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Eight Classic Films from MGM

Arrowsmith (March 5/05)

Starring Ronald Colman and Helen Hayes, Arrowsmith tells the story of a man who dedicates his life to medicine - often sacrificing his own happiness for the good of the cause. The film is based on the novel by Sinclair Lewis, and there's no denying the fact that it does feel as though large chunks of the book have been omitted. As a result, certain sections of the movie seriously stretch the limits of credibility - particularly a sequence in which Dr. Arrowsmith (Colman) leaves open vials of deadly plague lying around his house. Still, the film's episodic structure ensures that it rarely becomes boring - though the story does lose some momentum towards the end, as Arrowsmith heads to Africa to cure the plague (this portion of the movie also features a ridiculously prolonged death sequence for one of Arrowsmith's colleagues). Director John Ford imbues the movie with a quality that's almost improvisational, with characters occasionally talking over each other (the film doesn't have that sort of slick, over-rehearsed feel one might expect).

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Barbary Coast (March 5/05)

Barbary Coast is an engaging, entertaining drama revolving around a gold-digger (played by Miriam Hopkins) who arrives in San Francisco with dreams of wealth, eventually hooking up with the ruthless gangster (Edward G. Robinson) that controls the town. Barbary Coast features a script by legendary screenwriters Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, so it's not terribly surprising that the film is packed with clever dialogue (which only improves as the film progresses, moving away from the flowery and theatrical). Aside from an enjoyable, scenery-chewing performance by Robinson, Barbary Coast also boasts a charming little love story (between Hopkins and an idealistic farmer, played by Joel McCrea). And surely this must be the only film to ever feature a climactic rowboat chase (which is, surprisingly enough, quite suspenseful).

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Charly (March 6/05)

That Charly is based on a short story that was eventually expanded into a novel comes as no surprise, as the film itself feels as though it's been needlessly padded out to achieve a longer running time. Aside from a fantastic, Oscar-winning lead performance from Cliff Robertson, there's not much here to warrant the sort of admiration the film has garnered over the years. Robertson stars as the title character, a mentally handicapped adult who undergoes experimental surgery and emerges with the brain power of a full-fledged genius. Director Ralph Nelson imbues the movie with an oppressively slow pace and an assortment of distracting '60s-era flourishes (ie split-screen, abstract imagery, etc), something that's exacerbated by Ravi Shankar's loopy score. And while the relationship between Robertson and Claire Bloom (playing a researcher who becomes involved with the new and improved Charly) is genuinely touching, it doesn't make up for the fact that the majority of Charly feels utterly superfluous.

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Come and Get It (March 7/05)

Come and Get It is an extremely melodramatic yet oddly compelling tale revolving around a businessman named Bernard Glasgow (Edward Arnold), who falls for a lounge singer (Frances Farmer) but opts to marry the daughter of a wealthy partner instead. Years later, said singer is dead and Bernard meets her daughter - who just happens to be the spitting image of his long lost love. Come and Get It plays out like a prolonged episode of a night-time soap (ie Dynasty or Melrose Place), as it eschews credibility in favor of exceedingly trashy plot developments (the film features a father and son fighting for the affections of the same woman). Arnold and Farmer are fine in their roles, while Walter Brennan - playing Bernard's lifelong Swedish (!) friend - easily steals every scene he's in (the actor justifiably won an Oscar for his work here). The film may not amount to much, but it's hard to deny the entertainment value of such an over-the-top storyline.

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Dead End (March 7/05)

Though Dead End is completely unable to hide it's theatrical origins, the film is actually fairly engrossing - despite the presence of a talentless troupe of young performers known as "The Dead End Kids" (who would, shockingly, go on to appear in other movies). The entire movie occurs within a small New York City neighborhood, as various residents go about their daily lives and deal with poverty-related issues. With a cast that includes Humphrey Bogart, Sylvia Sidney, and Joel McCrea, Dead End works best when it revolves around the adult characters - particularly Bogart's Hugh Martin, a notorious criminal who's returned home to visit his ailing mother. But everything comes to a dead stop when the movie returns to those kids and their antics; it certainly doesn't come as a surprise that these actors originated their respective roles on the stage (ie subtle they're not). And though the film becomes awfully preachy towards the end - the script abandons dialogue in favor of speeches regarding the nobility of the poor - Dead End is nevertheless worth a look, especially for fans of Bogart (playing one of the first gangsters of his career).

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Enchantment (March 9/05)

Enchantment is an astonishingly dull soap involving an old recluse named Roland Dane (played by David Niven as a young man) who looks back on his life - particularly his doomed romance with the love of his life - while begrudgingly welcoming a distant relative into his home. The film opens with narration from Roland's house (no, really), and it's all downhill from there. Though Enchantment is technically well made - director Irving Reis infuses the lackluster plot with some much needed bursts of style, while Niven is typically charming in the central role - the extremely deliberate pace quickly becomes overwhelming, making it impossible to ever really get into the story. This is despite a conclusion that is admittedly quite romantic, as Roland effectively convinces his love-weary niece not to make the same mistakes he did. But it's certainly not enough to convince the viewer to disregard the interminable build-up to that point.

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Stella Dallas (March 10/05)

This legendary soaper casts Barbara Stanwyck as the title character, an uncultured, sleazy floozie who marries a man for his money and social stature (at least, that's how it looks at the outset). She eventually tires of his rigidness and pushes him away - despite the fact that they have a daughter together. Stella Dallas certainly improves as it goes along, turning Stella into a character that's actually somewhat compelling. No small feat given that the viewer is initially encouraged to despise the character; that she eventually becomes someone that we pity is a testament to the effectiveness of Stanwyck's Oscar-nominated performance. It's not difficult to see why this has endured over the years (going so far as to warrant a remake with Bette Midler!), as this is that rare tear-jerker that doesn't feature the death of a central character.

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We Live Again (March 9/05)

Based on the novel Resurrection by Leo Tolstoy, We Live Again follows a Russian soldier (played by Fredric March) as he attempts to romance a peasant girl (Anna Sten) - despite the fact that such relationships are strictly frowned upon. Though it eventually becomes kind of intriguing, the film opens on such an unpleasant and interminable note by devoting much of the first act to various Russian pieces of music - a device that serves only to pad out the movie's already-brief runtime (the thin storyline would seem to confirm this). As a result, by the time the actual plot kicks in about a third of the way through, it's virtually impossible to care about any of these people. The film finally becomes a heavy-handed polemic against Capitalism, as several characters resort to speechifying to get the pro-Socialism message across. Only recommended for Fredric March completists (if such a person even exists).

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About the DVDs: MGM Home Entertainment presents all of these eight films in their proper aspect ratio, while each movie is accompanied by their respective trailer.
© David Nusair