The Bette Davis Collection: Vol. 2 (Marked Woman / Jezebel / The Man Who Came to Dinner / Old Acquaintance / What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? Two-Disc Special Edition) (Sous-titres français) [Import]
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Bette Davis's long career as a Warner Bros. contract star is crowded with decent movies, so it's no surprise that Vol. 2 of The Bette Davis Collection is about as strong as the first such DVD bundle. Even so, it strays from the classic years by including the latter-career What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, also made at Warner, and an entire disc given to a new feature-length documentary. The earliest title here is 1937's Marked Woman, a tart vehicle from the busy period following her first Oscar. Bette plays a clip-joint girl recruited by D.A. Humphrey Bogart to rat on a Lucky Luciano-style mob boss. Here Davis spits and sparks like a young dragon, so electrically "on" that other actors sometimes look a little afraid of her.
Jezebel is one of the best-remembered of Davis's performances, and the second of her Oscar wins. Something of an audition for the Gone with the Wind lead (of course she didn't get that part), Davis plays a scheming New Orleans belle whose headstrong behavior brings grief to fiancé Henry Fonda--and eventually to herself. This was the first time William Wyler directed Davis, and the intensity of their collaboration (and affair) is visible. The Man Who Came to Dinner, while a fun movie, is not a Davis vehicle; she takes a distinctly supporting role to Monty Woolley's deliciously nasty re-creation of his Broadway triumph. He plays the famous writer Sheridan Whiteside, waylaid by a cracked hip in the home of some squares in small-town Ohio.
Old Acquaintance (1943) is a trademark Warner "women's picture," with Davis and Miriam Hopkins as childhood friends who become rival writers in adulthood (the John Van Druten play was later remade as Rich and Famous). Hopkins has the showier role, but Davis shines by contrast. Davis and Hopkins hated each other in real life, which must have been good preparation for Davis on What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, her epic showdown with Joan Crawford, filmed as both actresses found their careers well into eclipse. The two former screen queens were not friendly and had never worked together, but their inspired casting in this Grand Guignol tale resulted in a surprise box-office smash. Robert Aldrich brought his smart sensibility to the story of two showbiz sisters living a grotesque existence well out of the public eye. The movie has become a camp classic in the years since its release, a phenomenon acknowledged by the disc's commentary track featuring veteran female impersonators Charles Busch and John Epperson ("Lypsinka"). The set also includes a bonus disc of supporting short documentaries and archival footage.
Stardust: The Bette Davis Story is a feature doc that gives a thorough cruise through Davis's life and career, with an emphasis on the warts-and-all side of biography (an admiring Susan Sarandon narrates). It's well paced and heavy with good clips, although it does render some the supporting bios on the Baby Jane bonus disc redundant. --Robert Horton
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DAVIS: VOL 2 is a strange collection that goes all the way from the gripping crime drama MARKED WOMAN (1937) to the Grand Guignol WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? (1962). Along the way it includes one outright masterpiece (1938's JEZEBEL) and a Monty Woolley stage comedy (1942's THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER) that is totally out of place in this set, and a neglected Davis treasure (1943's OLD ACQUAINTANCE).
Where does one begin? THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER has Bette Davis top-billed as secretary to acid-tongued Monty Woolley, who is really the star here as Sheridan Whiteside. This brilliantly written (the Epstein brothers) and directed (William Keighley) comedy preserves Woolley's stage role and the Broadway hit. It is Christmas season in Ohio, when Whiteside slips on the icy front steps of ditzy Billie Burke's modest home. Laid up in a wheelchair for an indeterminate time, Whiteside turns Burke's house into his chaotic own (complete with penguins and an octopus in an aquarium!) and demands that her staff serve his every whim at all times. It is a masterpiece of a performance by Woolley, surrounded by a top supporting cast. It is a wonderful and hilarious comedy. But it is not in any way a Bette Davis vehicle. I might have chosen THE GREAT LIE (1941), with Oscar-winning Mary Astor instead.
