This collecton honors Barbara Stanwyck's 100th birthday with six titles not previously on DVD and under the control of Warner Home Video. Her screen persona was generally that of a tough-as-nails woman of the world, sometimes with nefarious motives, and this collection tends to give you a broader view of her talents showing fine performances in some well-known as well as lesser known films. All of these films are in the post-code era, and this is probably because Warner Home Video has plans for her pre-codes in their Forbidden Hollywood series. For example, WB has already announced that they have plans for Stanwyck's classic pre-code "Night Nurse" to be put on DVD. At any rate, here are the films and extras in this set:
Annie Oakley (1935)
The oldest film in the collection, great dramatic license is taken with Oakley's real life story. Stanwyck does a good job of portraying Oakley in this film, still making use of the tough reputation she had in parts in the pre-code era and translating it into a time when less could get past the censors. There's quite a bit of comedy in this western, and George Stevens does a good job of directing all involved.
Main Street Follies, vintage 1935 short starring Hal Le Roy
Into Your Dance, vintage 1935 cartoon
Subtitles in English and French
My Reputation (1946)
Next we jump ahead ten years with Stanwyck playing a woman who is grieving over the death of her husband. She not only has the timeless problem of being a single mother raising two teenage sons, she must also deal with the issue of her reputation - as dictated by society at that time and by her mother and friends specifically. She gets involved with an Army officer (George Brent) who is the love them and leave them type, and as a result has trouble from everyone she knows. Stanwyck is great as a woman who has to learn to go it alone and stand up for herself for the first time. Brent is less convincing as a bit of a cad - he usually plays such stand-up guys and even played opposite Rin-Tin-Tin early in his career! At any rate, it's a good display of Stanwyck's talents in a different and vulnerable kind of role for her. Not previously on VHS or DVD.
Jan Savitt and Band, vintage Warner Bros. musical short
Daffy Doodles, vintage Warner Bros. cartoon
Audio Only Bonuses: Vintage Radio Versions - Lux Radio Theater adaptation with Barbara Stanwyck (4/47) and Screen Guild Theater adaptation with Alexis Smith (7/47)
Subtitles: English, French & Spanish (Feature film only)
East Side, West Side (1949)
This is a movie along the lines of a film noir and has Stanwyck playing a Manhattan woman who is devoted to her philandering husband (James Mason) who claims he loves her in spite of his weakness for serial affairs. One of his past flames, Ava Gardner, is back in town to try to take Mason away from Stanwyck permanently. This film also reunites Stanwyck with Van Heflin who both have great chemistry together. Great performances, a good plot, and an overall enjoyable film.
Counterfeit Cat, vintage MGM Tex Avery cartoon
Stuff for Stuff, vintage MGM short subject
Original theatrical trailer
Subtitles: English and French
To Please a Lady (1950)
This film pairs Clark Gable with Stanwyck. Gable plays a renegade racing driver whose driving tactics during a race cause the death of another driver. Stanwyck plays a no-nonsense newspaper reporter out to expose Gable's professional tactics and end his career. This might actually be more interesting to car racing fans than to Stanwyck fans because of the great footage of racing and behind the scenes footage of the sport as it existed in 1950. Stanwyck does the best she can with a somewhat thin script, and it is above average entertainment, but it is probably the weakest entry in the set.
This film is a thriller that is rather hard to categorize - it is almost avante-garde in nature. It starts out calmly enough - the Stilwin family is vacationing on an isolated stretch of beach. However, while rescuing their son, Doug Stilwin (Barry Sullivan) gets his leg caught and is stuck in the water. He is fine now - at low tide. High tide will be another matter. His wife (Barbara Stanwyck) goes for help and instead picks up an escaped killer. He proposes an interesting trade to her in exchange for his help. This is a great suspenseful movie and I'm surprised it is not better known and not shown more on TV. Meeker is very good as the criminal. His onscreen persona is an interesting cross between Jack Nicholson and Marlon Brando and he has good chemistry with Stanwyck in this one. Not previously on VHS or DVD.
