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There's No Business Like Show Business(1954)
Molly and Terry Donahue, plus their three children, are The Five Donahues. Son Tim meets hat-check girl Vicky and the family act begins to fall apart.
For more about There's No Business Like Show Business and the There's No Business Like Show Business Blu-ray release, see There's No Business Like Show Business Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on August 2, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Ethel Merman, Marilyn Monroe, Donald O'Connor, Mitzi Gaynor, Dan Dailey, Johnnie Ray
Director: Walter Lang
» See full cast & crew
There's No Business Like Show Business Blu-ray Review
Song-and-dances you into a trance.
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, August 2, 2012
She was the innocent girl next door and a va-va-voom sex symbol. A "dumb" blond anxious to be taken seriously. The archetypal exploited starlet, a shrewd showbiz negotiator, and an on-top-of-the-world performer with a personal life in shambles. A flame snuffed out too soon and a 20th century pop culture icon forever immortalized on the screen. Marilyn Monroe was and is a glorious contradiction, and the enigma of her life, career, and death has inspired an ongoing stream of biographies and photobooks, critical commentary and general interest. As this year is the 50th anniversary of Monroe's probable suicide, the tributes have been coming in at an even faster pace, from Vanity Fair covers to NBC's Smash to the recent My Week with Marilyn.
20th Century Fox is getting in on the action with the Forever Marilyn collection, a seven-disc set that features a selection of films made between 1952 and 1962, the decade that took Monroe from a pretty up-and-coming face to the most recognized and highly paid actress on the planet. The films are also available individually—Some Like It Hot and The Misfits came out last year, the rest arrive simultaneously this week —and since the set includes no exclusive special features, it's really up to fans if they want to go all in or pick and choose which titles they want. (Unsurprisingly, you save a bit of cash with the boxed set.) Instead of writing up a single, epically long review of the Forever Marilyn collection as a whole, we've put up a sort of overview here of the packaging and contents, with links to these individual reviews.
The fourth and least essential film in the collection is the big-budget Irving Berlin musical and certified box office flop There's No Business Like Show Business, a gaudy tribute to vaudeville that rehashes some of Berlin's earlier hits and tells the long and drama-less story of a family's several decades in showbiz. Ethel Merman and Dan Dailey play Molly and Terrence—a.k.a. The Donahues—who, when the film begins in 1919, have a semi-successful song-and-dance act. Just to give you some idea of the sort of hokey jazz-handed cheese we're talking about, the finale of their routine is a shrill performance of "Midnight Train to Alabam," wherein Terrence dons an engine costume and Molly—you guessed it—wears a caboose on her caboose.
Here's a film that's direly in need of some post-modern nonlinear storytelling. There's No Business Like Show Business proceeds strictly chronologically, and subsequently takes forever to get going. We see The Donahues' three young kids progressively join the act. We watch as they're then sent off to boarding school to get educated. We doze through the 1930s, when the Great Depression cuts ticket sales, forcing Molly and Terrence to get stop-gap gigs on the radio and at the circus. We check our watches as the kids—Katy (Mitzi Gaynor), Steve (Johnnie Ray), and Tim (Donald O'Connor)—come back into the fold 'round about '37, when The Five Donahues form and become a hit by playing New York's Hippodrome Theatre. They've classed up the act a bit; their new routine involves each member of the family performing a different nation-themed variation on "Alexander's Ragtime Band." Ever cared to hear the song sung in a Scottish brogue, complete with bagpipe accompaniment? Here's your chance.
Where's Marilyn, you might ask? We don't meet her for a good twenty minutes, and even thereafter she only appears sporadically, in what amounts to a glorified cameo. She was essentially brought in to sex-up what I suspect the producers realized was a fuddy-duddy, overly traditional musical, and she only agreed to the part after being promised the leading role in Billy Wilder's The Seven Year Itch. (That's showbiz: you do one for them, they do one for you.) Marilyn plays Vicky, a hat-check girl at a posh nightclub who moonlights as a singer, hoping to catch the attention of star-maker Lew Harris (Richard Eastham). She does, and Harris launches her career, but she also finds herself wooed by Tim Donahue—a womanizer and frequent drunk—who pesters her into an off-again-on-again relationship. Somewhere in here, kid bro Steve up and decides he's going to leave the act to become a priest—his parting song includes the circular logic, "If you believe there's a heaven, you'll get to heaven, if you believe"—and the fam goes on as The Four Donahues. That is, until the spurned Tim disappears to sort himself out, sending his mom into a depressed and worried tizzy.
