Warner Home Video presents
Barbara Stanwyck Signature Collection (Annie Oakley / My Reputation /East Side, West Side / To Please a Lady/ Jeopardy /Executive Suite) (1935-1954)
McDonald Walling: You're not going to throw your stock onto the open market, are you?
Julia Tredway: I don't know and I don't care. Mr. Shaw will take care of everything.
Walling: You can't do that! You're selling half the company. Avery Bullard's company, your own father's!
Tredway: What did I ever get out of it but loneliness and sudden death? What did I ever get out of them but the sight of their backs?
Walling: Bullard gave you everything you had. There wouldn't be any stock if it hadn't been for him. You wouldn't be here at all.
Tredway: I gave him ten years of my life and all my love! Isn't that enough?- William Holden and Barbara Stanwyck in Executive Suite
Stars: Barbara Stanwyck
Other Stars: Preston Foster, Melvyn Douglas, William Holden, June Allyson, Fredric March, Walter Pidgeon, Shelley Winters, Paul Douglas, Louis Calhern, Dean Jagger, Nina Foch, Tom Considine, George Brent, Warner Anderson, Lucile Watson, John Ridgely, Eve Arden, James Mason, Van Heflin, Ava Gardner, Cyd Charisse, Nancy Davis, Gale Sondergaard, Clark Gable, Adolphe Menjou, Will Geer, Barry Sullivan, Ralph Meeker
Director: George Stevens, Robert Wise, Curtis Bernhardt, Mervyn LeRoy, Clarence Brown, John Sturges
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 09h:16m:00s
Release Date: 2007-10-30
DVD ReviewThe next time someone casually dubs an actor or actress "versatile," compare them to Barbara Stanwyck, and then decide whether they truly fit the description. (Chances are they won't.) The Brooklyn-born star helped define the term, and did it during an age when chauvinistic studio heads routinely typecast their female talent. Stanwyck balked at such constraints, and her early dramatic successes (many under the tutelage of director Frank Capra) earned her enough clout to thumb her nose at long-term contracts and pick her own roles. Her shrewd choices spawned a gallery of diverse portrayals that still impress today. Though she's often wrongfully overshadowed by Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, Stanwyck lacks their actress-y affectations, instead donning a natural style that allowed her to adapt to and excel in a variety of genres during her 35-year film career. With deceptive ease, she commuted between screwball comedies (The Lady Eve), rugged westerns (Forty Guns), four-handkerchief weepies (Stella Dallas), tense thrillers (Sorry, Wrong Number), hard-edged film noirs (Double Indemnity), contemporary romances (My Reputation), bold historical dramas (Titanic), even a rare musical (Lady of Burlesque). Few performers of any era can match that.
Warner's Barbara Stanwyck Signature Collection provides a tasty sampling of this icon's work, but unfortunately it's far from definitive. Because Stanwyck freelanced for almost every studio in Hollywood, grouping her best-known movies together in one volume is next to impossible. Warner, however, cleverly sidesteps that issue by culling an intriguing Stanwyck sextet from its vaults. Though only the star's diehard aficionados will recognize the titles, the six slickly produced, well-acted, and entertaining films all cogently examine the ever-evolving persona of this fascinating Hollywood actress.
1935's Annie Oakley kicks off the set, and finds a fresh-faced, spirited Stanwyck impersonating the legendary female sharpshooter a decade before Irving Berlin set her story to music. George Stevens directs the whimsical tale, adroitly combining romance, humor, and plenty of western flavor as he chronicles Oakley's discovery, success, and personal and professional sparring with her male colleague, Toby Walker (Preston Foster). Stanwyck sometimes gets lost amid all the rodeo pageantry, and the lightweight script (which plays fast and loose with the facts) only offers her fleeting opportunities to flex her acting muscles. Yet like the spunky Annie, Stanwyck knows how to shanghai the spotlight, and it's impossible to concentrate on anyone else while she's on screen. Moroni Olsen makes an authentic Buffalo Bill, and Melvyn Douglas provides sterling support in this breezy, sweet-natured biopic.
Over the course of the next decade, Stanwyck would earn Oscar nominations for Stella Dallas, Ball of Fire, and Double Indemnity, but her work in My Reputation (1946) deserves equal praise. Director Curtis Bernhardt's subtle, moving, and realistic portrait of a young widow whose blossoming romance with a middle-aged army major (George Brent) raises eyebrows and ire in her hoity-toity Chicago suburb is arguably one of Stanwyck's finest pictures. As the demure and lonely Jessica Drummond, who must defy the stifling social conventions and judgmental attitudes of her upper crust friends and family as she struggles to mend her broken life, Stanwyck files a flawless performance, expertly mixing restraint with raw emotion. My Reputation could have been an overwrought soap opera, but instead it deeply resonates, and its perspective on love, loss, and duty remains remarkably relevant. The lush cinematography (by James Wong Howe) and music score (by Max Steiner) enhance the work of Bernhardt and Stanwyck, who never looked lovelier on screen. A first-class Warner production, My Reputation is the undisputed gem of this DVD collection.