To Please a Lady and Jeopardy are a double feature and have the following extras:
To Please A Lady original theatrical trailer
Jeopardy original theatrical trailer
Audio Only Bonus: Jeopardy 1954 Lux Radio Theater Broadcast with Stanwyck
Subtitles: English, French & Spanish (feature film only)
Executive Suite (1954)
Probably the best known of the six films in this set and probably the most awaited as far as DVD releases go. The funny thing is, Stanwyck isn't really the star in this movie - William Holden is. That's not to say Stanwyck fans won't get their money's worth though, particularly in her showdown scene with Holden and in the last scene where she outperforms everyone just by sitting in a chair and observing. This film is about the details of a power struggle when the founder of a large corporation suddenly dies. It basically boils down to two factions - the innovators and the bean counters. It's how these two groups dance around each other in their maneuvers for power that will hold your interest. The film is still relevant because big business is still about these two groups today. It is a common story of business - someone starts a company out of their love for building a superior product and somewhere along the way - often after the founder's death or retirement - the bean counters take over and regard only profits without remembering that the superior product is where those profits come from. Outstanding entertainment.
Feature commentary by Oscar-winning director Oliver Stone
Out for Fun, vintage MGM Pete Smith Short
Billy Boy, vintage MGM Tex Avery Cartoon
Original theatrical trailer
Subtitles: English & Spanish (feature film only)
My biggest disappointment in this set is a lack of biographical material on Stanwyck's career, which was a long and illustrious one. It does look like WB gave Executive Suite good treatment with the feature commentary, though.
on November 8, 2007
In honor of the 100th birthday celebration of silver screen legend Barbara Stanwyck, Warner Home Video finally releases six classic films, previously unavailable on DVD, remastered and complete with special features galore.
The prestigious "Signature Collection" series boasts excellent packaging and ample special features, but this time around the selections of films aren't quite as spectacular as some of their previous choices. Several of Stanwyck's better films may be wrapped up in rights issues, and this feels lacking due to the absence of more noticeable titles.
Stanwyck was destined for fame ever since landing her first movie role in a Frank Capra-directed feature and then in Baby Face for Warner Bros. which notoriously forced the creation of the production code. During her 37 years, she received four Academy Award nominations, an honorary Oscar in 1982 and the American film Institute's Life Achievement award in 1987.
One of the stronger films of the collection, Annie Oakley sees George Stevens direct, Preston Foster as Toby Walker and Barbara Stanwyck as the title sharpshooter. Years before Irving Berlin's hit Broadway musical, Stanwyck shaped the historical figure into a memorable bit of cinema. Despite being largely inaccurate to the real-life Oakley, this western comedy is still remarkably entertaining and carries a carefree lightheartedness as only ever-present in such silver screen fun. A 1935 vintage short and a cartoon accompany the feature.
East Side, West Side has a great cast including James Mason, Ava Gardener, Van Heflin and Cyd Charisse. Stanwyck plays a loyal housewife who has difficulty hanging on to her husband after he is seduced by Gardener, whose performance almost outdoes the leading lady. A great dramatic tale this 1949 classic features its original theatrical trailer plus a companion short subject and a Tex Avery cartoon.
Perhaps the most revered and critically acclaimed film of the lot, Executive Suite reunites Stanwyck and William Holden in a captivating boardroom drama. Directed by legendary Robert Wise, this Ernest Lehman adapted film, based on the best-selling novel by Cameron Hawley featured an impressive MGM cast including Frederic March, Walter Pidgeon, June Allyson and Nina Foch, who earned an Oscar nomination for her role. A Venice film Festival special jury prize winner, this powerful drama features a full-length commentary track by Oliver Stone, its original theatrical trailer and a vintage cartoon and short subject.
Barbara Stanwyck plays Jessica Drummond, a wealthy suburban housewife, in My Reputation. Grieving over the loss of her husband who died in battle, she must raise her two adolescent sons alone, resulting in further empathy from the audience. Jessica meets an army officer on leave and hopes to find love again, despite the interference and meddling of her social circle friends. Not one of her more memorable roles, My Reputation features a musical short, cartoon and audio tracks of radio theater adaptations with Stanwyck and Alexis Smith.
The final disc of the set is a double feature combining Stanwyck's To Please a Lady and Jeopardy. In To Please a Lady, Clark Gable joins the fun as a renegade racecar driver whose questionable tactics result in the death of another driver. Stanwyck is the no-nonsense reporter out to end his career - except that the two fall in love, expectedly complicating matters. Shot at the site of the Indianapolis 500, this largely forgettable film has more lasting power for auto racing enthusiasts. Jeopardy features director John Sturges keeping viewers on the edge of their seats as Stanwyck and Barry Sullivan search for their missing son on the Mexican coast. With plenty of twists and turns, this Hitchcockian thriller features the original theatrical trailer and Stanwyck's 1954 Lux Radio theater broadcast.
