From the land of the Bard comes William Shakespeare: Comedy Romance Tragedy [Opus Arte]. Three plays, on four DVDs, produced at Shakespeare's Globe on London's Bankside. As You Like It, directed by Thea Sharrock (who visited our shores in 2008 with the Daniel Radcliffe Equus), and artistic director Dominic Dromgoole's stagings of Love's Labour's Lost and Romeo & Juliet. Curious about how Shakespearean plays look at the Globe, the reconstructed playhouse which opened in 1997 spearheaded by Sam Wanamaker and with artistic direction by Mark Rylance (who departed prior to these productions, in 2005)? These plays, filmed in performance, make a point of showing audience interactions. We have seen numerous stage and film productions of these plays — two of the three, at least. From these DVDs, though, we get a sense of how these plays might have played in the original Globe configuration. Or maybe not. Bonus features include cast galleries and sections of famous speeches. Note that the DVDs include the legend, "Spoken in Shakespeare's English with English subtitles."
Tempestuous might be the word to describe the life and times of Rita Hayworth. Who, you might ask? One of Hollywood's biggest stars of the 1940s; one of the cinema's most beautiful actresses ever; one of the most popular pin-up girls of World War II; second wife of Orson Welles, and later a genuine princess courtesy of her 1949 marriage to Prince Aly Khan, son of the Sultan. That didn't work out well, as did none of her five marriages, and Hayworth's once flourishing career was self-sabotaged along the way. Her behavior became increasingly erratic in the 1960s, which seemed to be the result of alcoholism but turned out to be undiagnosed Alzheimer's disease. Hayworth died in 1987, at the age of 68.
The Love Goddess — that's what they called her — can be seen at her best in "Cover Girl" (1944) and "Gilda" (1946), two of the films included in the five-disc Films of Rita Hayworth [Columbia]. "Cover Girl" stars the flame-haired stunner as a dancer turned model; her partner is the then up-and-coming Gene Kelly. This film has a Broadway pedigree; it was produced by Arthur Schwartz, better-known as the composer of such stage revues as The Band Wagon and The Little Show. But he didn't write the "Cover Girl" music; rather, he hired a couple of friends — namely the legendary Jerome Kern and the celebrated (though not so legendary) Ira Gershwin. They wrote six songs, including one of Hollywood's very finest: "Long Ago (And Far Away)." Adding to the "Cover Girl" charms are two nifty comedy turns from Phil Silvers — who is very funny indeed — and Eve Arden. "Gilda" is a highly effective film noir, with Hayworth all but tearing up the screen; what's more, we get her striptease to "Put the Blame on Mame." (Which is helped in part by the choreography by Jack Cole.) But Hayworth was from the start a dancer; born Margarita Cansino, she was the third generation of a dancing family famous for flamenco. While Rita's dancing was thus incorporated into many of her films, she did not sing; in "Gilda," she is dubbed by Anita Ellis. Whose then 16-year-old brother turned out to be Larry Kert, which is beside the point. Glenn Ford appears as Gilda's leading man.
These two films have previously appeared on DVD of course, although they are now restored and remastered by The Film Foundation. (That organization's founder, Martin Scorsese, pairs with Baz Luhrman to introduce "Gilda.") The other three items are making their DVD debuts. "Miss Sadie Thompson" (1953) is yet another take on Somerset Maugham's "Rain," this time with Jose Ferrer — at the height of his fame — as the moralistic Reverend Davidson. "Salome" is a 1953 biblical epic, and not an immortal of that genre. We do get Charles Laughton as King Herod, though, with Cedric Harwicke and Judith Anderson as well; and Ms. Hayworth entertains us with her "Dance of the Seven Veils." The fifth film goes back to 1945, the not-very-distinguished musical "Tonight and Every Night." But here are six songs by the soon-to-storm-Broadway team of Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn; choreography by Jack Cole; and the screen presence of Janet Blair and Marc Platt, the latter of whom had gone to Hollywood on the heels of his success as lead dancer in the original cast of Oklahoma!. That might be enough to make you want to see "Tonight and Every Night." Newly filmed introductions for this set — the fifth of the Film Foundation's "Collector's Choice" series — include Mr. Luhrman on "Cover Girl," and Patricia Clarkson on "Tonight and Every Night" and "Miss Sadie Thompson."
Leonard Bernstein always seems to be jumping back into view, and fans of the Maestro's conducting might want to take a look at the five-DVD set Leonard Bernstein: Beethoven Brahms Bruckner Franck Milhaud Mozart [Medici Arts]. These concerts are well chosen; for the music, for the performances, and for the Bernstein-watching. They span 17 years, showing us the 55-year-old composer at the height of his powers in 1973 — between the premiere of Mass and the first Hal Prince production of Candide — and at 72 in March 1990, seven months prior to his death. First comes Brahms, Symphonies No. 1 and 3 with the Israel Philharmonic (1973); then three items with the Orchestre National de France, Franck's Symphony in D minor (1981) and 1976 performances of Milhaud's "La Creation du monde" and "Le Boeuf sur le toit." Disc three is Mozart, the Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 17 in G major (with Lenny at the keys) and Symphony No. 39 (1981). Next is Bernstein's historic performance of Beethoven's 9th in Berlin on Christmas Day 1989, celebrating the fall of the Berlin Wall. Finally, we have Bruckner's Symphony No. 9 with the severely-aged conductor leading the Wiener Philharmoniker. The collection is nicely packaged, with a handsome 32-page booklet (in English, German and French) including some striking black & white photography.
Finally, we catch a strong flavor of Las Vegas — circa 1960 — with Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack in Ocean's 11 [Warner]. Frank is Danny Ocean; ten of his WW II buddies join him for a daring New Year's Eve heist at the Strip's five major casinos. It is all tripe, yes, but nostalgically enjoyable tripe. The sets, the furnishings and especially the colors — which show up with dazzling pizzazz on the Blu-ray disc — could serve as a template for "Mad Men." Bonus features include a much later interview featuring a very casual Sinatra (as guest host on "The Tonight Show") reminiscing with co-star Angie Dickinson. I was never much of a fan of these Rats — Sinatra, Dean Martin, Peter Lawford, Joey Bishop. As a kid growing up in the '60s, they just seemed to be a bunch of really old guys playing at acting. So much so that I never bothered to watch "Ocean's 11" or its cinematic cousins. Viewed today, the film provides whimsical entertainment with attitude.
The director of this mindless buddy movie was someone you might not suspect: Russian immigrant Lewis Milestone, who had won two early Oscars — one for the classic "All's Quiet on the Western Front" — some 30 years before. What's more, one of the two screenwriters was Charles Lederer, nephew of Marion Davies and co-producer/co-librettist of the Tony Award-winning 1953 Broadway musical Kismet. If the "Ocean's 11" screenplay has punch, though, it seems to come from doctoring by Billy Wilder.
(Steven Suskin is author of the recently released Updated and Expanded Fourth Edition of "Show Tunes" as well as "The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations," "Second Act Trouble" and the "Opening Night on Broadway" books. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)