THE BETTE DAVIS COLLECTION, VOL. 2
Of all the great actresses of Hollywood’s golden age, I would have to categorize Bette Davis as my personal favorite. With ten Oscar nominations, two wins for Best Actress and appearances in so many classic films, Davis certainly made her mark on Hollywood. What I loved most about Davis was her mastery of her craft and a decided lack of vanity, which allowed her make herself appear unattractive on the screen, whenever it was in the best interest of the character she was portraying. For me, Bette Davis is the epitome of the term Movie Star, which meant significantly more in Hollywood’s golden age, than it does today, especially when one considers that many of the so called "stars" currently appearing in films are little more than a flavor of the week. Fortunately for movie buffs and Davis’ other fans, Warner Home Video offers up a second volume of classic films starring Ms. Bette Davis.
Released in 1937, MARKED WOMAN is decidedly one of the gritty gangster films that Warner Bros was famous for producing during the decade. In MARKED WOMAN, Bette Davis portrays Mary Dwight, "a hostess" at Club Intimé, one of the many clip joints run by mobster Johnny Vanning (Eduardo Ciannelli). When one of the customers at Club Intimé turns up dead with Mary’s name in a matchbook found on the body, Assistant District Attorney David Graham (Humphrey Bogart) tries to enlist Mary’s help in putting the mobster behind bars, but she wants no part of it. However when her own sister becomes another casualty of Johnny Vanning, Mary finally decides to do the right thing, but finds herself literally a "Marked Woman" being scarred by Johnny’s goons after a violent beating. The cast of MARKED WOMAN also features Lola Lane, Isabel Jewell, Rosalind Marquis, Mayo Methot and Jane Bryan.
The year before David O. Selznick’s legendary epic GONE WITH THE WIND was released; Warner Bros. brought forth JEZEBEL, a tale of another willful and headstrong southern belle, who was not unlike the heroine of the classic epic. JEZEBEL stars Bette Davis in an Academy Award winning performance as Julie Marsden- a very spoiled and self-centered young woman, who throws away her reputation and her chance at happiness in a single night. In the days prior to the civil war, an unmarried woman couldn’t appear at a major social function in any color other than white. Disregarding the conventions of the day, Julie has the audacity to appear at a ball in a shocking red gown.
Of course, New Orleans’ society is scandalized by Julie’s actions, and her betrothed, Preston Dillard (Henry Fonda), is outraged. In fact, Dillard is pushed to the limits of his tolerance with his willful fiancée, promptly breaking off his engagement to Julie and leaving New Orleans altogether. When Dillard returns to New Orleans one year later, with a new wife, Julie wants revenge. But instead of getting what she really wants, Julie sets in motion a chain of events that wrecks the lives of a number of bystanders. With blood on her hands, Julie seeks to redeem herself by selflessly walking into a yellow fever epidemic to look after the only man she ever loved. The cast of JEZEBEL also features George Brent, Margaret Lindsay, Fay Bainter, Donald Crisp, Spring Byington and Eddie 'Rochester' Anderson.
THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER
While THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER is indeed a jewel of a movie, its inclusion in a Bette Davis box set is something of a head scratcher. Although Davis receives top billing, the actress is part of a marvelous ensemble cast, instead of the film’s leading lady. Warner’s desire to include a Davis comedy in the box could have been met with THE BRIDE CAME C.O.D., a film that is a whole better and a whole lot funnier than many folks give it credit for. Getting back to THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER, the film is indeed a gem of an adaptation of the Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman play, even if the topical humor has lost its edge. Monty Woolley is an absolute delight as commentator Sheridan Whiteside, the acerbic title character, who stops off in a small Ohio town and falls on the steps of the home in which he is to have dinner.
Literally taking over the domicile in which he is convalescing, Whiteside truly becomes the houseguest from hell. Now, other than his secretary Maggie Cutler (Davis), almost none of the small town residents goes unscathed by Whiteside’s searing wit and his irascible temperament. However, once Whiteside learns that Maggie has fallen in love with a local newspaperman, he turns his usual deviltry in Maggie’s direction, importing man hungry Broadway star Lorraine Sheldon (Ann Sheridan) to work her charms on the green newspaperman. The fine cast of THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER also features Richard Travis, Jimmy Durante, Billie Burke, Reginald Gardiner, Elisabeth Fraser, Grant Mitchell, George Barbier and Mary Wickes.