Not quite as successful, East Side, West Side (1949), a turgid tale of marital infidelity, at last affords Stanwyck the glossy MGM treatment, and—true to the studio's maxim—favors style over substance at every turn. Dapper James Mason plays Stanwyck's philandering husband, a selfish cad who can't free himself from the clutches of a ravishing (and deliciously bitchy) Ava Gardner. (Can you blame him?) For comfort, Stanwyck turns to former cop Van Heflin, all the while hoping the deceitful Mason will spurn his mistress and come home. A murder spices up the proceedings, but comes too late to salvage this spotty, talky melodrama. Stanwyck often rises above the self-important material, but despite some fine scenes (including one standout exchange with Nancy Davis—soon to be Mrs. Ronald Reagan) and glamorous Helen Rose costumes, she can never eclipse Gardner, who slinks away with the picture.
To Please a Lady (1950) re-teams Stanwyck with Clark Gable, with whom she appeared nearly 20 years earlier in the sensational pre-Code drama, Night Nurse (scheduled for DVD release in 2008). Far more conventional, this slight, trite, utterly predictable but still appealing Clarence Brown film generates most of its electricity from the wattage of its two stars, who produce palpable chemistry during both their acrimonious confrontations and cozy love scenes. The story of a ruthless, renegade race car driver (Gable) who tries to rebuild his career after an abrasive, egotistical columnist (Stanwyck) destroys it with her poison pen, To Please a Lady benefits from location shooting at the famed Indianapolis Speedway and above-average action footage. As a tough broad with a hidden tender side, Stanwyck stands up well to Gable's machismo, never giving the imposing actor an inch in their scenes together. (It's also refreshing to see the graying Gable at last romance a co-star close to his own age!) Watching these two consummate pros duke it out on screen is a treat, and makes it easy to forgive the movie's deficiencies.
On its surface, 1953's Jeopardy epitomizes standard B-movie filler for the lower half of double bills (and ironically occupies just such a slot on the To Please a Lady disc), but this briskly paced suspense yarn from director John Sturges (The Great Escape) turns out to be a taut, nifty little thriller that supplies Stanwyck with the kind of low-glamour, physically demanding role she liked best. The 69-minute exercise focuses on her frantic attempts to free her trapped husband (Barry Sullivan) from beneath a crumbling jetty's fallen pillar on a remote stretch of Mexican beach before the tide rushes in and drowns him. On a desperate quest for help, Stanwyck encounters a drifter (Ralph Meeker), but soon discovers he's a dangerous fugitive, and must use her wits and wiles to convince him to aid her. Many actresses would scoff at the rigorous stunts the part requires, but Stanwyck embraces the challenge, mustering admirable stamina in many arduous sequences. Whether she's wrestling with Meeker, breaking the window of an abandoned shack, driving across rough terrain, or getting doused by the raging tide, she's always completely believable, and both her emotional and physical energy fuel this fun, involving film.
Executive Suite (1954) would mark Stanwyck's final appearance in a big-budget, high-profile movie, and she leaves a lasting impression in Robert Wise's riveting examination of a corporate power struggle following the untimely death of a furniture company's CEO. In this tight ensemble piece, Stanwyck takes on the small but pivotal role of Julia Tredway, daughter of the company's late founder and mistress to its recently deceased president, who holds the swing vote in the nasty boardroom battle between the oily, old-school controller (Fredric March) and up-and-coming visionary (William Holden) vying to become the executive suite's next occupant. Wise astutely recognizes the story's cold, hard nature, and refuses to soften it with a music score, even during the more relaxed domestic scenes. The lack of clutter lends the film a razor-sharp edge, allowing us to more fully concentrate on and appreciate Ernest Lehman's pitch-perfect dialogue and follow the plot's myriad Machiavellian machinations. Although she flirts with overplaying at times, Stanwyck beautifully balances Julia's neuroses with her despair and disillusionment, turning in a performance of surprising depth considering the part's brevity. June Allyson, Paul Douglas, Shelley Winters, Walter Pidgeon, Louis Calhern, and Nina Foch also contribute top-notch portrayals in this all-star, Grand Hotel-like drama—a fitting capper to a fine collection.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: When properly presented, black-and-white films can look almost as rich and vibrant as their color counterparts, and Warner has made every effort to ensure the transfers in the Barbara Stanwyck Signature Collection achieve that high standard. Each movie in the box set benefits from solid contrast, well-delineated lines, deep black levels, and excellent gray scale variance. A few nicks and specks remain, but print defects have been largely erased. The close-ups of Ava Gardner in East Side, West Side are breathtaking, and even the low-budget, outdoorsy Jeopardy exhibits a fresh sheen that makes it feel like a more expensive production. At 72 years, Annie Oakley is the oldest picture in the collection, but minimal grain and a clean image keep it from looking its age. Stanwyck fans and classic movie buffs alike will be thrilled with this fine effort from Warner.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: Warner technicians have meticulously remastered each film's mono soundtrack, eliminating annoying pops and crackles, and minimizing any background hiss. Dialogue is always easy to understand, and the music scores enjoy fine presence and depth. In addition, crisply rendered audio effects in To Please a Lady and Jeopardy help immerse us in the action on screen.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 143 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
5 Original Trailer(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Oliver Stone (Executive Suite)
Packaging: Box Set
- Two radio adaptations of My Reputation and one radio adaptation of Jeopardy
- Four vintage shorts
- Four classic cartoons
Before Gene Kelly arrived in Hollywood, Fred Astaire's main dancing rival was tall, lanky, and homely Hal LeRoy, who tapped up a storm in several 1930s short subjects. Main Street Follies, a 21-minute Broadway Brevity with a weak backstage plot, showcases his hoofing talent, yet proves he's no match for the esteemed Astaire. Up next, the seven-minute Merrie Melodies cartoon, Into Your Dance, takes its title (and main song) from a popular Dick Powell-Ruby Keeler musical, as it details amateur night at a vaudeville-type theater. Sadly, Annie Oakley's original theatrical trailer—if it still exists—is not included on the disc.
