Even in the 21st century, very few film stars create and define their own genre--and certainly not in the complete way Bette Davis did. The Bette Davis Collection
gives an exceptionally good survey of essential Bette, with four of the five films absolute knock-down classics from her long reign at Warner Bros. Davis's personality was so strong that she tended to overpower her directors, but William Wyler was one of the few to maintain his own distinctive style with her, and The Letter
(1940) is a triumph for both of them. At a humid Malaysian plantation, Davis kills a man in the brilliant opening sequence, and the remainder is a darkly suggestive unraveling of the complicated explanation.
Dark Victory (1939) and Now, Voyager (1942) would be on anybody's list of most representative Davis pictures. In the former, she's a doomed heiress nobly losing her eyesight, a multiple-handkerchief situation that proved one of her biggest hits. Voyager allows Davis one of her favored techniques (appearing frumpy for at least part of her performance) as a mother-dominated spinster who comes out of her shell. Her match with Paul Henreid--and the music of Max Steiner--turns this into one luscious melodrama.
If Mr. Skeffington (1944) is not as celebrated as those films, it is nevertheless a characteristic Warners work-out. Davis wasn't shy about playing unsympathetic roles, and Fanny Skeffington--vain, selfish, married for practicality--is an exasperating tour de force. She gets good support from Claude Rains as the sensible, adoring husband. The Star (1952) is no classic, but its Pirandellian aspects will appeal to the actress's fans: Bette plays a washed-up Oscar-winning star desperate to get herself back in the public eye (think if it as a less witty postscript to All About Eve). There's some hint the main character is modeled more on Joan Crawford than Bette herself, in which case Davis must have loved playing it.
Extras are modest, with short featurettes giving background on three of the discs, and director Vincent Sherman providing commentary for Mr. Skeffington. But the films themselves, and their neurotically intense star, are quite capable of standing alone. --Robert Horton
The Bette Davis Collection features classics from the star whose career spanned decades: Dark Victory, The Letter, Mr. Skeffington, Now, Voyager, and The Star.
In the Bette Davis Collection: Dark Victory: In this tour de force, Bette Davis portrays a Long Island socialite who learns she has less than a year to live. The fine cast includes George Brent, Humphrey Bogart, Geraldine Fitzgereld and Ronald Reagan. Year: 1939 Director: Edmund Goulding Starring: Bette Davis, George Brent, Humphrey Bogart.
The Letter: Bette Davis plays a clever, unfaithful wife turned desperate murderess in this taut drama set in steamy Singapore.
Mr. Skeffington: Whose face ravaged, grotesque is in the mirror? Surely its not that of Fanny Skeffington, the prettiest woman in New York. Fanny always used her beauty to manipulate her way through life. Shes encouraged dozens of suitors, even after her marriage. But now diphtheria has robbed her of her only attribute. And without her looks, shes lost. Bette Davis earned her eighth Best Actress Oscar nomination portraying Fanny
Now, Voyager: Bette Davis magically plays Charlotte Vale, a spinster who defies her domineering mother (fellow Oscar nominee Gladys Cooper) to discover love, heartbreak and eventual contentment. More magic is generated by a top-notch ensemble, Max Steiners Academy Award-winning score and an improvised moment by Paul Henreid that became an instant classic: he lights two cigarettes at once and hands one to Davis. For the ultimate in romantic melodrama, its Now Voyager now, then and forever.
The Star: As Margaret, Bette Davis got yet another good picture and earned her ninth Academy Award nomination. Daviss confident, perceptive performance lends absolute authenticity, as did a prop she provided. An Oscar statuette set noticeably on the car dashboard during Margarets drunken spin through Beverly Hills - was one of two Davis owned.