OLD ACQUAINTANCE is one of those decidedly female intensive melodramas that have been enormously popular with women as long as the gender has attended the cinema. This classic "Woman Picture" (AKA 1940’s version of the "Chick Flick") stars Bette Davis and Miriam Hopkins as Kit Marlowe and her best friend Millie Drake. When we first meet Kit and Millie, Kit is a critically acclaimed author and Millie is a young wife with her own ambitions of being a writer. Nearly a decade passes; Mille is now a successful writer of trashy romance novels, while Kit remains a well reviewed author, who has found commercial successful elusive. While Millie’s life seems ideal, her self-absorption and dedication to her writing has left her marriage in shambles and her husband Preston (John Loder) in love with Kit.
Another decade passes; Kit’s fortunes have improved and she is contemplating marrying Rudd Kendall (Gig Young), a man ten years her junior. As for Millie, she remains self-absorbed and deludes herself that her former husband Preston wants to reconcile, when he contacts her for the first time in years. With OLD ACQUAINTANCE, Bette Davis gives another really solid performance making her character’s continual self-sacrifice believable. As for Miriam Hopkins, she’s quite good at bringing to life melodramatic character, but occasionally takes things just a bit too far over the top. The cast of OLD ACQUAINTANCE also features Gig Young, Dolores Moran, Philip Reed, Roscoe Karns, Anne Revere and Esther Dale.
WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?
With WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?, director Robert Aldrich created a highly effective and incredibly disturbing piece of psychological horror which has gone on to become regarded as a classic of the genre. WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? was a difficult project to get off the ground, and Aldrich found himself dealing with studio reluctance concerning the subject matter or film, as well as Aldrich’s choices for leading actresses. Of course, Aldrich was vindicated when the film turned out to be enormously popular with the public, even with "unbankable has-beens" portraying the film’s two central characters.
WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? stars Bette Davis and Joan Crawford as Jane Hudson and her sister Blanche. During her childhood, Baby Jane Hudson was an enormously popular and spoiled child star in vaudeville. Her sister Blanche achieved fame later in life, becoming a top Hollywood boxoffice draw. Unfortunately, Jane was unable to make the transition from child star to adult actress, although Blanche allowed Jane to ride her coattails, even when the studio wanted no part of her. However, one night after a Hollywood party, there is a terrible accident, one that changes the lives of both sisters forever.
WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? then flashes forward a good thirty years, where we find Blanche confined to a wheelchair due to the accident. Out of a sense of guilt, Jane has remained with her sister all these years, but time has been unkind to her. Jane is a terrible alcoholic who teeters close to a complete mental breakdown. Blanche realizes that Jane needs help and decides to sell their home to get Jane the help she so desperately needs. Unfortunately for Blanche, Jane discovers her sister’s plans, which drives her completely over the edge. Thus, Jane begins a reign of psychological and physical torture against her invalid sister, while at the same time, making delusional plans for Baby Jane’s big comeback.
Baby Jane Hudson is a horrifying character, one that seethes with the rage of a spoiled child, yet Davis brings a subtle poignancy to the role, making Jane a sympathetic victim of her circumstances. Bette Davis received a much-deserved Academy Award nomination for her brave and disturbing performance. Designing the garish Baby Jane makeup herself, Davis created a look that is pathetic, comic, but ultimately horrific. Joan Crawford gives an equally strong performance as the crippled and victimized Blanche, who sticks by her sister for her own very personal reasons. Victor Buono made quite an impression with his screen debut in WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?. Buono’s portrayal of a mother-dominated musician looking to break away from her and ingratiate himself into the life of Baby Jane Hudson, earned the character actor an Academy Award nomination. The cast of WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? also features Anna Lee, Barbara Merrill, Robert Cornthwaite, Marjorie Bennett and Maidie Norman.
Warner Home Video has made has made each film comprising THE BETTE DAVIS COLLECTION, VOL. 2 in fine-looking presentations. All five films are black and white, MARKED WOMAN, JEZEBEL, THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER and OLD ACQUAINTANCE are properly framed at 1.37:1, while WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? is offered at 1.78:1 in 16:9 enhanced widescreen. Every one of these films looks terrific on DVD, MARKED WOMAN is the oldest and as such, has the weakest presentation, but still manages to look great for a near seventy year old film. Warner has done a tremendous job mastering the films for DVD; levels of sharpness and detail vary slightly from film to film, with very mild softness, occasionally creeping in to each. The remastered WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? totally blows the previous un-enhanced widescreen DVD out of the water, with the Oscar Nominated cinematography being rendered tremendous clarity. Grayscale in the collection varies between great and totally stunning. The film elements, from which the five films have been transferred, occasionally show signs of age, minor blemishes, scratches and speckling seems to be the worst of it. As for film grain, each movie does show some, MARKED WOMAN is where it becomes most noticeable, but is never bothersome. Digital compression artifacts are always well contained.