Barbara Stanwyck is undoubtedly one of the greatest actresses of the silver screen, and this set gives a decent sampling of her undeniable talent, but her absolute best works are either part of other company's collections, still currently unavailable, or curiously absent.
- Mike Massie
on December 26, 2009
Glad to have the opportunity to have these six movies for a reasonable price, I give a five-star-rating, although not all of the pictures would deserve it.
"Executive Suite" (1954: dir.: Robert Wise): Craftsman vs. businessmen... The chief executive of a furniture enterprise suddenly deceases, and the while film deals with the question who will be his successor. The decisive meeting will take place in the "Executive Suite"... For a moment, you may be irritated that a Barbara Stanwyck box contains a picture with rather few (but very good) appearances of Barbara Stanwyck. But this is an outstanding ensemble film in which about ten persons each have an important part (e.g. William Holden, June Allyson, Barbara Stanwyck, Nina Foch, Water Pidgeon, Dean Jagger, Shelley Winters, Fredric March). They all give excellent performances. Especially the women are great in showing how emotional feelings have to be hidden in the world top management. Stanwyck, Foch and Winters each have a significant scene with a "silent scream" which is more touching than any overacting. Furthermore, the picture is perfectly constructed with all its linked subplots culminating in the final meeting, using no musical soundtrack at all, but the dramatic sound of a nearby huge bell. And the plot is more up-to-date than ever: Holden is the only engineer in the board of directors, mainly composed by mere accountants. Should one stick to the product to be sold or should one only stick to profit? "Wall Street"-director Oliver Stone explains in the audio commentary that in the fifties, the great US enterprises were taken over by a second generation of managers who had not built them up and who had no knowledge about the fabrication of their products. This is still worth watching and should be presented to all bankers from New York to Frankfurt. Five stars.
"East Side, West Side" (1949, dir.: Melvyn LeRoy): To me, this (melo-)drama about adultery is the most underrated Stanwyck picture ever. See my longer review of the single edition. Five stars.
"Jepoardy" (1953, dir.: John Sturges): A small thriller of only 69 minutes length and with no more than four performers (and some extras): A family (father, mother and a boy aged about ten) make a weekend trip in Mexico, and when the father (Barry Sullivan) is trapped under a bridge pier while the flood rises, his wife (Stanwyck) has to fetch a rope. Unable to get one, she finally meets a murderer on the loose (Ralph Meeker) who is the only person able to save her husband's life... This is a perfect study of US citizens going "abroad" and getting helpless, not only in a geographical, but also in a metaphorical way. It is clear that we have a typical suburban couple not used to explore the unexpected. Stanwyck and Sullivan are obviously a bit frightened by anything unknown and beyond their world of work, homework, gardening, inviting the neighbors etc. Mexico is only I few hours away, but to them, it's a totally new and dangerous world. Sullivan packs a gun ("you never know"), but is totally nervous when only being asked routine questions by two policemen. Stanwyck would not have met Meeker if only she had remembered the Spanish word for "rope" ("cuerdo") in a conversation with some Mexicans before. And the criminal is not Mexican, but a U.S. Citizen... Stanwyck once more gives a brilliant performance, and how helpless she may be at the beginning, in her scenes with Meeker, she is firmly decided to stand by her man - even if that means to leave him and to go with Meeker (which he demands in order to save Sullivan). You have to watch this strange mixture of toughness and tenderness, abomination and even seductiveness. This leads to a performance of a woman who finally is decided to keep her promise even if she will hate every minute of it. Stanwyck fulfils that difficult and almost paradoxical task with a maximum of credibility. The end of the picture is nevertheless surprising and not to be told. Five stars.
"My Reputation" (1943/46, dir.: Curtis Bernhardt): Barbara Stanwyck in a typical Bette Davis melodrama. She is a young, wealthy widow with two children getting acquainted to an officer (George Brent), but society does not want to have her happy so early after her first husband's death... Stanwyck gives a beautiful, touching performance, proving that she can not only be the tough lady. The rest of the picture is quite well, but not outstanding. The end is much too moral-driven, because it is never clear why we shall accept that some of the old conventions do make sense. This film suffers from the fact that is risks comparison with the earlier "Now, Voyager" (starring Bette Davis), e.g. by the appearance of Gladys Cooper in a similar role. I think the not-so-happy end in "Now, Voyager" is more convincing, because in "My Reputation", there is really no reason why our couple should not come together. Therefore, the script needs to invent what was natural and logical in "Now, Voyager". Four stars.