The notable extras here are two radio adaptations of the film. The first, an episode of the Lux Radio Theatre series and broadcast a year after the movie's premiere, allows Stanwyck and Brent to reprise their respective roles. Both actors recapture the timbre of their celluloid performances, and the 60-minute script smoothly truncates the tale without sacrificing any emotion or softening the film's message. A few months later, the Screen Guild Playhouse took a stab at the story, slicing it to a mere 30 minutes and (mis)casting Alexis Smith and Wayne Morris in the leads. Neither actor can hold a candle to Stanwyck or Brent; Smith is either stilted or hysterical, while Morris redefines the term wooden, never even attempting to convey the playful humor that's such an integral part of his character.
In addition to the original theatrical trailer, the 10-minute short Jan Savitt and His Band showcases a little known ensemble that blended classical and swing music to produce a catchy, innovative sound. The animated Daffy Doodles, which runs seven minutes, chronicles Porky Pig's attempts to arrest a wayward Daffy Duck, who can't restrain himself from painting moustaches on posters, paintings, and people all over New York. Movie fans will recognize images of Alexis Smith, Humphrey Bogart, Ann Sheridan, Ida Lupino, and Peter Lorre—despite their moustaches—in this rather weak Merrie Melodies entry.
East Side, West Side
The 10-and-a-half-minute short, Stuff for Stuff, simplistically outlines the history of international trade through animation and miniatures before preaching the benefits of the Marshall Plan and how prosperity will help fend off the growing threat of Communism. On a much lighter note, the seven-minute Tex Avery cartoon, The Counterfeit Cat, shows how far one feline will go to snatch a tasty bird from its canine protector. The original theatrical trailer is also included.
To Please a Lady/JeopardyThe theatrical trailers for both films are here, too, as well as a 48-minute radio adaptation of Jeopardy, featuring Stanwyck and Sullivan. The movie's brief running time allows for a very complete audio telling, and Stanwyck's impassioned narration more than compensates for the lack of visuals, making this action-packed tale as riveting to listen to as watch. Even the substandard audio quality doesn't dull the tension.
A commentary by director Oliver Stone is this disc's flagship extra, and though Stanwyck only receives isolated acknowledgments, the content is still perceptive and engagingly presented. Stone reveals he modeled Wall Street after Executive Suite, and draws parallels between Wise's film and his own works, most notably JFK. He examines the movie's narrative structure, relates it to the social climate of the times, and praises Wise for his skillful direction and sensitivity to the picture's characters. Stone makes a few factual errors and loses steam toward the end, but such minor deficiencies never affect the potency of this worthwhile track.
Out for Fun, part of the long-running Pete Smith Specialty series, offers up a string of slapstick gags (some of which are hilarious) as it chronicles the attempts of a frazzled corporate exec to unwind. Golf, duck hunting, and model building are all cleverly lampooned in this daffy 10-minute short that makes toiling in the office seem like a vacation. In the same vein, the six-minute Tex Avery cartoon, Billy Boy, shows what can happen when a farmer adopts a voracious baby goat. The Executive Suite original trailer completes the disc supplements.
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsWarner salutes one of the best and most magnetic actresses of Hollywood's Golden Age with a five-disc, six-movie box set showcasing many of the facets that made Barbara Stanwyck such an enduring and respected screen star. Top-notch audio and video transfers enhance each film and whet our appetite for more Stanwyck fare in the future. Highly recommended.
David Krauss 2007-12-06