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DVD Review: The Maisie Collection: Volume 1

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The five films included in Warner Archive’s The Maisie Collection: Volume 1 aren’t exactly all-time classics — the narratives tend to be formulaic and flimsy, the productions are cheap and the giant reset button that gets pressed before each new entry ensures there’s no continuity in the franchise. And yet, there’s an irresistibly entertaining quality to these films and a charm that supersedes their B-picture limitations thanks to the presence of Ann Sothern as the titular Maisie Ravier, a feisty Brooklyn showgirl who finds herself in a variety of predicaments.

MaisieSothern may not have the name recognition of a Jean Harlow (originally intended for the role before her untimely death) but her witty ripostes and utterly convincing take-no-shit attitude make her one of the most appealing comedic actresses of her era. Audiences of the time obviously agreed — MGM made ten Maisie films between 1939 and 1947, and the first five are presented here in what one presumes is the first of two planned volumes. The five films included are:

Maisie (1939)
After traveling to a middle-of-nowhere Wyoming town for a showbiz gig that doesn’t pan out (a common opener in these films), Maisie finagles a job at a local ranch, despite the protestations of manager Slim (Robert Young). Ingratiating herself to owners Cliff (Ian Hunter) and Sybil Ames (Ruth Hussey), Maisie begins working as their personal maid and finds herself wrapped up in their personal life, as the couple is trying to overcome infidelity and rebuild their marriage.

Congo Maisie (1940)
Essentially a reworking of the first film, transposed to the jungle and with some added voodoo nonsense, Congo Maisie sees the showgirl stowing away on a ship after getting stranded in an African village. After being discovered, she’s forced to take up with Michael Shane (John Carroll) a former doctor and plantation owner, and when they travel to his former jungle outpost where a new doctor lives, the romantic entanglements begin to crop up yet again.

Gold Rush Maisie (1940)
A little more serious-minded than the previous two installments, Gold Rush Maisie features a fairly sympathetic take on the difficulty for poor farmers to make a living in the Dust Bowl era. After another gig falls through, Maisie falls in with the Davis family, a poverty-stricken clan desperate to strike it rich when gold fever hits a former ghost town. The take-charge Maisie helps look out for their interests, enlisting reluctant rancher Bill Anders (Lee Bowman) to share his resources.

Maisie Was a Lady (1941)
An aristocratic soap opera stocked with an excellent supporting cast, Maisie Was a Lady finds Maisie actually holding down a showbiz job as the film opens, but it doesn’t last long. Drunken playboy Robert Rawlston (Lew Ayres) exposes her headless woman shtick as a fraud, but hires Maisie on as a family maid as recompense. Maisie soon strikes up a friendship with Robert’s sister Abigail (Maureen O’Sullivan) and helps her navigate a difficult situation with a man only interested in her money.

Ringside Maisie (1941)
After losing yet another entertainer job — this time as a dancer — Maisie strikes up a relationship with a promising young boxer, Terry Dolan (Robert Sterling), and his manager Skeets (George Murphy), whom she accompanies on the loathe-to-love trajectory. Despite his skills in the ring, Dolan just wants to run a grocery store, but Skeets is determined to get his money’s worth out of the fighter. Taking a job as Dolan’s mother’s companion, Maisie supports him but worries about his safety in the ring.

The five-disc set grants each film its own disc inside of a regular-width keepcase. All the films feature sharp, remastered images except for Ringside Maisie, which Warner claims is sourced from a recent progressive master source. Ringside has a little more significant damage than the others, but the quality is fairly comparable. All five films are accompanied by a trailer.

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About Dusty Somers

Dusty Somers is a Seattle-based editor and writer. He is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and Seattle Theater Writers.