"Annie Oakley" (1935, dir.: George Stevens) is an important milestone in Stanwycks career, seeing her in a western for the first time. It is a fine comedy with a good Barbara Stanwyck who may ride and shoot better than most men - based on the story of the real Anny Oakley, the first woman to star in the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show. I haven't seen a movie as funny as any of the upcoming screwball comedies, neither is Stanwycks performance as complex and sophisticated as in later dramas, but it's quite good entertaining. Four stars.
"To Please A Lady" (1950, dir.: Clarence Brown) is nothing but routine, with a good Barbara Stanwyck as an investigative journalist meeting a racing driver (Clark Gable) and, of course, coming close to him after some dramatic events. The story is much too conventional, stereotype and predictable. Gable was a little bit too old for the part and acts with a total lack of irony or humor (even in his fifties, he would do better in later pictures and still be convincing as a leading man and romantic lover - see for example the Raoul Walsh pictures "The Tall Men" and "The King and Four Queens"). Nevertheless, the film is not boring at all and contains some very good racing scenes full of vivid action and suspense. Three stars.
on October 30, 2010
This is a fun, sweet version of the Annie Oakley fable, with a scrumptious young Barbara Stanwyck in the starring role. She's all a-twinkle as a simple country gal love-smitten for her fellow sharpshooter, Toby Walker (a fictional stand-in for the Wild West show performer Francis E. Butler, who married Oakley in real life...) Played here by a dashing Preston Foster, the "Walker" character is both heroic and tragic -- he appears full of bluster and ego, but we soon learn it's all for show: he teaches Annie the ropes of showbiz, and they put on an act for the press, pretending to have a fearsome rivalry when in fact they are in love. Fate tears them apart; love brings them back together, but only after a 1930s-style romantic melodrama, with a little light comedy. Some of the film's trappings don't age well -- particularly the stereotyped depictions of African-Americans and to a lesser degree, the Native Americans in the Buffalo Bill show -- but the film is basically nice light entertainment. And if you, like many of us, totally adore Stanwyck as an actress, this is a perfect film to see her in her full, youthful dewy-eyed bloom. Recommended! (Axton)
This is a very likeable movie about the fantastic sharpshooter, Annie Oakley. It doesn't deal much with her early life, but rather opens with the first shooting match against the world famous "Walker", who in real life was Butler. We are treated to some delightful Wild West rodeo scenes. And just overall the movie has a very likeable quality. The love story is partially true and partially made up. However, overall the basic facts are pretty accurate. Barbara Stanwyck is a very natural choice for the lead role. And the Chief who portrays Chief Sitting Bull is very charming as well. This movie is suitable for family viewing and watch out, it will make you want to try out your marksmanship skills before the end!
Annie Oakley (1860-1926) was the first female superstar. She came to national attention when she joined Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show in 1885, and for the next 40 years she made headlines around the world. This 1935 black and white film is the first movie to dramatize her life. A young Barbara Stanwyck (1907-90) stars as Annie. Stanwyck made more than 80 films and was nominated 4 times for an Oscar ("Stella Dallas", "Ball of Fire", "Double Indemnity", "Sorry Wrong Number"). She won 3 Emmys ("The Barbara Stanwyck Show", "Big Valley"). AFI lists her as # 11 among the "Top 100 Greatest Screen Legends" and her character in "Double Indemnity" achieved # 8 as "100 Greatest Screen Villains". But here in 1935 she is remarkable sweet and tender in a romantic comedy that works.
Annie would be played by Ethel Merman (1946, 1966), Betty Hutton (1950), Mary Martin (1957), Geraldine Chaplin (1976), Reba McIntire (1996), Bernadette Peters (1999), and Susan Lucci (2000). Cute Gail Davis played her on TV in the "Annie Oakley" series (1954-6). My favorite is Gail Davis, but there's nothing wrong with Stanwyck's portrayal here.
Preston Foster (1900-70) plays Annie's love interest and is modeled after her real life husband who was also a sharpshooter. Foster appeared in over 100 films, and is best known for playing in the "Northwest Mounted Police" (1940).
Beefy Moroni Olsen (1889-1954) plays Buffalo Bill. He made his film debut as Porthos in "The Three Musketeers" (1935) and gave many memorable performances in the 30s and 40s in films like "Mary of Scotland" (1936) and "Santa Fe Trail" (1940).