None of these family conflicts are particularly interesting, and it certainly doesn't help that the film lurches through them with an inconsistent energy. There's No Business Like Show Business is clearly meant as a screen-filling Cinemascope spectacle, but it bogs itself down with unnecessary exposition and a surfeit of limp melodrama. Broadway's First Lady, Ethel Merman, is more loud than nuanced as the Donahue matriarch—someone shoulda told her this is cinema; she didn't have to belt everything out like she was onstage in a huge auditorium—and none of the kids make much of an impression. Marilyn is her irresistible, sexual-envelope-pushing self, though, particularly in her sultry performance of "Heat Wave," which has her in a bikini and on a litter, being carried about by cabana boys. It wakes you up for a moment, but invariably you settle back in for another snooze.
There's No Business Like Show Business Blu-ray, Video Quality
There's No Business Like Show Business was intended as a large-scale spectacle worthy of showing up recent MGM musicals and wooing post- war, television-content audiences back to the silver screen. It wasn't the success Fox execs thought it would be—it didn't even recoup its production costs—but it is something of a visual extravaganza, a nonstop procession of wild colors and costumes and sets. Fox's Blu-ray release presents the film in all its Deluxe Color glory, with a newly remastered and restored print that's almost entirely free of specks, scratches, and compression concerns. Compared to some of the other Marilyn Monroe titles from Fox this week, TNBLSB seems grainier, but the image—grainy though it may be—is thankfully untouched by digital noise reduction and edge enhancement. Sharpness isn't the picture's strong suite, but the level of clarity here is undeniably improved from the previous DVD release, with newfound detail and texture and overall refinement. The transfer's candy-hued color palette —which might pass for Technicolor—is simply stunning, with vivid reds, intense blues, and creamy skin tones. Contrast and tonal balance are spot-on, and besides the expected—and brief—color fluctuations around scene changes, the picture is stable and consistent.
There's No Business Like Show Business Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The film's original 4-channel stereophonic sound has been modestly and effectively reengineered into a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track. Don't expect much rear-channel interaction from this mix—the surrounds are used only sparsely to fill out the song 'n' dance numbers—but the front- heavy presentation is more than adequate. Although the film might be dramatically limp, There's No Business Like Show Business is an Irving Berlin fan's dream, with musical numbers galore. Most notably, there are several variations—a Scottish version! a German version! a French version!— on Berlin's 1911 hit "Alexander's Ragtime Band." If a little dynamically flat and bass-less, like a lot of mid-century movies, the music sounds great, with no peaking in the highs and no hisses or crackles. The vocal performances are cleanly recorded, and dialogue between characters is always easily understood. The disc includes a Dolby Digital 4.0 track for comparison, along with several dub and subtitle options for those who might need or want them.
There's No Business Like Show Business Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
There's No Business Like Show Business Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
This isn't so much a Marilyn Monroe film as it is an extended Marilyn Monroe cameo, which makes it an odd inclusion in this week's spate of Monroe Blu- ray debuts. (Not to mention the Forever Marilyn box set.) Marilyn's contribution to the film was basically to give it some sexy star power, which it desperately needed since it was so fuddy-duddy traditional otherwise. Irving Berlin lovers looking for a kind of career retrospective will be pleased, but those after something beyond merely musical spectacle will find the film's lack of drama and seemingly unending runtime patience-testing. 20th Century Fox's new Blu-ray transfer is strong, though, so if you're a fan of the film I see no reason not to upgrade.
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There's No Business Like Show Business Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Forever Marilyn: The Blu-ray Collection (Updated) - June 1, 2012
In July, Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment will bring the Forever Marilyn Collection to Blu-ray. Timed to mark the fiftieth anniversary of screen icon Marilyn Monroe's tragic passing, this box set contains seven of her most beloved features, five of which ...
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