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“The Bette Davis Collection“
Reviewed by: Wayne A. Klein
Genre: Drama
Video: 1.33:1 Full screen
Audio: Dolby Digital 1.0
Languages English
Subtitles English, Spanish
Length Approximately 500 minutes
Rating NR
Release Date 6/14/05
Studio Warner Home Video
Commentary: James Ursini, Paul Clinton on “Dark Victory”, Vincent Sherman on “Mr. Skeffington”
Documentaries: None
Featurettes: “Mr Skeffington: A Picture of Stength”, “How Real is The Star”, “Tough Competition for Dark Victory”
Filmography/Biography: None
Interviews: None
Trailers/TV Spots: Theatrical trailers for all the films
Alternate/Deleted Scenes: Alternate ending for “The Letter”
Music Video: None
Other: “Cast Career Highlights”, Max Steiner Scoring Session Music Cues for “Now Voyager”
Cast and Crew: Bette Davis, Sterling Hayden, Natalie Wood, Claude Rains, Humphrey Bogart, Geraldine Fitzberald, Ronald Reagan, George Brent, Paul Henreid, Herbert Marshall
Written By: Julius and Philip Epstein, Casey Robinson, Howard Koch,
Produced By: Hal Wallis, Jack Warner, Julius & Philip Epstein
Directed By: Edmunt Goulding, Irving Rapper, William Wyler, Vincent Sherman
Music: Max Steiner, Franz Waxman
The Review:

It’s only right that former rivals Bette Davis and Joan Crawford should have their boxed sets released as the same time. After all, these screen icons took the game of one-upmanship to a new level during their career in Hollywood. “The Bette Davis Collection” takes an outstanding roster of classic Davis films, cleans them up and adds some marvelous new extras for DVD. Warner Home Video has consistently been at the cutting edge (with the exception of not using Amray boxes early on for the nasty snapper cases) when it comes to bringing movies to DVD with terrific image qualityand extras. While three of the titles in the boxed set were previously available, putting them together like this makes the set much more affordable for Davis fans and brings together some of her most critical films for the first time. Two of the best films in this set were previously available on DVD. “Dark Victory” and “Now Voyager” received deluxe releases earlier. Available for the first time are the two minor classics “The Star” and “Mr. Skeffington” along with the just released classic “The Letter”. “The Star” has been underestimated over the years following in the wake of Davis’ return to form with “All About Eve”. ***

“Dark Victory” is one of those three hankie classics and became a huge hit for Davis as well as a multiple Academy Award nominee. Davis gives a marvelous performance as the dying wealthy Judith Traherne who is determined to find happiness in her time remaining. ***

“Now Voyager” manages to intertwine a dark, psychological drama with a love story as Davis plays Charloette Vale who finally rejects her overbearing mother and finds love and happiness as an independent woman for the first time in her life. ***

Director William Wyler’s “The Letter” takes W. Somerset Maugham’s wonderful noir play and gives it a deluxe cinematic treatment. Set in Malaysia, “The Letter” tells the story of Leslie Crosbie who murders a man in the mansion she shares with her plantation owning husband (Herbert Marshall). It’s a well constructed film that takes Maugham’s play and makes it a visually luid and fascinating adaptation. Davis gives a marvelous performance which earned her another Oscar nomination. ***

“Mr. Skeffington” is a solid drama featuring strong performances from Claude Rains and Walter Abel. Davis plays Fanny Trellis a single woman who agrees to marry the wealthy Job Skeffington (Rains). When Fanny’s brother is killed during World War I, she blames herself and her marriage to Skeffington. As her marriage falls apart around her, both have extramarital affairs and eventually end up divorced. She continues to pursue younger and younger suitors as her young daughter grows up in the custody of her usband. Her daughter reenters her life reminding Fanny just how old she has grown and how much of her life she has frivolously wasted. It’s an underrated appreciated classic from Davis and director Vincent Sherman (“The Adventures of Don Juan”). “Mr. Skeffington” was written by Julius and Philip Epstein who co-wrote “Casablanca” among many other film classics. ***

Davis plays washed up actress Margaret Elliot in “The Star” with a strong supporting cast consisting of the marvelous Sterling Hayden and Natalie Wood. It’s an underrated performance that probably should have won an Oscar (she was nominated for her ninth but failed to win). Elliot desperately tries to get her life and career back on track. Amazingly, “The Star” with its humanized portrayal of an Oscar winning actress on the downhill slide was pulled apart by critics hen it was released in 1952. It’s one of Davis’ best underrated films.

Image and Sound: “Dark Victory” receives a brand spanking new transfer with some new extras and exceptionally good. There’s still numerous analog flaws in the form of scratches but that’s to be expected from a film over 60 years old. Still, I’m surprised that the restoration didn’t digitally correct many of these flaws. “Now, Voyager” looks stunning with most of the major damage to the film repaired. Using Warner’s digital restoration techniques the film hasn’t looked this bold and vivid in some time. All of the films looks terrific but I was particularly impressed with “Mr. Skeffington” and “The Star” both of which have never appeared on DVD before. Why? Because compared to the laserdisc and video versions these DVDs are a revelation for fans. The audio is exceptionlly crisp and clear. There’s not much that really could have been done with the mono tracks here to improve them but beyond finding a way to revamp them for 5.1 or 2.0 (stereo surround), that’s luckily not an issue.
The Extras:

We get a whole bunch of very cool extras for Davis fans. “Dark Victory” includes the original theatrical trailer and a featurette on the year the film came out and the competition if faced both critically and at the Academy Awards. Warner takes a page out of the Criterion book by providing the original Lux Radio Theater broadcast featuring both Davis and her co-star Herbert Marshall. There’s also an alternate ending which really doesn’t differ all that significantly from the final version. It’s trimmed a bit here and there but doesn’t alter the outcome of the film. “Now, Voyager” which was re-released earlier features Max Steiner’s scoring session music cues rescued from oblivion. There’s also the theatrical trailer for the film and a “Cast Career Highlights” static presentation that’s pretty self explanatory. “The Star” has a great new featurette “How Real is ‘The Star’” which briefly touches on the intersection between reality and fiction. Unlike the fictional character that Davis plays, her career was on an upswing. The original theatrical trailer is presented as well. “Mr. Skeffington: A Picture of Strength” features the film’s director (going strong at 98 years of age!) and a discussion of the film’s conflicts and production.

Commentary: A number of strong commentary tracks are included for key films. “Dark Victory” the three hankie classic has film historian James Ursini and CNN film critic Paul Clinton making observations about Davis’ career, the time the film was made in and how the morality/type of film fit into the Hollywood genre of “Women’s Pictures”. The thoughtful and intelligent commentary by director Vincent Sherman on his film “Mr. Skeffington” is a real treat. The spry Sherman remembers quite a bit about the production of the film and passes along a lot of trivia about the production, getting along with Davis and some of the issues theproduction ran into during shooting. ---
Final Words: A terrific set from Warner Home Video packages some previously available classics with a pair of previously unreleased Davis classics that are undervalued by many critics. Featuring stellar transfers, the films all look marvelous with some still exhibiting some minor analog flaws. On the whole, Warner has done a marvelous job with this set devoted to Davis’ career.


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