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6 Degrees Entertainment

'The Mickey Rooney & Judy Garland Collection'
(Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, et al / 5-Disc DVD / NR / 2007 / Warner Bros.)

Overview: Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland sing, dance, clown, raise roofs and lift spirits in four film extravaganzas also bouyed by the genius of Busby Berkeley. This five-disc collection also includes a special bonus disc with nearly 3 hours of razzle-dazzle: including special introductions by Mickey Rooney before each film.

DVD Verdict: This is the long awaited boxed set of four Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland musicals that includes a fifth bonus disc. What follows are some general overview's along with my own thoughts on these wodnerful movies.

Babes in Arms (1939) - This is the first film the two did together and was adapted from the 1937 Rodgers and Hart Broadway hit of the same name. Busby Berkeley directed the film and also did the choreography. This film is being shown as it was in its initial release in 1939, complete with the minstrel numbers that might seem offensive today and a sequence involving the impersonation of FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt that was cut shortly after FDR's death since MGM didn't want to appear disrespectful under the circumstances. The plot is simple - Rooney plays a kid trying to prove his musical talent and therefore decides to put on a show. Garland plays another talented youngster who decides to help him do it.

[DVD Special Features]: Introduction by Mickey Rooney, Commentary by historian John Fricke, Vintage Our Gang short Duel Personalities, Classic cartoon The Mad Maestro, 1939 Newsreel with Mickey and Judy, Leo Is on the Air radio promo, 3 different radio shows with Rooney and Garland, Theatrical Trailer.

Strike up the Band (1940) - This one has more of a plot than the first, plus some great music. Rooney plays self-involved musician Jimmy Conners who impresses bandleader Paul Whiteman so much that he offers him a job in New York City. However, a friend's medical emergency makes Rooney choose between his own plans and his friend's health, and he chooses his friend in the end. Rooney's character now has to come up with a way to replace the travel money. Busby Berkeley again provides the choreography and the direction in this film. Highlights include a big Busbv Berkeley production number called "Do The La Conga" and Rooney's "Drummer Boy" sequence. The film also features the Oscar-nominated song "Our Love Affair" and a rousing finale with the Gershwins' title tune.

[DVD Special Features]: Introduction by Mickey Rooney, Pete Smith specialty comedy short Wedding Bills, Classic cartoon Romeo in Rhythm "Do the La Conga" stereo remix version, Leo Is on the Air radio promo, Millions for Defense radio special with Mickey and Judy, Additional radio show with Rooney and Garland, Theatrical Trailer.

Babes on Broadway (1941) - Rooney plays Tommy Williams, a singer in a restaurant who wants a shot at Broadway. Garland plays Penny Morris, and Williams uses her interest in orphaned children to come up with the idea of "putting on a show" to send them on a vacation in the country. However, Williams really is only interested in self-promoting his talent, not the orphans. However, in the end, he learns his lesson. Musical highlights include the song "How About You', Rooney's impersonation of Carmen Miranda, and a massive Busby Berkeley finale which was featured in 1974's "That's Entertainment!".

[DVD Special Features]: Introduction by Mickey Rooney, Pete Smith Specialty comedy short How to Hold Your Husband Back, Classic cartoon Dance of the Weed, Two Leo Is on the Air Radio Promos, Radio Show Adaptation of Merton of the Movies with Rooney and Garland, Chin Up! Cheerio! Carry On Song Demo performed by composer Burton Lane, Theatrical Trailer.

Girl Crazy (1943) - This is the strongest of the four included films. This time Norman Taurog shares direction duties with Busby Berkeley. Here Rooney plays Danny Churchill, a rich college kid that is partying more than he is studying. His father sends him to an all-male college in the middle of nowhere where he can regain his focus. However, Danny does fall for the one eligible female in the hundred mile radius of the school - the dean's granddaughter, Ginger Gray (Garland). Ginger, however, is more concerned that the college is in danger of closing than in Danny's advances. She enlists Danny's help to see that the school stays open. Songs include "Embraceable You," "Fascinating Rhythm," "Bidin' My Time," and a the Garland solo "But Not for Me." Of course there is a huge Busby Berkeley finale done to Gershwin's "I Got Rhythm", with Mickey, Judy, a large supporting cast, and Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra.

[DVD Special Features]: Introduction by Mickey Rooney, Commentary by historian John Fricke, Vintage short Hollywood Daredevils, Classic cartoon The Early Bird Dood It, I Got Rhythm stereo remix version, Bronco Busters Outtake, Theatrical Trailer.

Finally there is a bonus disc with over three hours of extras that include: Private Screenings with Mickey Rooney - 1996 TCM special hosted by Robert Osborne, The Judy Garland Songbook- A superb collection of 21 complete, magical Judy Garland musical numbers spanning her many films from 1936-1954, and a Mickey and Judy Trailer Gallery.

The bottom line on this set is that if you are looking for "Gone with the Wind" level serious drama and you don't like great music look elsewhere. However, if you are looking for charming escapist musical entertainment, these films fit the bill. After all, they were made so that troubled audiences could get away from it all during troubled times - the pre and early World War II era. Plus it looks like Warner Home Video has continued their "Film School in a Box" tradition with this set that I have grown to like so much. These are all Full Screen Presentations (1.33:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.