I LOVE LUCY --- THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON (PARAMOUNT HOME ENTERTAINMENT) SHIRLEY TEMPLE LITTLE DARLING PACK (Includes NOW AND FOREVER and LITTLE MISS MARKER) (UNIVERSAL HOME ENTERTAINMENT) VIVA MARIA! (MGM HOME ENTERTAINMENT)
A few things become immediately evident while watching all 30 fourth season episodes included in Paramount's 5-disc set. (A) Ball possessed the unique ability to execute the most fantastically foolish slapstick shtick as if she wasn't "in on the joke." No matter how far-fetched or ludicrous her antics may appear, she plays them straight on, never at any time winking at her audience or revealing that she's aware that what she's doing is pricelessly funny, a trait which can be found in, for example, the best of the Keaton-Lloyd silent classics. (B) Ball, like the great Jack Benny, was generous to a fault, eager to share and even to surrender center stage to her costars and guest stars. This fact is made particularly clear in the episodes included in this set which take the Ricardos and the Mertzes to Hollywood where they encounter such then rare-to-television Golden Age stars as William Holden, Richard Widmark, Rock Hudson, Van Johnson, and Harpo Marx, among many others. (While the Marx segment is the most expectedly joyous, the big surprise is the Holden episode which reveals how misused Holden was in the very few film comedies he appeared in, such as SABRINA and PARIS WHEN IT SIZZLES. Here, and here alone, Holden reveals a deft and self-mocking comedic skill that is emphasized by the pitch-perfect timing that one would expect only from a Grant or Stewart. This is my all-time favorite LUCY episode.)
The full-screen black and white images of all thirty episodes look absolutely pristine and the monaural sound is vibrantly alive. Paramount has also thrown in some terrific additional features including Flubs, "Behind-the-Scenes" Audio Featurette, Original Series Openings, Restored Music, Original Animated Sequences, etc. This collection simply could not be improved upon.
Heads must have rolled on the nearly bankrupt Paramount lot of the mid-thirties. It seems inconceivable that a studio with the insight to cast the virtually unknown six-year-old Shirley Temple in leading roles in both LITTLE MISS MARKER (1934) and NOW AND FOREVER (1934) would, after viewing the dailies, allow this talented tot to slip through their fingers and move over to fledgling studio 20th Century Fox, where she would instantly emerge as their biggest box-office phenomenon of the decade and, in fact, the most popular child star ever.
The reason for her unprecedented popularity becomes instantly clear when viewing these two films. While her dramatic and singing and dancing abilities were certainly outstripped by scores of other kids, she possessed a sincere and completely genuine ease and sweetness of personality that the camera, and subsequently millions of filmgoers, adored. (Having had the good fortune of meeting Temple at a tribute to director David Butler, I can attest to the fact that the Temple charm is the real thing.)
LITTLE MISS MARKER is the Damon Runyon tale of an adorable little girl who singlehandedly melts the hearts of a gang of hardened gangsters when she's left as an IOU or "marker" for her father's debt. While terminally-dapper Adolph Menjou is glaringly miscast as the seedy racetrack tout, the rest of the cast gamely tries to keep up with Temple . They can't. She wraps this fanciful LITTLE MISS MARKER in a pink ribbon and walks away with it. (It should be noted that this story was remade no less than four times. 1949's SORROWFUL JONES with Bob Hope and Lucille Ball is easily the best of the bunch and is available from Universal coupled with Hope's 1948 PALEFACE and is enthusiastically recommended.)
In NOW AND FOREVER Temple is teamed with Paramount's top male star Gary Cooper, who is improbably cast as her con-man father opposite the soon-to-emerge madcap maiden Carole Lombard, who basically plays it straight. It's lightly diverting and easy to take thanks to those three, but yet again it appears that both Cooper and Lombard's prime function is to worship at the feet of Temple, who steals this family-friendly funfest with effortless ease.
While the black-and-white full-screen transfer of LITTLE MISS MARKER exhibits a mild softness and occasional grain it is nonetheless very watchable, but the pleasant surprise here is the beautiful, if not quite damage-free NOW AND FOREVER which glows with a smooth, slick and silvery grey scale combined with a deep black level that is a pleasure to experience. The monaural sound is reasonably clean and clear.
I've never been able to write a coherent review of any film in which Brigitte Bardot appears for the simple reason that ever since I snuck into the Astor Theater in Brooklyn to see a revival of her break-out hit AND GOD CREATED WOMAN (over 18 admittance only -- I was 11) I've been completely under her spell, so uniquely intense was the red-hot level of her erotic appeal. Whenever I'd subsequently see a Bardot film I'd be so transfixed by her beauty and aggressive sensuality that, even if I saw the same film multiple times I could never convey with the smallest degree of accuracy just what the film was about.
Some things never change. After viewing MGM's pristine Eastmancolor anamorphic (2.35:1) transfer of VIVA MARIA (1965) twice in a row , all I can convey is the following: It's something about two women who unwittingly invent the strip-tease during a 1910 Mexican revolution --- I think. The liner notes state that Jeanne Moreau and George Hamilton have major roles in it but I wouldn't know. I can verify with absolute certainty, however, that Brigitte Bardot is in it and, as the old song goes : "I Only Have Eyes For You." And I still can't write a coherent review of a Bardot film. Maybe if I watch it again...