Melvyn Douglas (1901-81) plays "the other man". Douglas was a great actor, nominated 3 times for an Oscar with 2 wins - "Being There" (1979) and "Hud" (1963). He won an Emmy for a 1967 episode of CBS Playhouse and was nominated for a 1965 performance of "Inherit the Wind". I remember him best in "I Never Sang for My Father" (1970).
Short and squat Dick Elliott (1886-1961) plays Ned Buntline. Elliott appeared in 200+ films between 1933 and 1958. He's best remembered as Mayor Pike from "The Andy Griffith Show".
Chief Thunderbird (1866-1946) plays Sitting Bull. Thunderbird made a dozen plus films between 1930 and 1944, usually playing a chief.
George Stevens (1904-1975) directs. He was nominated for an Oscar 5 times and won twice ("Giant" and "A Place in the Sun"). 16 of his films generated 69 Oscar nominations and 15 wins. Some of his memorable films include "Shane" (1953), "I Remember Mama" (1948), "Woman of the Year" (1942), and "Alice Adams" (1935).
1935 was a good year for films."Mutiny on the Bounty" and "The Informer" were box office and Oscar winners. Other top 10 grossing films included Gable and Harlow in "China Seas", Flynn and de Havilland in "Captain Blood", Shirley Temple in "The Littlest Rebel" and "Curly Top", and Greta Garbo in "Anna Karenina". Other notable films released that year included "Alice Adams" with Hepburn, "The 39 Steps", "The Bride of Frankenstein", "David Copperfield", "A Tale of Two Cities", "Les Miserables", "Top Hat", and "A Night at the Opera". In Germany, Leni Riefenstahl released "Triumph of the Will".
The NY Times called it "a gaudy and pungent motion picture, smacking healthily of that obscure commodity known as tanbark" and "superior entertainment." They praised the cast - "Stanwyck is splendid in the title role; this is her most striking performance in a long time. Preston Foster plays persuasively...and Moroni Olsen is excellently bluff as Buffalo Bill. Chief Thunderbird, though, is the star of the picture."
The acting is good but what really sets this film apart are the marvelous scenes of Buffalo Bill's show, with cowboys and Indians, settlers, horse riders, rope tricks, and the sharpshooting. We also get to look behind the scenes of the show, which is even more interesting.
Bottom line - a good romantic comedy about life in a wild west show at the turn of the 20th century.
on December 23, 2007
THE ONLY PROBLEM WITH THIS MOVIE COLLECTION WAS THERE WERE NOT ENOUGH MOVIES. OR I JUST WATCHED THEM TOO FAST. I LOVED THEM. THE PICTURE QUALITY WAS EXCELENT AS WAS THE SOUND. NOW I WANT MORE OF BARBARA.
on December 7, 2007
Finally this Barbara Stanwyck classic is on DVD. I can get rid of my VHS tape.
Eventhough I'm a big Annie Oakley fan and know her story well, I truly enjoy this fictionalized account of her story. The scenery and costumes seem to be very authentic. It is a fun movie and highly recommended.
This 1935 film, starring Barbara Stanwick as Annie Oakley, has been remastered and restored, so that the print is as good as new and the soundtrack is clear. It is also the first feature film about the life of Annie Oakley, though not the last. It is also Barbara Stanwick's first western.
The film presents a somewhat fictionalized version of Annie Oakley's life. It focuses on her start in the Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show as a sharp shooter and her romantic interest in the show's other sharpshooter, played by the very handsome Preston Foster. With a bit of romance and comedy, this is a well acted, entertaining black and white film. Modern day sensibilities may be affronted, however, by stereotypic depictions of African-Americans aive Americans, which were reflective of the era in which the film was made.
on June 20, 2008
It's a shame that Miss Stanwyck finally gets a box set released (celebrating her 100th birthday), and most of the films are lackluster, or not the smashes that her ealier stuff was. When we are now seeing Tyrone Power having a 2nd box set released of all his 30's films (by Fox), it's a downright SHAME that we only have this one set showcasing the #11 All Time Female Movie Star, as determined by AFI. The difficulty is that she freelanced with all the studios, making it harder to get everything released and cross-licensing would be involved to have an extensive set. I hope that by the end of 2008 we'll see more of her ealier work on dvd. Or even Sony/Columbia needs to step up w/all of her Capra films. What a bummer, but i'll keep hoping!