MOVIES: They Just Don't Make 'Em Like That Anymore


  In mass-market terms, this week's big DVD debuts ranged from "Charlie Wilson's War" to "Cloverfield."
  But for those of us whose hearts belong to Hollywood — vintage Hollywood, that is — the star attractions are the newest titles in Universal's "Cinema Classics" collection, featuring a quartet of legendary leading ladies.
  Mae West reprises her quintessential stage role (Gay '90s good-time gal Diamond Lil) in 1933's "She Done Him Wrong," the movie in which Mae invites Cary Grant (handsome, yes, but still about five years away from becoming the iconic star we all know and love today) to come up and see her sometime. (The inimitable Miss West, who adapted her Broadway hit, also delivers such priceless lines as "Is that a pistol in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me?" and "When women go wrong, men go right after them.")
  In 1937's "Easy Living," Jean Arthur plays a hard-working secretary whose life is transformed when millionaire Edward Arnold throws his spoiled wife's mink coat out the window — and it lands on her. Speaking of falling, she falls for an aspiring stockbroker (Ray Milland) who turns out to be the millionaire's son. But with future directorial genius Preston Sturges providing the bright, breezy script, this remains a screwball comedy treat.
  Next, from that magical movie year of 1939 ("Wizard of Oz," anyone? "Gone With the Wind"? "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington"?), comes one of its lesser-known delights: "Midnight," with impoverished Claudette Colbert masquerading as a Hungarian aristocrat in Paris, with Don Ameche along for the ride as a taxi driver she (but of course) falls for. The same guy who directed "Easy Living," Mitchell Leisen also directed this little-known gem — but this time the script was by future director Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett.
  Hollywood legend has it that the studio thought the script needed work — so they hired Wilder and Brackett to rework their original. Which they did — by retyping and resubmitting it to studio officials who were delighted with the rewrites. Hollywood legend also has it that Wilder and Brackett fought with Leisen so much that Brackett became a producer — and Wilder, of course, went on to direct numerous classics from "Some Like It Hot" to "Sunset Boulevard."
  Before he made those, however, Wilder made his Hollywood directorial debut with the 1945 comedy "The Major and the Minor," in which Ginger Rogers masquerades as a 12-year-old orphan to qualify for a half-price ticket home to Iowa. Before she gets there, of course, she attracts the attention of Maj. Ray Milland, who whisks her off to the military academy where he teaches for some utterly ridiculous — and utterly irresistible — hijinks that showcase Rogers' often overlooked comedic talents. If all you know of Ginger is her sublime partnership with Fred Astaire, look a little closer.
  That these vintage Paramount Pictures productions finally turn up on Universal's DVD label, by the way, illustrates contemporary Hollywood's strange ways. The same situation explains why the 1948 MGM musical "A Date With Judy" (in which hyper teen Jane Powell trills "It's a Most Unusual Day" — and has the misfortune of sharing the screen with a stunning young Elizabeth Taylor) comes from Warner Home Video.
  But at least Shirley Temple's still at home on Fox, more than 70 years after reigning as that studio's box-office champ.