The Joan Crawford Collection, Volume 2 – DVD Review

Available at Amazon.com
Has Joan Crawford’s movie career really been reduced to Faye Dunaway screaming “No wire hangers!” in Mommy Dearest? This is such a shame since she was one of the great ballbreakers of cinema. When she locked her gaze on a man, you knew he was either going to fall for her charms or be cut down with her steely ways. This second Joan Crawford Collection from Warner Bros. reminds us that she was an actress who knew how to be bold on the screen.

Sadie McKee (1934 – 93 minutes) tells of a young girl’s journey from a rich family’s kitchen to a multimillionaire’s wedding bed. This melodrama refuses to let Joan have it easy and happy. Nothing she does turns out right. She runs away with Gene Raymond to get married, but ends up stranded at the altar in Manhattan. She’s reduced to being the cigarette girl at a nightclub. During a dust up with a drunk patron, she meets her future husband. She doesn’t love him, but he’s rich. She struggles to keep her soul when she can so easily become a complete gold digger.

Strange Cargo (1940 – 113 minutes) asks us if Devil’s Island is big enough for Joan Crawford, Clark Gable and Peter Lorre? Gable’s a prisoner. Crawford entertains at a nightclub that caters to the free men. Lorre is a complete rat. A group of prisoners make a break to get off the island. They make a fierce trek through the wilderness to catch up with a boat. It’s a gruesome, sweaty flick. This would be Gable and Crawford’s final pairing. The duo smolders in the tropical heat. This film is perfect for fans of romance movies and prison break flicks.

A Woman’s Face (1941 – 106 minutes) has Crawford up on murder charges. She’s was burned on the face as a child. This disfigurement has hardened her heart so that she has no problem entering a life of crime. She’s a blackmailer. One of her victims is a plastic surgeon who fixes her scars. He fears that he’s created a heartless beautiful creature. She’s one of those rare actresses who can nail that emotional level. She transforms into a shark without much effort.

Flamingo Road (1949 – 94 minutes) is a story of power and love. Lane Bellamy (Crawford) quits the carnival only to discover the circus of a small Southern town’s political machine. She retires from sideshow dancing for the career of a waitress in order to gain a normal life. A local cop, Fielding Carlisle (Zachary Scott), takes a shine to the new girl. Titus Semple (Sidney Greenstreet) doesn’t want his top cop seen with a woman with a checkered past. Titus runs that town and wants to expand his puppet master territory. He’s got plans to move Fielding up the state power structure. Who will vote for a man governor with a tainted wife? Titus has Lane’s fired from her waitress job and busted on a morals charge. Fielding thinks Lane skipped town. After she gets out of jail, the only place she can work is road house that caters to the powerful who want immoral evenings with discretion. Lane hooks up with a client and moves across the tracks into a big house on the right side of the tracks. But will she find true happiness knowing Titus and Fielding are still in her life? For folks who adore Sidney Greenstreet in Casablanca, you’ll be floored with his sinister moves. He gives Crawford a stirring speech about ratholes that moves this character beyond a caricature.

Torch Song (1953 – 89 minutes) allows Joan to dance and lip sync in Technicolor. Joan’s a diva performer who pisses off everyone around her. She finally encounters a pianist who can see through her tough exterior. He does it with more than his eyes. This film has earned its camp classic stripes. Unlike the serious nature of several of these films, Torch Song is pure goofiness.

The Joan Crawford Collection, Volume 2 allows us to see the full spectrum of this legendary actress’ range. We see her as the innocent adrift in the big world. She does a stunning turn as the tough woman. Finally we see her as the camp icon, which unfortunately has taken over her reputation in the eyes of casual film fans. After you sit watch these five films, you will know there’s more to Joan Crawford than Mommy Dearest. Although you’ll still know better than to use wire hangers.

Torch Song is 1.78:1 anamorphic and color. The other four black and white films are 1.33:1. The transfers look great for their age. The sweat shimmers on Gable’s face in Strange Cargo.

The soundtracks on all five films is Dolby Digital Mono. The levels are great. There’s no nasty pops or crackles.