Excluding STARDUST, we are left with four outstanding Davis movies that are all worth seeing, if not the masterpieces that are in VOLUME ONE. In chronological order, MARKED WOMAN is a chilling crime drama with Bette as one of several dance hall "hostesses" to mob boss Eduardo Ciannelli. Humphrey Bogart gets to play a D.A. this time and wants Davis to confess against Ciannelli, who carves up her face (fortunately in an off-screen room with horrendous crimes) when she does that. Modern Hollywood could take a lesson from this movie in terms of off-screen violence being much worse than on-screen. Since this film was made under the Hays censorship office, we know Ciannelli and his henchmen will go to prison at the end. But how and by whom? There are half a dozen "hostesses" along with Bette. MARKED WOMAN packs a wallop and really holds up well.
William Wyler's JEZEBEL is the true masterpiece of this boxed set. In 1850's New Orleans (sets and costumes are just flawless), Davis' Julie is a free-spirit who has everyone gasping when she goes to the all-white Olympus Ball in a red dress with fiance Pres (Henry Fonda in a skillfully unpleasant performance). He is disgraced and she soon has no fiance. One year later, Fonda is married...to Margaret Lindsay, who tries to be nice to Davis. Bette has contempt for both of them. Davis won a Best Actress Oscar for this complex performance, which many see as her Southern belle consolation for not being cast as Scarlett O'Hara in GONE WITH THE WIND, which went into filming only months later. Watch Davis' Julie and try to visualize her as Scarlett. Fay Bainter is superb and won Supporting Actress for JEZEBEL, which has been impeccably crafted by the always reliable Wyler. This movie is a meticuous treasure that ends flamboyantly, with New Orleans on fire with yellow fever in 1854. Though a gorgeously photographed B&W movie, one can actually visualize oranges and reds and yellows.
OLD ACQUAINTANCE, directed by Vincent Sherman (who does audio commentary with film scholar Boze Hadleigh), is a John van Druten stage drama . Van Druten scripted with Leonore Coffee. It is a neglected treat with Davis battling on- and off-screen with rival Miriam Hopkins. When Hopkins' Millie goes into temper tantrums, Davis' Kit underplays and smiles. They are well matched as novelists. Millie is the Danielle Steel of her age who writes a book a month, while Davis goes for well-crafted and slowly-written works of art. The two fight and make up and fight again over maybe twenty years in a very good movie about the power of friendship. Maybe they hated each other's guts off the set, but both Hopkins and Davis are superlative as Kit and Millie. The audio commentary here is a real treat. Trivia note: George Cukor did a 1981 remake of this, with Jacqueline Bisset and Candice Bergen, called RICH AND FAMOUS. The 1943 original is way better.
With a second disk of juicy bonuses that include feature-length biographies of both Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? may be the most popular movie in this collection. It certainly has Bette in a chilling field day performance that actually gave me nightmares after watching it in a night bedroom alone. The two actresses play opposite sisters, living in a 1962 Hollywood mansion. (The B&W interior set decoration is magnificent.) Davis is the grotesque Baby Jane, who torments crippled Crawford as Blanche; both sisters dream of a screen comeback. Did the actresses fight much on the set? Bette has said somewhere on this DVD set (maybe in STARDUST) that BABY JANE was a low-budget B&W movie shot in only three weeks so "there was no time for a feud. Maybe if the schedule were three months if would have happened, but not here." There is a twist ending and an unforgettable supporting performance by Victor Buono. The movie is as dark and frightening as they come and got Davis her TENTH Oscar nomination. That is what set off the feud--when Davis got nominated and not Crawford also. But it was after the movie was completed. BABY JANE is an unforgettable Hollywood Gothic masterpiece. Have fun with it!
Once again, the movies in huge 6-disk THE BETTE DAVIS COLLECTION: VOLUME 2 are MARKED WOMAN (1937), JEZEBEL (1939), THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER (1942), OLD ACQUAINTANCE (1943), WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? (1962), and the magnificent new documentary STARDUST: THE BETTE DAVIS STORY (2006). It is quite an assortment; and it comes with a generous array of bonus cartoons, short subjects, and conversations with film scholars. I think the lady would approve To quote her in ALL ABOUT EVE (1950)--"Fasten your seat belts. It's going to be a bumpy night!"
