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Henry King
Tyrone Power, Alice Faye, Don Ameche, Ethel Merman, Jack Haley, Jean Hersholt, Helen Westley
Writing Credits:
Irving Berlin (story), Richard Sherman (adaptation), Kathryn Scola, Lamar Trotti

An American Cavalcade!

Set in the early 1900's this extravaganza of music, story and romance follows the highs and lows in the life of Roger Grant, a high-brow-born San Franciscan who changes his name to Alexander and conducts a band with a whole new sound--Swing! And just as Grant meets with musical successes and failures, he smolders and is occasionally scorched by Stella Kirby (Alice Faye), his lead singer. Also featuring the delightful Don Ameche as Grant's romantic competitor, a wonderfully comic Jack Haley and then newcomer Ethel Merman, this musical treasure is a perfect addition to any collection of film classics.

Box Office:
$2 million.

Rated NR

Fullscreen 1.33:1
English Stereo
English Monaural
Spanish Monaural

Runtime: 106 min.
Price: $14.98
Release Date: 9/7/2004

• Audio Commentary with Film Restorationist Ray Faiola
• A&E Biography: “Alice Faye: The Star Next Door”
• Movietone News
• Deleted Scenes
• Still Gallery
• Trailers


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Alexander's Ragtime Band: Fox Studio Classics (1938)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 3, 2004)

Someday I may figure out how Fox picks the movies upon which they bestow the title of “Studio Classics”, but not today. That line has included some genuine legends along with real duds. Unfortunately, into the latter category I must include 1938’s inane and nonsensical musical Alexander’s Ragtime Band.

Set in San Francisco during the early parts of the 20th century, we meet dashing young classical violinist Roger Grant (Tyrone Power). His Aunt Sophie (Helen Westley) and instructor Professor Heinrich (Jean Hersholt) encourage him to become a true whiz on that instrument, but other matters distract him. Roger rushes from recital to an audition at a seaside dive bar, where he brings his jazz band.

At Dirty Eddie’s, we also encounter singer Stella Kirby (Alice Faye). She pursues a job there as well, and she hooks up with Roger’s group when he inadvertently steals her material. She brings in “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” and joins in when she hears them play it. Both Stella and Roger’s band land a gig with the stipulation that they all play together. Since the circumstance immediately produces friction between Roger and Stella, they do so reluctantly and continue to feud even after the act becomes a hit.

That atmosphere surrounds the pair, though it doesn’t prevent band member Charlie Dwyer (Don Ameche) from falling for Stella. He writes her a song but she doesn’t discern his strong fondness for her and seems to present a much more casual affection toward him. When the band plays his tune, we see Stella and Roger - now commonly called “Alex” - swoon over each other and they become an item.

Matters turn problematic when noted theatrical producer Charles Dillingham (Joe King) comes to town. Alex tries to get them an audition, and Charlie eventually uses a sneaky method to lure Dillingham to their gig. The producer mainly likes Stella and only wants her; he declines to hire the band but he offers her a job back in New York. She accepts and this angers Alex. They separate and Alex also splits up the band out of bitterness.

From there, the rest of the movie follows their continued and complicated relationship. He joins the Army and eventually she goes off with Charlie. Alex later finds his own girl but continues to pine for Stella. Will they end up together in the end? If so, will anyone care?

I won’t answer the first question. To do so would technically qualify as a spoiler, but if you can’t figure out the ending, you haven’t seen many romance movies. As for the second question, I don’t know if anyone else will feel concerned, but I sure didn’t. The film is so absurd, silly and tedious that I couldn’t have cared less about any of its participants.

At no point in Band will you meet a character who acts like a real person. Roger/Alex/Alec/Whoever and Stella present bland personalities. They demonstrate some generic elements, such as Stella’s stereotypical sassy blonde side, but they don’t come across as full and dynamic. Their respective jilted loves fare even worse, as they act absurdly graciously. The movie doesn’t even bother to manifest any real love triangle elements; Charlie and Jerry (Ethel Merman) - the female singer who clearly pines for Alex - cede their desires without any fight whatsoever and seem more than happy to do so.

All of this occurs to give Band a semblance of a plot. Mainly the film exists for its slew of musical production numbers, but the filmmakers try to throw out a story, and the generic love interest is the best they can do. It’s not much and is so gratuitous to almost become insulting. From Minute One, anyone who’s ever seen a movie will know that Alex and Stella will fall for each other, and the scads of obstacles put in their path turn into absurdly contrived pieces with no logic or believability. The movie constantly finds ridiculous ways to keep apart the leads, and it barely musters the energy to explain the causes.

The loose framework of a story becomes even weaker due to all the production numbers, but those don’t add any spark to the proceedings, at least not for me. The tunes seem bland and forgettable. However, I must admit the style of music isn’t much my cup of tea, so those with an affection for the format will probably enjoy the scenes more than I did.

In any case, the dated songs of Alexander’s Ragtime Band are the least of its problems. With a story that must have been stale even in 1938, thin and unrealistic characters, and ridiculous plot twists, the movie flops on almost every level. Add to that possibly the most asinine climax ever committed to film and Band stands as a true clunker.

The DVD Grades: Picture B/ Audio C-/ Bonus B

Alexander’s Ragtime Band appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The movie showed some signs of age but mostly looked pretty terrific for an effort from 1938.

