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The Bette Davis Collection, Vol. 2 (Marked Woman / Jezebel / The Man Who Came to Dinner / Old Acquaintance / What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? Two-Disc Special Edition)

by Mack Bates
Tuesday May 30, 2006
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Available from Warner Home Video
Available from Warner Home Video  

Has there ever been a movie star as audacious, beloved and multi-dimensional as Bette Davis?

A number of Davis’ dimensions are on proud display in the new five-film, seven-disc box set, The Bette Davis Collection, Vol. 2 available from Warner Home Video.

The woman who coined herself "the nicest goddamn dame that ever lived" is a very hard act to follow as evidenced in the films contained in this second volume. Davis could play unflappable (The Man Who Came to Dinner), sadistic (Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?), gutsy (Marked Woman), self-centered (Jezebel) and long-suffering (Old Acquaintance) and those are sides of her larger-than-life persona that just skim the surface of everything she brought to the table from one memorable role and performance to the next.

There’s one reason most EDGE regulars will be all over this Davis box’s a hint:

Blanche: "You wouldn’t be able to do these awful things to me if I weren’t still in this chair." Jane: "But cha AAH, Blanche, ya AAH in that chair."

That’s right, kiddies! Often imitated, occasionally replicated, but NEVER equaled, fans of What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?, starring the Queen B’s of Hollywood’s Golden Age, the aforementioned Ms. Davis and her lifelong nemesis Joan "No Wire Hangers" Crawford, can at long last rejoice at the news that this camp classic is now available in an extras-filled Special Edition to watch whenever the mood strikes. No other film with the exception of Mommie Dearest (which received the "Hollywood Royalty" treatment from Paramount Home Entertainment in a recently released special edition) has been as eagerly awaited by film-loving members and friends of the LGBT community.

After all, What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? is to out and proud queens what Star Wars is to geeks and Dazed and Confused is to stoners -- mandatory viewing!

For the uninitiated, Baby Jane chronicles the battle of wills between the aging Hudson sisters - Jane (Davis), a bitter former child star and Blanche (Crawford), an invalid ex-screen star who Jane is reluctantly caring for in a decrepit Hollywood mansion after Blanche is crippled in an accident that effectively puts an end to her career.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Baby Jane has received its fair share, then some.

My first brush with the battling broads of Baby Jane was in an episode of Designing Women featuring series regulars Dixie Carter and Annie Potts (in full-on Crawford and Davis drag) hilariously sending up the actresses and their roles in a heartfelt declaration of unapologetic feminism.

And the real-life Redgrave sisters, activist Vanessa and wiseacre Lynn, put their own spin on the fictional Hudson sisters in a made-for-television remake for ABC that was played straight instead of deliciously over-the-top.

Nominated for five Academy Awards, including Davis for Best Actress (winning one for costume design), What Ever Happened To Jane Baby? is more than a camp classic; it also is an underappreciated horror film of which there is no comparable equal. Think about it: How many horror films can you name that feature not one, but two leading roles for women over 50 that drive the story?

Normally ladies of a certain age are relegated to supporting roles in such projects (e.g Gena Rowlands in last year’s The Skeleton Key starring Kate Hudson).

It was no secret that Davis wanted to win the Oscar for Baby Jane due to her desire to be the first actress to have won three Oscars -- all in the leading category, no less.

Much to un-nominated co-star Joan Crawford’s delight, Davis did not win for Baby Jane, she lost to Anne Bancroft, recreating her Tony-winning role in the film version of The Miracle Worker. Crawford relished the opportunity to accept the Oscar on Bancroft’s behalf (who was unable to attend the ceremony that year) heaping copious amounts of praise her way as Davis had to sit in the audience and endure Crawford’s grandstanding.

The special edition of Baby Jane comes in a two-disc set, while four other Davis classics from the 1930s and 1940s arrive as single DVDs: Jezebel, which earned Davis her second Best Actress Oscar as a Southern belle going to scandalous extremes to finally hook her fiance (Henry Fonda); Marked Woman, with Humphrey Bogart in a fact-based drama about a traumatized call girl who testifies against the mob; The Man Who Came to Dinner, adapted from George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart’s stage comedy about a pompous critic (Monty Woolley) creating havoc in a Midwestern household; and Old Acquaintance, centering on the tempestuous relationship between two writer friends (Davis and Miriam Hopkins).

