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Review - The Bette Davis Collection Vol. 2 (2006)
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The Bette Davis Collection Vol. 2 (DVD-2006)

Warner Home Video

Reviewed by Daniel Severin

 

Sequels aren’t usually worth the money – they generally compare poorly to the original work. But when one involves the incomparably talented Bette Davis, you’re in safe hands. The new seven-disc Bette Davis Collection Volume Two covers greater scope than the first one and admirably shows off the star’s range. In the new set are five great films from one of the greatest movie stars ever, plus exclusive content and lots of bonus features. This essential set includes Jezebel, The Man Who Came to Dinner, Marked Woman, Old Acquaintance and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

 

For Jezebel, Davis won her second Oscar as Julie, a reckless Southern belle whose scandalous behavior causes much gossip. The film co-stars Henry Fonda as the suitor who finds Julie too free-spirited for his quiet nature. Newly restored digitally, Jezebel is luminous on DVD. This early masterpiece from director William Wyler rivals Selznick’s Southern saga Gone With the Wind on every level.

 

Another gem in the set shows Davis’s skill at comedy. In The Man Who Came to Dinner, Davis plays Maggie, the long-suffering secretary of overbearing radio personality Sheridan Whiteside (played by Monty Wooley). Maggie goes along with all her incapacitated boss’s demands until he tries to sabotage her blossoming romance with a small-town playwright. Even more frantic than Bringing Up Baby, The Man Who Came to Dinner is an adaptation of a Kaufman and Hart Broadway hit. This wonderful film requires several viewings to get all the nonstop jokes and double meanings.

 

Next in the collection is Marked Woman, an unusual Warner Brothers gangster film that’s more about women than it is about thugs. Based on the Lucky Luciano trial, Marked Woman shows what happens when a dancehall hostess rats on her mobster boss: her face gets sliced and her sister killed. Davis shines as Mary, the femme fatale who becomes D.A. Humphrey Bogart’s star witness in court. Marked Woman reveals the fruit of Davis’s war for good parts at Warner’s, puts a unique spin on the gangster genre, and makes me wonder why co-star Lola Lane isn’t more famous today.

 

Davis could do anything on-screen. In Old Acquaintance, she and Miriam Hopkins play childhood friends-turned-writers who compete for success, a daughter’s love and the same man. The underrated Vincent Sherman skillfully helmed this soap opera-ish tale of two women who succeed on their own terms.

 

The last film in the second Bette Davis Collection is Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, presented for the first time in a two-disc set jam-packed with extras. Davis plays Jane Hudson, a child star who couldn’t cut it in the movies. Joan Crawford wisely underplays her role as Blanche, a former movie queen who is wheelchair-bound after one of her sister’s violent outbursts. The campy audio commentary track notwithstanding, Baby Jane is intense, scary and boasts some of its stars’ best work. Several vintage documentaries about the film and its leading ladies comprise disc two, along with a disappointing look at the rivalry between Davis and Crawford.

 

More successful in its aim is the box set-exclusive documentary Stardust: the Bette Davis Story. Narrated by Susan Sarandon, the film recounts Davis’s struggles to get noticed in Hollywood and to get good parts once she had become a star. Stardust presents plenty of Davis’s personal suffering but leaves the viewer wanting more. Fortunately, the rest of the Bette Davis Collection Volume Two provides endless entertainment. This is a rare sequel that outshines the original.

 

 

2006 Daniel Severin/Celluloid Dreams

 

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