Across the board, sharpness appeared solid. Some small instances of softness crept in at times, but these remained minor. Instead, the movie mostly seemed concise and distinctive. Jagged edges and moiré effects cropped up on a few occasions but remained rare and unproblematic, and I noticed only slight edge enhancement at times.

Though not without flaws, the film looked pretty good for such an old movie. The occasional examples of speckles, spots, and grit appeared, but these remained fairly minor, especially given the age of the flick. Thin vertical lines caused the most prominent issues, as they popped up more frequently than I’d like. Some odd warping occurred at times; this was rare but slightly disconcerting. Black levels seemed dark and dense, and shadow detail was acceptably clean and smooth. Contrast seemed terrific, with a nicely silver look throughout the flick. Despite some source concerns, I felt very pleased with the more than satisfying image of Band.

Unfortunately, the audio of Alexander’s Ragtime Band didn’t seem as successful ,at least in regard to the DVD’s remixed stereo soundtrack. The soundfield displayed little sense of spatial accuracy. It mostly seemed like broad mono; the material didn’t appear firmly placed in the center, but it also didn’t come across as well located in other realms. Some mushiness occurred, as elements occasionally bled to various spots. Still, it mostly felt like mono material spread uncomfortably across the three front channels.

Audio quality for the stereo mix didn’t seem terribly good either. The track suffered from an excessive sense of reverb that made everything sound like it was recorded in a tunnel. This ended up with a boomy feel. Speech was somewhat rough though still intelligible. Effects and music were loose and without much definition, largely because of all the echo. The mix also showed a moderate amount of hiss, though I didn’t mind that terribly. The reverberation caused the greatest level of distractions.

Happily, the included monaural soundtrack seemed more satisfying. Though the mix showed its age, it appeared quite clear and pleasing. Speech was more natural and distinct, and the audio lacked that horrible sense of echo and coldness that tainted the stereo version. Some hiss still appeared, and at times the mix seemed a little harsh, but overall I found the mono track to seem fine for its age. It’s definitely the only acceptable option for Band, and I’d give it a “B-”.

As part of Fox’s Studio Classics roster, Band comes with a nice roster of extras. We start with an audio commentary from film score restorationist Ray Faiola, as he offers a running, screen-specific chat. Based on his title, I expected a track that focused on musical minutiae, but I was way off base. Instead, Faiola covered a wide variety of topics connected to the film. We get a little about Alfred Newman and the score, but he mainly gets into subjects such as short biographies of the cast and crew, production notes, and the film’s impact and success. He spends a fair amount of time in a discussion of the life of composer Irving Berlin and how fact intermixed with fiction in the movie. Too much dead air mars the piece, but it’s generally a brisk and informative commentary.

Next we find an A&E “Biography” episode entitled Alice Faye: The Star Next Door. In this 45-minute piece, we see movie snippets from Band and other Faye efforts plus archival materials and interviews. The latter include film historian Dr. Drew Casper, Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner, archivist/producer Wade Williams, daughter Phyllis Harris, friend Betty Scharf, music composer/arranger Walter Scharf, and actors Roddy McDowall, Pat Boone, and Jane Withers.

As one might expect from a show in the Biography series, “Door” emphasizes general elements of Faye’s life. It covers her “Hell’s Kitchen” childhood and moves through her career and personal life. Most of these “Biography” shows concentrate on the latter, and they occasionally come across like tabloid TV. That definitely doesn’t happen here, as Faye’s life offers extremely little fodder for controversy. She got divorced once and also quit Hollywood for a while due to anger at her studio. That’s it for “dirt”, as the program otherwise solely concentrates on Faye’s career and some extracurricular elements. I was pleased to lose the tabloid side of things, and this offers a fairly concise and informative look at the actor’s life.

One Movietone News reel appears. We see “Sensational London Premiere of Alexander’s Ragtime Band, which runs four minutes, 51 seconds. We see folks arrive at the premiere and get a smattering of soundbites from folks like Irving Berlin, George Sanders, and others. It’s an interesting time capsule moment.

Unusually for an old movie, we get three deleted scenes. These run between 99 seconds and two minutes, 20 seconds. All three consist of additional musical numbers. Since the flick itself already includes way too many of these, I’m glad they cut out the three snippets.

Surprising note: I was shocked to see how good these deleted scenes looked. They were virtually pristine and presented visuals superior to what we saw during the main feature.

Inside the Still Gallery, we discover 31 production photos; some decent shots appear, but don’t expect gold. In addition to the trailer for Band, we get previews for two other Studio Classics. The disc presents ads for upcoming releases Three Coins in the Fountain and How to Steal a Million.

A film that doesn’t deserve its status as a “Studio Classic”, Alexander’s Ragtime Band fails in most conceivable ways. From bland, idiotic characters to a flimsy plot to lackluster music to a general lack of logic, the movie comes across as tedious and inane. The DVD presents erratic but fairly good picture along with a problematic stereo soundtrack. The disc rebounds with the superior monaural audio and a nice collection of extras highlighted by a solid audio commentary. As a DVD, Band seems more than satisfying, but I can’t recommend this genuinely terrible movie.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.7777 Stars Number of Votes: 9
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