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.