sure that holds true.