Barbara Stanwyck: The Signature Collection (Annie Oakley / East Side, West Side / My Reputation / Executive Suite / Jeopardy / To Please a Lady)
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Barbara Stanwyck Collection (DVD)]]>
Classic film fans will find the Barbara Stanwyck Signature Collection as delicious as any multi-course buffet. The films combines some better-known titles (Executive Suite, Annie Oakley) with some lesser-known gems (My Reputation, Jeopardy) as well as some cool vintage extras.
Robert Wise directed Executive Suite (1954), a still-relevant portrait of cutthroat corporate shenanigans, starring Frederic March and William Holden (in a truly dazzling performance) as the sharks in the corner-office tank. Stanwyck plays an heiress with her trademark unflappability--and with possibly the steeliest business persona of them all. Extras include an enthusiastic commentary by Wall Street director Oliver Stone, as well as a vintage short and cartoon.
Annie Oakley (1935), the oldest film in this collection, went a long way toward cementing Stanwyck's tough-talking (and yes, straight-shooting) persona. Stanwyck is brassy and bold, and mighty fearless as the Old West legend. There's a fair amount of humor, too, in the screenplay and deft direction of George Stevens. Extras include a vintage short and cartoon.
Stanwyck stretches her acting wings in the soapy love story My Reputation (1946). It's hard to imagine the tough-dame Stanwyck worrying about anything so ephemeral as a reputation, but in this well-acted film, she's convincing as a young widow who cautiously tries to date again, only to set tongues wagging, and scandalizing even her own children. Extras include a great musical short featuring Jan Savitt and Band, and a vintage cartoon.
Mervyn LeRoy directs a fabulous cast in the film noirish thiller/melodrama East Side, West Side (1949), involving a bored married couple, past infidelities, and murder. Ava Gardner's a standout as the "other woman" who comes between Stanwyck's Jessie and James Mason's Brandon. The cinematography is atmospheric and taut. Even the supporting cast dazzles in its own right--Cyd Charisse, William Frawley, William Conrad, and a winsome Nancy Davis (the future First Lady). Extras include a short film and a fun Tex Avery cartoon, "Counterfeit Cat."
To Please a Lady (1950) may have one of the least appropriate film titles ever--it's a high-octane drama set around the world of early car racing, with a romance between Stanwyck and Clark Gable as the hook. But the film itself is a blast, especially for the well-shot, adrenaline-rush scenes of car racing, decades before the polish of NASCAR. Gable's a reckless driving champ and Stanwyck's the hard-nosed reporter who revs up his heart. Stanwyck's Regina catches racing fever: "It's like the Fourth of July and the heavyweight fight and the World Series all rolled into one." Amen, sister.
Jeopardy (1953) appears as a "double feature" on one disc with To Please a Lady. It's a fascinating psychological thriller that presages a whole genre of "ticking time-bomb" peril films, and also suggests a pivotal scene in Sometimes a Great Notion. Stanwyck plays a happily married wife, vacationing in Mexico with her husband (Barry Sullivan), who becomes trapped in the surf--and as the tide comes in, his luck may run out. A frantic Stanwyck has to make scary choices if her husband--and she--is to survive. The extra on this disc is an audio-only radio interview with Stanwyck. --A.T. Hurley
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This old-fashioned biopic is only partly accurate (read The Secret Annie Oakley for a better fictional treatment), but the young Stanwyck is really rather charming, and the show sequences are especially good. A note of humor is added by Sitting Bull's various encounters with civilization (especially the scenes in which he spots Toby in the audience and tracks him down through the New York streets so he can take his "Little Sure-Shot" to her beloved).
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.
A great classic with even better acting.
No one act like these stars anymore.
Now with Netflix?