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Media : Armchair Cinephile

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Undimmed stars

A year ago, when Warner Bros. unveiled rival box sets devoted to Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, movie buffs were told they’d have to wait a while to see a special edition of the film that pitted one against the other, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane. The day is finally here, with a two-disc set of that bizarre creepfest headlining The Bette Davis Collection Vol. 2.

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She’s got the original Bette Davis eyes.

Bundled together with a 2005 documentary, Stardust, hosted by Susan Sarandon, the other four titles in the set focus on a period long before 1962’s Baby Jane set Davis off on a string of sometimes dated horror films. (Anchor Bay’s recent The Anniversary is one, made in ’67 for Hammer Films.) In this batch of oldies, Davis plays everything from a privileged Southern belle (with Henry Fonda in Jezebel) to a whore (Marked Woman, in which Humphrey Bogart’s prosecutor begs Davis to help him convict her mobster boss). She plays an author in Old Acquaintance and an author’s secretary in The Man Who Came to Dinner. One thing she never plays is second fiddle.

As for Crawford, she seems to have lost this round: No Vol. 2 of her collection has arrived, and there doesn’t seem to be one planned. Her main presence on the new-release shelves is via a very unflattering portrait: Mommie Dearest, in which Faye Dunaway plays the actress as the Mother From Hell, is available in something called a “Hollywood Royalty Edition.” Paramount has decided not to pretend folks take this one seriously, and provides a commentary by John Waters as well as a feature in which Waters camps it up with female impersonator Lipsynka.

Despite the absence of a follow-up Crawford collection, this is a good moment for fans of larger-than-life movie stars. Warner’s new Clark Gable Signature Collection is the company’s latest homage to Hollywood’s Golden Age, lavishing vintage shorts and cartoons on almost all of the six titles included. (John Ford’s Mogambo, which has been available for a while apart from this set, is the exception.) Glamorous romance, music, and comedy make up the bulk of the collection, with occasional death-defying risk-taking for exotic treasure (oil in Boom Town, gold in China Seas). Gable may be the name on the box, but his co-stars are no slouches: Myrna Loy, Jean Harlow, Spencer Tracy, and, in Dancing Lady, the neglected Ms. Crawford.

Fox gets into the game this month as well, although with a bit of a false start: Its Marilyn Monroe Anniversary Collection (guess calling it an “80th Birthday” edition would chip away at MM’s sex appeal?) is really nothing new, drawing titles from the studio’s two previous box sets and putting them in new packages. At least they’ve used original poster art this time, instead of the earlier generic artwork.

What is new, though, is Fox’s tribute to Marilyn’s bombshell predecessor, Betty Grable. Four of the Leggy One’s musicals appear in The Betty Grable Collection Vol. 1, two taken from the prime of her stardom (Down Argentine Way and Moon Over Miami) and the others from slightly after it. Grable admirers who don’t want the song and dance aren’t completely out of luck, as one of the latest Fox Film Noir titles is her deliciously titled I Wake Up Screaming. Does Screaming live up to its moniker? Maybe not — but how many movies do?


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