Each of the five films has a fairly solid Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack. As expected, Warner has done a fine job of scrubbing away most of the background hiss and other audible anomalies during the mastering process, leaving these films with a generally smooth and reasonably pleasant sound. Voices are cleanly reproduced and the dialogue maintains complete intelligibility. It should come as no surprise that fidelity varies throughout the collection, with the oldest film having the thinnest sounding track, and the newest having the most full bodied. WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? and OLD ACQUAINTANCE contains a French language tracks, while English, French and Spanish subtitles are provided on each, except OLD ACQUAINTANCE, which is without English subtitles.
Music underscores the basic interactive menus, which allow one access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the supplemental features contained on each film, which can be purchased individually. When one purchases THE BETTE DAVIS COLLECTION, VOL. 2 as a whole, the boxed set contains a bonus disc featuring the eighty-eight minute documentary/biography STARDUST: THE BETTE DAVIS STORY. Narrated by Susan Sarandon, STARDUST: THE BETTE DAVIS STORY proves to be an insightful program that profiles this legendary Hollywood star through a lifelong series of professional, as well as personal ups and downs.
Supplements included on each of the individual films are as follows: MARKED WOMAN contains the twelve minute featurette, Marked Woman: Ripped From The Headlines, which puts a real life spin of the film’s plot by drawing parallels to the exploits of Lucky Luciano. Classic cartoons Porky's Hero Agency and She Was An Acrobat's Daughter are also included, as is a Theatrical Trailer. JEZEBEL contains a running audio commentary by film historian Jeannine Basinger, the twenty-four minute featurette: Jezebel: Legend Of The South, which chronicles the film production in good detail. The vintage musical short Melody Masters: Jimmy Dorsey And His Orchestra is also featured, as is classic cartoon The Mice Will Play and a Theatrical Trailer.
THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER contains the eleven minute featurette The Man Who Came To Dinner: Inside A Classic Comedy, which examines bringing the Kaufman & Hart play to the silver screen and the topical references that have been lost to history. The vintage Joe McDoakes comedy short So You Think You Need Glasses has also been included, as has the musical short Six Hits And A Miss, plus a Theatrical Trailer. OLD ACQUAINTANCE contains a running audio commentary with director Vincent Sherman and author of Bette Davis Speaks Boze Hadleigh. The ten-minute featurette, Old Acquaintance: A Classic Woman's Picture spends more time examining the concept of the woman’s picture than the movie itself. The vintage short: Stars On Horseback, plus classic cartoon: Fin 'N' Catty are also provided, in addition to a Theatrical Trailer.
WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? comes as a Two-Disc Special Edition and contains the greatest amount of supplements. A running audio commentary by Charles Busch and John Epperson (Lypsinka) is provided on disc one, as is a Theatrical Trailer. Disc two offers the meatier supplements. Bette And Joan: Blind Ambition is a twenty nine minute program that examines the careers of the two stars, as well as looking at the one film in which they costarred. Next up is the vintage featurette, Behind The Scenes With Baby Jane, which was made to promote the production of the film. From 1994, we have All About Bette, a forty-eight profile of the actress that looks at the films that made her a screen legend. A Film Profile: Joan Crawford is another vintage program that runs twenty-eight minutes and looks at the career of Davis’ BABY JANE costar. An excerpt from The Andy Williams Show featuring Bette Davis singing the movie’s theme song closes out disc two.
Bette Davis is the personification of great actress as movie star. It is truly wonderful that Warner has released a second boxed set of the actress’s films. Not only are they all great movies, but the presentations are first rate and the DVDs feature solid supplements. If you are a movie buff or fan, THE BETTE DAVIS COLLECTION, VOL. 2 is a must have. Absolutely recommended. Here’s to Vol. 3.
THE BETTE DAVIS COLLECTION, VOL. 2 is available for $59.98, the single disc films are available separately for $19.98 each, while the two-disc is $26.98.
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