I'm a diehard Claudette Colbert fan - she's my favorite actress by far, and I've seen many of her sixty-plus movies. This boxset has been a long time coming; I can only hope more are on the way. Featuring six films spanning the years 1933-1947, the set focuses on comedy - a Colbert specialty. The thing about Claudette was that she was good no matter the quality of the film; luckily, all of the movies in this collection are good (and in the case of "Bluebeard's Eighth Wife," phenomenal).
The set comes in an unfolding case, similar to Universal's "Pre-Code Hollywood" collection. The cover's graced by a nice color photo of Claudette, taken from the promo material for 1943's "No Time For Love." The inside features other promotional images from the six movies included here, synopses of each plot, and a brief Claudette bio. Three DVDs, each containing two movies, and the film quality for each is very good. I only detected a bit of grain here and there - understandable for movies seven decades old - and all of the films are uncut. Unfortunately we get no bonus features other than the short "Claudette Colbert: Queen of the Silver Screen," a bio also included on the recent "75th Anniversary" DVD of her 1934 film "Cleopatra."
Three-Cornered Moon (1933): The earliest film in the set. A Pre-Code movie, but there's nothing particularly outrageous about it. Misidentified as a "screwball comedy" on the cover, this is more of a "screwball family" sort of thing. It's a plot that would make for great sitcom fodder: Claudette's upper-crust family discovers their well has run dry. All the money's gone, so they must venture from the safe confines of their mansion into the slum of the "real world." Wackiness ensues. Only, it's not so wacky here, because rather than the madcap plot we might expect, the movie focuses more on Claudette's relationship woes. Will she go for the moon-eyed writer who refuses to work and who has spent years working on his novel, or will she go for the no-nonsense doctor who moves into the house to help the family make ends meet? I'm sure you know the answer, but the movie is diverting fun anyway. Plus it has Mary Boland in it, playing Claudette's mother; the two were paired again in 1934 for DeMille's vastly underrated "Four Frightened People." Oh, and for those easily offended - Three-Cornered Moon is guaranteed to offend the viewers of today. How does Claudette's sulky character "wake up" to the real world and decide which of the two men she's in love with? Why, when one of them SLAPS her, of course. And you know you're watching a `30s film when Claudette falls in love with the slapper. Safe to say, that wouldn't fly in the romantic comedies of today!
Maid of Salem (1937): Puritan-era Salem, Massachusetts, where Claudette sticks out like a rose among weeds. Here she's a doe-eyed waif whose everyday life is disrupted by the arrival of Fred MacMurray. He's a carousing rebel who's run afoul of the ruling British in Richmond, Virginia and has taken to the backwoods of Salem to hide. The two meet cute and love blossoms but in a subplot witch-paranoia breaks out; a little girl uses the ol' "she's a witch!" ruse to get revenge on someone. Soon the entire town shudders, with every woman a suspect. At length Claudette herself is accused of witchcraft and she's trussed up, sent to court, and headed for the stake. I've yet to feel the two plots gel; MacMurray's plotline suddenly becomes extraneous, and you wish they'd either skipped him entirely or just skipped the witch stuff and made it more of a romantic comedy set in Puritan times. Also, the finale is incredibly hamfisted, and while I love a happy ending as much as the next guy, it's all about as believable as that episode of "Bewitched" where Sam went back in time to Salem and confronted the Puritan judges.
I Met Him In Paris (1937): A romantic comedy with one misleading title, as Claudette spends about five minutes screentime in Paris, then heads off to Switzerland where she frolics in the snow for the rest of the movie. This is an enjoyable little film, regardless: Claudette's a hardworking bachelorette on vacation from her design job in NYC. She's saved for months to take a cruise to Paris, only to find she's alone with nothing to do once she arrives. (If only I had a time machine!) Soon enough two men enter the fray, expatriate Americans who both have an eye for her. One of them has a pretty big secret which he strives to keep from Claudette, the other acts as an ostensible chaperone. Together the three travel to Switzerland where all sorts of snowboud hijinks ensue. Bobsledding without an anchor, characters struggling to ski, etc. It's all fun, though, mostly due to Claudette - here reunited with Melvyn Douglas, with whom she'd paired in 1935's "She Married Her Boss."
