Judy Garland: The Signature Collection

Generally regarded as the single finest actress to have emerged from Hollywood's "golden age," Judy Garland left a legacy that even today stands unsurpassed. A contract slave to the studio system in the early part of her career, Garland was separated from normal life by her mother and studio chief Louis B. Mayer, and was plagued throughout her adult life by myriad emotional issues, including several tumultuous marriages and a famously painful drug addiction that contributed to her undoing at 47. Yet she managed to work in virtually every performance milieu the twentieth century had to offer — vaudeville, stage, film, concert, television — and left a string of classics in her wake. To celebrate the achievement, Warner Brothers has released a box-set of seven classic Garland films: For Me and my Gal, The Harvey Girls, In the Good Old Summertime, Love Finds Andy Hardy, A Star Is Born, The Wizard of Oz and Ziegfied Girl. Directed by a who's who of the "golden era" (George Cukor and Busby Berkeley among others), the films collected herein have all been digitally remastered and contain some unbelievable commentary by director George Sidney (The Harvey Girls) and co-star Ann Rutherford (Love Finds Andy Hardy). Biographer John Fricke, though, lends the most insight. Fully immersed in "all things Judy," he pulls facts and ephemera out of his cap with such ease that you find yourself answering some of his comments. (Garland, for instance, often referred to her mother as "the real Wicked Witch of the West.") His notes on her performance in A Star is Born, specifically, are particularly trenchant, as they point to the star's ability to reinvent herself time and time again (Madonna, be damned!). The Wizard of Oz disc is, not surprisingly, the most stacked of them all, containing a documentary narrated by Angela Lansbury, original audio recordings and vintage shorts and cartoons, features alone that make the set worthwhile. But perhaps the key to approaching and enjoying the set is listening to the evolution of Garland's singing voice. Even non-fans cannot watch this collection and not be awed by the strength of Garland's instrument. Her strong, even tones set a sharp contrast to the over-produced belters of our era. From the hokey but classic "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," which punctuated her early career, to the heartbreaking "The Man that Got Away," near the end of it, Garland sold her songs wholesale to her audience, a testament to her voice's strength and virtuosity. "I sing for the people," Garland said a few years before her death, and more than 40 years later the same is still true. Plus: radio programs, trailers, deleted musical numbers, more. (Warner)