Bette Davis DVD Collection: ‘Dark Victory’ & ‘The Letter’
Bulging eyes, sly looks, clipped line delivery, and assorted mannerisms – that would be a fair description of an average Bette Davis performance. At her best, however, Davis is all that plus guts, strength, and heart-stopping sincerity and pathos. Some of her greatest and not-so-greatest work can be found in Warner Home Video’s the Bette Davis DVD collection box set, which includes the following Bette Davis movies: Dark Victory (1939), The Letter (1940), Now Voyager (1942), Mr. Skeffington (1944), and The Star (1952). (Image: Bette Davis Dark Victory, with Humphrey Bogart.)
By the way, Davis was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for each of those films – and five other ones. The missing titles are Dangerous, Jezebel, The Little Foxes, All About Eve, and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?.
Mr. Skeffington and The Star are both new-on-DVD releases, while this new DVD edition of Dark Victory has been restored from the original camera negative and remastered for optimum picture quality. Now Voyager, originally released on DVD in 2002, has also been restored from the original negative and comes in Amaray keepcase packaging. The Letter first came out earlier this year.
Here’s a brief look at each of the “Bette Davis Collection,” which includes a number of extras, e.g., a recently rediscovered alternate ending for The Letter:
Dark Victory (1939), directed by Edmund Goulding, with Bette Davis, George Brent, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Humphrey Bogart, Ronald Reagan. A spoiled wealthy woman discovers she has terminal cancer, and chooses to suffer nobly by living life to its fullest before the inevitably glamorous end – this is Hollywood in the ’30s, after all. Dark Victory has numerous admirers, but in my view this drippy melodrama works best as campy comedy.
The Letter (1940), directed by William Wyler, with Bette Davis, Herbert Marshall, James Stephenson, Gale Sondergaard. A masterful adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s play, with every member of the cast delivering flawless performances. As a plus, the film boasts the best production values that Warner Bros.’ money could buy.
Now Voyager (1942), directed by Irving Rapper, with Bette Davis, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Gladys Cooper, Bonita Granville. Sudsy romantic melo about a homely spinster (Bette Davis) who discovers her inner beauty with the help of psychoanalysis (via Claude Rains) and true love (via Paul Henreid). William Wyler could have made something out of this overlong sentimental piece of mush, but director Irving Rapper lacked what it took to bring to life this B movie with A production values. The cigarette-lighting scene is great, though, and the movie does look gorgeous thanks to cinematographer Sol Polito. Now Voyager also offers some good music, courtesy of Max Steiner.
Mr. Skeffington (1944), directed by Vincent Sherman, with Bette Davis and Claude Rains. Mr. Skeffington, a morality tale about vanity and devotion, is top-notch melodrama with outstanding performances by the two leads.
The Star (1952), directed by Stuart Heisler, with Bette Davis, Sterling Hayden, Natalie Wood. This cinematic slice of high camp stars an uncontrolled Davis as a garrulous has-been Hollywood actress who, after having neurotic fits and driving around drunk through the streets of Beverly Hills, finds true love in the person of hunky and stolid Sterling Hayden (who miraculously manages to keep a straight face throughout it all). Natalie Wood is Davis’ teen daughter. Though also made at 20th Century Fox, All About Eve this ain’t.
Bette Davis Dark Victory, with Humphrey Bogart picture: Warner Bros.