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A Terrifically Diverse Set, Including Three New to Home Video!
on February 17, 2010
Barbara Stanwyck fans rejoice! Universal Home Video's latest addition to its Backlot Series on DVD is "The Barbara Stanwyck Collection", featuring six of her most rarely shown features films, some never before available on home video in any format. Each has been newly remastered for this release, and together they span a wide range of genres, making this collection a wonderful testament to Stanwyck's amazing versatility as an actress.
"Internes Can't Take Money" (Paramount, 1937), earned its place in cinema history as the first film featuring the popular character of Dr. Kildare. Here he's played by frequent Stanwyck leading man Joel McCrea. This film was released a year before MGM launched its popular series starring Lew Ayres, and features Stanwyck as a mother whose young daughter has been kidnapped by a gang of crooks. In truth, the drama is rather tepid, but Stanwyck and McCrea play off each other well, and the supporting cast includes such stalwarts as Lloyd Nolan, Stanley Ridges, and Lee Bowman. At 77 minutes, it zips right along and is worth a look-see.
Stanwyck had high hopes for "The Great Man's Lady" (Paramount, 1942), directed by William A. Wellman, with whom she had collaborated a decade before ("Night Nurse", 1931 and "The Purchase Price", 1932) at Warner Brothers. Its failure to catch on with the critics or the public certainly had nothing to do with her performance. She plays "the wind beneath the wings" of Joel McCrea, a pioneer turned oil man and politician whose successes are directly attributable to her "behind the scenes" efforts on his behalf. Stanwyck's character ages from a teenager to a hundred year old woman in this fascinating Western saga which features an outstanding supporting performance by Brian Donlevy. The film crowds a lot of action into 90 minutes, and perhaps that's its main weakness; such an expansive story might have benefitted from the kind of pacing and detail that Cecil B. DeMille might have provided.
"The Bride Wore Boots" (Paramount , 1946) is one of Stanwyck's weaker comedies, certainly not in the same class as delights like "The Lady Eve", "Remember the Night", or "Ball of Fire". Sadly, although she continued to star in feature films for another 11 years, it proved to be Missy's last screen comedy. Here she plays an accomplished equestrian whose husband (Bob Cummings) hates horses. The script is, to be kind, witless and a competent cast including Diana Lynn, the acerbic Robert Benchley and young Natalie Wood are generally wasted. Still, "The Bride Wore Boots" has never before been available on home video, and is rarely shown on TV, so Stanwyck completists and die hard fans (like me) will be pleased to finally add this one to their collections.
Stanwyck gives a superb performance in the much-underrated "The Lady Gambles" (Universal, 1949). She plays an average woman whose obsession with betting destroys her relationship with her husband (Robert Preston) and leads her down the road toward destitution and finally, suicide. That she is able to make such a self-destructive character both sympathetic and repellant is a tribute to Stanwyck's amazing acting prowess. The supporting cast, which includes Stephen McNally, Edith Barrett, cult favorite John Hoyt, and (in a small walk-on role) Tony Curtis, is uniformly excellent ... but this movie belongs to Stanwyck. Also new to home video!
"All I Desire" (Universal, 1953) is a superior soap opera directed by one of the masters of the genre, Douglas Sirk. Set in the early 1900's, Stanwyck plays a frustrated and unfaithful wife who had abandoned her family in their small hometown a decade before to pursue a career in the theatre. Now she's been invited back to watch her middle child perform in a high school play. Her attempts to reconcile with her husband (Richard Carlson) and children are complicated by the continuing enticements of her former lover (Lyle Bettger) and her husband's budding interest in a local teacher (Maureen O'Sullivan). Beautifully acted, this modestly budgeted film is played very low-key and holds up under repeated viewings.
Sirk also directed "There's Always Tomorrow" (Universal, 1956) which re-teams Stanwyck with her frequent co-star, Fred MacMurray. MacMurray plays a neglected husband and father who rekindles an old romance with a charming and attentive former flame (Stanwyck). His older children interfere in their relationship, and the lovers are forced to decide what is right for everyone involved. The marvelous cast includes beautiful Joan Bennett as the wife, as well as talents like Jane Darwell and Pat Crowley in supporting roles. This film could easily have descended into turgid melodrama in less capable hands, but Sirk's sensitive direction and Stanwyck's beautifully modulated performance lift it out of the realm of the ordinary. Another welcome newcomer to home video!
The extras included in this set are rather sparse, including only trailers for some of the films, but that quibble is negated by the fact that these genuinely "rare" films have been long sought by many Stanwyck fans, who can now enjoy them after years of waiting. Thank you, Universal Home Video!