Bluebeard's Eighth Wife (1938): The gem of the collection. One of my favorite Claudette movies, up there with "It Happened One Night," "The Palm Beach Story," "Cleopatra," and even my favorite of them all, "The Sign of the Cross" (my favorite due to Claudette and Charles Laughton's performances, that is). These days Claudette's 1939 screwball comedy "Midnight" gets the praise, but Bluebeard's Eighth Wife trumps it in every way. Produced and directed by Ernst Lubitsch, written by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder, co-starring Gary Cooper and a very young David Niven, it's a fast-moving, entertaining, hilarious delight from first minute to last. Claudette here is radiant as a French girl who despite herself falls in love with millionaire entrepreneur Cooper, only to discover at their wedding reception that he's been married seven times already. Rather than end the relationship, Claudette agrees to proceed with the marriage only if she will receive $200,000 upon the divorce (previous ex-wives received $150,000). The marriage goes forward and soon they're living separately in opulence - however without consummating the marriage. A sterling example of screwball comedy, the movie's filled with great dialog and snappy scenes. Unusual and memorable characters appear with more frequency than in just about any other movie you could name. My favorite is a soliloquizing boxer who proclaims the merits of knockout-induced astral voyaging. A definite classic, one which for some reason has been panned by critics over the decades. I have no idea what those critics have been smoking; this movie is fantastic.
No Time For Love (1943): Claudette and Fred MacMurray again; this time she's a famous, no-nonsense photographer and he's a blue-collar lummox. After inadvertently causing him injury while photographing the subway tunnel his crew is digging, Claudette takes MacMurray on as an assistant. It's your typical Hollywood mismatch: Claudette the sophisticate, MacMurray the regular joe. And guess which of the two is "bettered" by the other? It's an entertaining movie, though, directed by Mitchell Liesen (who directed Claudette more than any other director), well performed by the entire cast. There's a neat bit early on where Liesen gets surreal, portraying a dream of Claudette's which features MacMurray as Superman, flying to her rescue. Only the film is let down toward the end when we discover MacMurray really IS an educated sort of guy, an amateur inventor who comes up with a money-making method to clear out tunnels for subway lines. The carpet's pulled right out from beneath us and it's as if the preceding hour didn't happen. But still, Claudette and MacMurray have good chemistry and the movie breezes by at a snappy pace.
The Egg And I (1947): Claudette's last "big" movie. Paired with MacMurray again she plays a housewife who finds herself living in the sticks. The `60s sitcom "Green Acres" covered the same territory: inner-city socialites trying to survive in the wild and wooly countryside. Based on a bestselling novel, the film was a huge success, mostly due to the "Ma and Pa Kettle" characters, who continued on in their own films. I'm not a huge fan of the movie though, and I wish something else had been included in its stead - especially when you consider that The Egg And I is already available on DVD as part of the "Ma and Pa Kettle" set. She performs as well as ever but somehow Claudette looks to me too tired in the role; unsurprising, as she was nearly fifty when she made this film, and her screwball-romantic heyday well behind her. If anything this set should have included Claudette's 1940 "Arise My Love" instead of this. Another Mitchell Leisen-directed, Bracket/Wilder-scripted production, Claudette once claimed "Arise" was her own favorite of her films. It's not officially available so this boxset would've made a perfect home for it. Oh well - hopefully next time, right?
So then, a definite recommendation for Claudette Colbert fans, those who enjoy screwball comedy, or anyone into classic Hollywood films. However I wouldn't say this is the best of Claudette on DVD - that honor would go to the "Cecil B. DeMille Boxset," which contains the three movies she made with DeMille, each of which I adore: "The Sign of the Cross," "Cleopatra," and "Four Frightened People." But if you've got that and you want more Claudette (and who doesn't?), then this is the ticket.