The behind-the-scenes maneuvering that led to Davis winning her second Best Actress Oscar for Jezebel (1938) is one of the great Hollywood stories. Davis was offered the film after she was passed over for the highly-coveted role of Scarlet O’Hara in David O. Selznick’s Gone With the Wind (1939) which Jezebel is often compared to since both films are built around strong-willed, manipulative woman during the Antibellum period of the Old South that are involved in complicated relationships.

And there’s a terrific new documentary on Davis, Stardust (so named in honor of her favorite song) superbly narrated by Academy Award winner Susan Sarandon (Dead Man Walking); who’s scheduled to play Davis in a forthcoming biopic being written by Pulitzer, Oscar, and Tony winning playwright Alfred Uhry (Driving Miss Daisy). Written, produced and directed by Peter Jones and shown on Turner Classic Movies this past May, Stardust gives fans a peek into Davis’ life and work that’s as enlightening as it is informative and respectful of its subject.

The revelation (for us too young to remember) that one of Davis’ children wrote a highly critical tell-all about her much in the way that Joan Crawford’s adopted daughter, Christina, did is one but many insights given. Oscar nominees Gena Rowlands (A Woman Under the Influence and Gloria) and James Woods (Salvador and Ghosts of Mississippi), and Oscar winners Jane Fonda (Klute and Coming Home) and Ellen Burstyn (Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore) offer insight into what made Davis tick both on-and-off-screen, with Burstyn in particular, possessing a profound knowledge and understanding of Davis’ motivations and technique.

In closing, Bette Davis once said, "I have been uncompromising, peppery, infractable, monomaniacal, tactless, volatile and offtimes disagreeable. I suppose I’m larger than life."

Discover for yourself why they’ll never be another dame like her by treating yourself to both volumes of The Bette Davis Collection.

The extras on Marked Woman begin with a new featurette from Trailer Park that rounds up the familiar Gangster authors and experts to discuss the novelty of a 1920s crime film about female victims instead of cops or robbers. The cartoons are Porky’s Hero Agency and She Was an Acrobat’s Daughter. The disc also contains a Theatrical Trailer for the film.

Extras for Jezebel include a lively and informative commentary track by film historian Jeannine Basinger. There’s a new featurette called Legend of the South that covers all the same bases and brings in the issue of Bette Davis’ efforts to curb studio control over her career. There’s also a musical short called Melody Masters: Jimmy Dorsey and his Orchestra, and a color cartoon: The Mice Will Pay, and a Theatrical Trailer.

Extras for The Man Who Came To Dinner: a featurette: Inside a Classic Comedy, a Joe McDoakes comedy short So You Think You Need Glasses, a musical short subject Six Hits and a Miss, and a Theatrical Trailer that doesn’t quite represent the film.

Extras for Old Acquaintance: Commentary by the film’s recently-deceased director Vincent Sherman and Boze Hadleigh, author of Bette Davis Speaks, a featurette, Old Acquaintance: A Classic Woman’s Picture, a live-action short: Stars on Horseback, an animated short: Fin ’n’ Catty, and the Theatrical Trailer.

Extras for What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?: Commentary by Drag Queens (and playwrights) Charles Busch and John Lypsinka Epperson, three Fabulous (according to the DVD box cover art) documentaries: Bette and Joan: Blind Ambition, All About Bette hosted by Oscar Winner Jodie Foster, and A Film Profile: Joan Crawford, a Vintage Featurette: Behind the Scenes with Baby Jane, an excerpt (that has to be seen to be believed) from The Andy Williams Show featuring Bette Davis, and the Original Theatrical Trailer complete with the unforgettable image of a shattered doll’s head.

There are no extras on the Stardust disc.

Mack credits the 1991 Ridley Scott film "Thelma & Louise" with reconfirming his long-held desire to become a filmmaker in his own right. He attended the University of Wisconsin with a double major in Film and Film Studies and a minor in Journalism and Mass Communications. He’s the proud recipient of two consecutive awards for excellence in collegiate journalism from the Milwaukee (WI) Press Club, the country’s oldest press club.


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