Goofy-Movies # 4 (9:18) is a Whotaphony Newsreel narrated by Pete Smith. There’s creepy footage of a fire rescue platform that collapses during a demonstration. They lash fireworks to the end of a rowboat to make it a cheap speed boat. The best moment is Chimps boxing!

Toyland Broadcast (6:18) is an MGM Happy Harmonies cartoon. Toys impersonate the radio stars of 1934.

Trailer for Sadie McKee (2:10) gives the story’s author, Vina Delmar, face time on the screen. Joan looks hot and tough in the clips.

Gable & Crawford (13:42) is a new documentary about the duo. They made 8 movies over 9 years. They truly had chemistry on the screen since it led to a real affair. Her step daughter, Christina Crawford (author of Mommy Dearest), says nice things about Joan.

More About Nostradamus (10:54) is a live-action short narrated by Carey Wilson. It starts with proof that Nostradamus is still dangerous while in his crypt. The film shocks us with his ability to foretell the future with the help of math.

The Lonesome Stranger (9:15) is an MGM cartoon directed by Hugh Harman. The Killer Diller Boys terrorize a small town. A spoof of the Lone Ranger attempts to bring them to justice. Along with a horse that impersonated Rochester, there’s plenty of Mexican and Indian characters to upset a tender hearted college professor.

Theatrical Trailer for Strange Cargo (2:31) promotes “Ten men starved for the sight of a woman…and a girl who had seen too many men!” You can’t pass up that premise.

Romance of Celluloid Short: “You Can’t Fool a Camera” (10:13) has the classic footage of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge disaster. There’s a dramatic recreation of Eadweard Muybridge’s historic horse shots.

Little Cesario (7:38) is an MGM cartoon directed by Rudolf Ising. A comical look at a squad of Saint Bernards.

Screen Guild Playhouse Broadcast with Bette Davis 4/19/1942 (29:35) gives us a chance to imagine what the film would be like with a different lead. Bette leads the cast of this radio edited version of the film.

Lux Radio Theater Broadcast with Ida Lupino 11/2/1942 (57:32) now has Warner’s other big leading lady get a crack at A Woman’s Face. This one is hosted by Cecil B. DeMille.

Theatrical Trailer for A Woman’s Face (2:52) promises “The violent personal history of the most infamous lady of our times.”

Crawford at Warners (12:07) deals with how she adapted to the tough films made in Burbank. There’s plenty of talk about how Crawford became Mildred Pierce.

Curtain Razor (7:14) is a Porky Pig cartoon directed by Friz Freleng. Porky runs a talent agency for vaudville performers. There’s DNR smudge in the image.

Screen Director’s Playhouse with Joan Crawford & Michael Curtiz 5/26/1959 (25:20) is an audio shortened version of the film for the radio show. It’d be nice if they somehow included these as audio versions as mp3s so you listen to them while driving.

Theatrical Trailer of Flamingo Road (2:00) pushes her rise from honky tonks to the rich neighborhood. They isolate the fury between Crawford and Sidney Greenstreet.

Tough Baby: Torch Song (11:54) deals with Joan Crawford trying to be a musical star in this film.

TV of Tomorrow (7:05) is a Tex Avery cartoon that looks into the future of the beloved boob tube. This is a pure gold although it doesn’t predict Blu-Ray beating HD-DVD.

Jimmy Fun Public Service Announcement (3:30) is a delight for fans the Boston Redsox. Crawford promotes the charity that helps kids with cancer. Does NESN ever show this clip?

Crawford Recording Sessions (31:03) is the raw takes of Joan singing for the soundtrack.

Theatrical Trailer for Torch Song (3:26) declares “You won’t forget the new Joan Crawford!

The Joan Crawford Collection, Volume 2 revitalizes her reputation. The newly produced bonus features help put context to her career and relationship with Clark Gable. The vintage shorts enhance the viewing experience. For fans of old Hollywood, this set is a must for their collections.

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Warner Home Video presents Joan Crawford Collection, Volume 2. Starring Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, Sidney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre. Running time: 495 minutes. Unrated. Released on DVD: Feburary 12, 2008. Available at Amazon.com