Instead of writing separate reviews for these two collections being released by Warner Home Video it is only fitting that I give you a look at the two as one, simply because they play off one another so well, which is undoubtedly the reason Warner is giving them a release on the same day and in similar style packaging.
I will first say that my experience with these two actresses was virtually nil before I received the two 5-disc collections for review. I had only seen Bette Davis in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex with Errol Flynn and had never seen a picture featuring Joan Crawford. One thing I did know was that I was not too fond of Davis’ performance in Elizabeth and Essex and had a hard time believing that this was one of the great actresses of the 1930s and 40s.
After viewing these DVDs my opinion of Davis as an actress has changed and even Joan Crawford has excellent screen presence, but my opinion of the two ladies as people is a different story. Based on the special features of these 10 discs in total I consider them both victims of their own popularity; Davis considering herself a queen as a self proclaimed brilliant actress and Crawford being an irresponsible mother, wife and a woman that flaunted her sexuality beyond being flirtatious in order to get the roles she believed she deserved.
The Davis Collection contains the films Dark Victory, The Letter, Now, Voyager, Mr. Skeffington and The Star. As for the Crawford Collection you will get Mildred Pierce, The Women, Humoresque, Possessed and The Damned Don’t Cry. Of these five films you are certainly getting your money’s worth as each one is very good, even The Women, an all-female feature centered around cheating husbands, catty wives and gossip driven storylines that makes for a pretty good watch, even if it is nearly two-and-a-half hours long.
Of the lot the best features are undoubtedly Davis’ against character role in Dark Victory and her intense portrayal as a jealous adulteress in The Letter. As for the Crawford Collection I enjoyed the dark nature of Mildred Pierce and the music driven drama Humoresque, which, although it contains a bit too much in the way of violin montages, it is an excellent piece of drama pitting Crawford opposite a young John Garfield.
As for the special features, I personally enjoy the 10-11 minute features Warner Bros. puts together for all of their box collections of these nature, centered around each individual movie; taking opinions from stars and directors of the feature, film historians, critics and the like as they point out tips and tidbits about the film, things you may or may not have known otherwise.
On top of that each DVD also includes the theatrical trailer and most of them include an inside look at the cast and crew of the film.
The one large special feature between the two sets is the 90 minute documentary on Joan Crawford found on the opposite side of the Mildred Pierce disc and let me tell you it does not paint a pretty picture of the alcoholic starlet. The doc goes into the her off screen antics in ways you may have never expected, as you learn the nature of her several marriages, the way she mistreated her children and how she ended her career with the joke of a film Trog featuring some out of this world ape character… it couldn’t have been written anymore tragic.
You also get a look at the feud between Crawford and Davis that could have been built on more considering these two collections are releasing at the same time and it also wouldn’t have hurt if they had included What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? as it was the one movie the two actresses starred in together, and to much notoriety and one Oscar for costumes. Oh yeah, you will also be treated to some insider news to one scene where Davis actually kicked Crawford in the head earning her two stitches.
Overall, the audience for these two collections is most likely going to be one of an older generation, but that is not to say younger audiences and lovers of film will not appreciate the work of these two ladies. The way they lived their lives off screen aside, they were both great actresses and considering the break we give Russell Crowe, I think a few off screen issues shouldn’t take away from great performances.