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4.0 out of 5 stars Barbara Stanwyck Signature Collection DVD Review, November 8, 2007
This review is from: Barbara Stanwyck: The Signature Collection (Annie Oakley / East Side, West Side / My Reputation / Executive Suite / Jeopardy / To Please a Lady) (DVD)
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
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Initial post: Apr 19, 2008 3:58:18 PM PDT
In Jeopardy, Stanwyck leaves her son with her husband, so she can find help in getting him out of the shore water since a large beam fell on him and he is trapped. She meets up with Ralph Meeker, an escaped convict and then the "real" action starts.
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