-All This and Heaven, Too
-The Corn Is Green
-Watch on the Rhine
-In This Our Life
"Marked Woman" (1937)
Mary Dwight (Bette Davis) works as a hostess at the Club Intime run by ruthless gangster Johnny Vanning (Eduardo Ciannelli). When one of her "clients" is murdered prosecutor David Graham (Humphrey Bogart) questions Mary but she won't cooperate and Vanning is acquitted. When Mary's sister Betty (Jane Bryan) is killed by one of Vanning's thugs she decides to spill the beans and is beaten into disfigurement. At her bedside all the witnesses agree to testify.
Set in antebellum New Orleans during the early 1850's, this film follows Julie Marsden (Bette Davis) through her quest for social redemption on her own terms. Julie is a beautiful and free spirited Southern belle who is sure of herself and controlling of her fiancé Preston Dillard, (Henry Fonda) a successful young banker. Julie's sensitive but domineering personality--she does not want so much to hurt as to assert her independence--forces a wedge between Preston and herself. To win him back, she plays North against South amid a deadly epidemic of yellow fever, which claims a surprising victim.
"The Man Who Came To Dinner" (1942)
Sheridan Whiteside, (Monty Woolley) an eccentric and acid-tongued radio lecturer, is disabled on the doorstep of a prominent Ohio family and must remain confined to the unwilling family's home for a few days. Discovering what he believes to be problems within the household, Sheridan ("Sherry") discovers his leg is fine. Bribing the doctor to declare him unfit to leave for a few weeks, Sherry hatches a plot to fix all of the household's problems, including his loyal secretary Maggie Cutler (Bette Davis) who has just discovered her true love Bert Jefferson (Richard Travis). Lots of fun here with great performances by the entire cast which also include Ann Sheridan, Billie Burke, and the wonderfully comic Jimmy Durante.
"Old Acquaintance" (1943)
Established serious author Kit Marlowe (Bette Davis) inspires hometown pal Millie Drake (Miriam Hopkins) who writes a trashy novel published with Kit's help. Millie's husband Preston (John Loder) leaves her. Ten years of trashy novels later Millie tries to reconcile, but Preston is marrying another. Millie accuses Kit of husband stealing. Later Kit learns of Millie's daughter Diedre's (Dolores Moran) affection for Rudd, (Gig Young) whom Kit was thinking of marrying. Kit blesses their union and makes up with Millie.
"What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?" (1962) -2 disc Special Edition-
Two aging film actresses live as virtual recluses in an old Hollywood mansion. Jane Hudson, (Bette Davis) a successful child star, cares for her crippled sister Blanche, (Joan Crawford) whose career in later years eclipsed that of Jane. Now the two live together, their relationship affected by simmering subconscious thoughts of mutual envy, hate and revenge. Spiteful pranks and bitchy dialogue make this one a jewel in the "Crown of Camp!"
"Stardust: The Bette Davis Story" (2005) -documentary-
Covering the early and later parts of the legendary star's vast film career, "Stardust" captures the allure of Davis in her early films and goes on to show her courage and in-your-face attitude which mesmerized her fans and made her a box office draw even in her golden years. Some of the material can also be seen on Disc 2 of the `What Ever Happened To Baby Jane" DVD, however, there is enough in "Stardust" to make it a nice addition to the set, as well.
A rumored "Bette Davis Collection: Volume 3" is supposedly in the works and set for release this year, however, nothing official has been announced of the titles to be included or the date of release. Hopefully a box set entitled "The Joan Crawford Collection: Volume 2" will accompany Davis third box set release -there's a lot of Crawford classics still awaiting a DVD release, as well. But until then, enjoy this "Volume 2 collection of Davis classics, it will sit well next to your Volume 1 set of your Classic DVD Library.
The Bette Davis Collection, Vol. 2 (Jezebel / What Ever Happened to Baby Jane Two-Disc Special Edition / The Man Who Came to Dinner / Marked Woman / Old Acquaintance / Stardust: The Bette Davis Story)
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