I’ve returned with a new decade in the Disney Vault. The nineties saw Disney churning out film upon film, so it’ll take almost all summer for me to get through this decade. The Rescuers Down Under was the first Disney sequel (and one of the few, for several years, to see a theatrical release). Unfortunately, Disney’s sequel to the 1977 The Rescuers is a misfire that doesn’t benefit, nor does it do anything for, the characters established in the first Rescuers film. The movie capitalizes on the nineties love for Australia and environmentalism, and slaps “the Rescuers” on the box; a work of art for the Disney CAPS system (and the flying sequences are lovely), but don’t go into this expecting to see further adventures from Bernard and Bianca.
I was beyond honored to be able to speak with actress Jane Withers at the beginning of the month. If you’ve watched any of her films, her distinctive voice and exuberant personality haven’t changed in her 87-years on this Earth (she just had a birthday April 12th), and she’s sweetness personified. Hopefully she doesn’t take this as an insult, but speaking to her is like talking to the coolest grandmother on the planet! While we only had a few minutes (and I only crossed a few questions off my lengthy list), I was fascinated by the fantastic stories Jane had to tell, and she definitely needs to get down to writing a book (according to her she has enough stories to fill five books). I was unable to ask her about James Dean, her later career, and a slew of other things; however, she did discuss her early career, her relationship with Shirley Temple, and her life as a classic film fan.
The final three films in the Four Days with Jane series show the good, the bad, and the ugly! High School and Rascals are Jane at her madcap best, with the edge going to the latter. The final one, The Farmer Takes a Wife, is a Jane Withers film in name only as the movie is really a leading vehicle for Janet Gaynor and Henry Fonda. Unfortunately, this was the worst of the bunch and could have benefited from being released separately. Overall, one downright bad movie is fine in a set of seven with the remaining six worth watching!
I’m sure several of you are here to find out if you won a copy of The Great Escape on Blu-ray. I’ll get to that soon, but first let’s look at what’s coming out in the worlds of classic movies. I have a bit of news from 20th Century Fox, Sony Classics, and Warner Archive…then I’ll tell you who won!
Day 2 in the Four Days with Jane series, and we see another set of movies dealing with the immigrant experience, and spirited teenage hijinks. These two see Withers getting older, with the latter being the actresses’ solid foray into young adulthood. Once again, one is better than the other, and each have their individual merits.
The next four days will be devoted to the films of actress Jane Withers. Why, do you ask? A) Because I got a mess of her movies that I want to review and B) because the reviews lead up to my full interview with the star. (I feel pretty proud to have nabbed an interview at all). Since her movies generally run an hour or so, and because the Fox Archive DVDs lack any bonus content, I’ll be doubling up on reviews. The first two movies spotlight Withers at her youngest, and poise her as a tangible Shirley Temple substitute (of which Withers said she never wanted to be). Let’s kick off Four Days with Jane – I just came up with that – with Little Miss Nobody and Paddy O’Day.
Reading Mae Murray: The Girl With the Bee-Stung Lips made me sad; sad in recounting the similarities between Mae and my love for Veronica Lake. The introduction by author Michael Ankerich is heartfelt, genuine, and is aware that by the end of his research he had to present a biography, warts and all. At times he felt at odds with his love for the star after discovering the disturbing decisions she made in life, but through it all there’s a tinge of sadness that permeates the entire book; sadness at how quickly Hollywood forgets its idols, and sadness at how one woman could only find comfort inside her own head.