The Bette Davis Collection, Volume 3 – DVD Review

Available at Amazon.com

As part of the celebration of the 100th anniversary of Bette Davis’ birth, we get the gift of a third box set featuring her Warner Brothers films. This collection features six titles released around World War II. Davis steals husbands, fights the Nazis and tangles with royalty. This actress didn’t merely play sweet, intellectual woman; she played slutty and strong when the role called for it. Davis was a busy woman during this period with Oscar nominations filling her mailbox (although not for any of the movies in Volume 3). This was the prime of her career when she was an unstoppable force when she locked those eyes on a target.

The Old Maid (1939 – 94 minutes) takes us back to the Civil War days. Unlike the ladies in Gone With the Wind, Davis and Miriam Hopkins play Northern belles. This is a twisted soap opera that involves premarital sex. Hopkins is supposed to marry George Brent, but calls it off and swaps rings with a rich guy. Davis hooks up with Brent before he goes off to fight the Confederates. He gets killed in battle. Davis turns out to be pregnant. Unaware that the baby’s daddy is Brent, Hopkins adopts the child to give it a proper family instead of being raised a scourge of society. Things get uncomfortable when the truth is revealed.

All This and Heaven Too (1940 – 143 minutes) is an epic tale of forbidden love and jealousy. Davis is the governess to the children of a Duke (Charles Boyer) and Duchess (Barbara O’Neil). The royal couple don’t get along anymore. The Duke enjoys his time with the governess. This upsets the Duchess that her man wants to hump a mere teacher. Their romance is completely chaste, but it shows the power of passionate stares. The Duchess goes out of her way to destroy Davis’ life, but it is her life that comes to an abrupt halt. The Duke and Davis are the prime suspects. The story is told in flashback, but I won’t spoil what happens when the Duke leaves Davis completely in the lurch.

The Great Lie (1941 – 107 minutes) reminds us why we’re not supposed to sign legal documents while drunk. George Brent gets liquored up and marries Mary Astor. Normally this wouldn’t be a bad thing since Astor’s not close to the worst thing you can bag while beergoggling. But Brent is really in love with Davis. He gets all the paperwork sorted out so that he’s free of Astor. He marries Davis, but their life together gets cut short when something goes wrong on his business trip to South America. During Brent’s absence, Astor discovers that they did more than marry on his tipsy weekend. Prepare yourself for baby mama drama. Hattie McDaniel (Gone with the Wind) works in Davis’ kitchen. She’s very protective of her employer. This could have turned into a Lifetime movie, but Astor and Davis rise above the material. There’s a thrilling moment when the pregnant Astor admits to have already smoked nearly two packs of cigarettes that day. Who knew that tobacco was good for babies in the womb?

In This Our Life (1942 – 96 minutes) unleashes Bette as the ultimate evil. She’s extremely spoiled and heartless. She wants to be happy no matter what the cost to others including her sister (Olivia de Havilland). Right before her wedding to a lawyer (George Brent), Davis steals her sister’s husband (Dennis Morgan). Things get a little nicer for Olivia when she hooks up with George. Dennis can’t deal with Bette on a full time basis and exits the relationship. Bette returns home and wrecks havoc among the lives of those who had hoped she’d gone away for good. John Huston directs a character that could have destroyed Bogart with her wicked ways. This is a shimmering portrait of a woman who knew how to use and abuse her loved ones. She even hurts Hattie McDaniel.

Watch the Rhine (1943 – 114 minutes) pits Davis against the Nazis. After spending 18 years in Europe with her husband (Paul Lukas) and three kids, Davis returns to America before the outbreak of World War II. Lukas was working with underground groups that were anti-Nazi. Davis figures returning to America would allow her family to feel safe. But it turns out her mother has a Romanian count and his wife staying at her Washington D.C. house. Turns out the Count supports the Nazis and doesn’t mind finking out Lukas. Lukas and Davis can’t escape the spy game. Even though the story is freakish, there’s a great literary duo behind the writing. Lillian Hellman wrote the play that Dashiell Hammett adapted for the scren. There’s a patriotic sacrifice to the ending since America was at war when Watch the Rhine swept America. Lukas won the Best Actor Oscar for his Nazi fighting.

Deception (1946 – 112 minutes) reunites the cast of Now, Voyager (featured on Volume 1). Bette Davis is a pianist who discovers that Paul Henreid survived World War II. They reunite after his cello recital at a college. She takes him back to her swank apartment to revive their romance. She’s madly in love with Henreid, but can’t tell him the dark secret. Turns out that Claude Rains pays her bills since she’s his mistress. How else can a pianist afford a clear view of the Hudson River? This could have turned into a campy romp, but the intense bond between the trio makes the nonsensical become compelling entertainment. Rains is gold at Davis and Henreid’s wedding reception.

Even though this is the third box set of Bette Davis’ Warner Brothers career, there’s no barrel scrapping. The talent on the screen keeps even the most outlandish of plots grounded. A lot of this has to do with what Davis brought to the films. She had the kind of looks that should have boxed her into the roles of the loyal girlfriend, the faithful wife or the dutiful secretary. She changed up her attitude so that the you didn’t think she was the same woman every time she appeared in a troubled relationship with George Brent. She knew how to act a role. This is a much better way to celebrate a 100th birthday than waiting for Willard Scott to put your face on a Smucker’s label.

The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The transfers are pretty clean. They’re done a great job creating a clear and detailed image. The audio is Dolby Digital Mono. The mix is good with a smooth sound. There are several commentary tracks to give the history of Bette Davis and the films. Watch on the Rhine has Bernard F. Dick. All This, And Heaven Too gets a talk from Daniel Bubbeo. In This Our Life gets Jeanine Basinger talking about the cruelty. Deception gets exposed by Foster Hirsch. Each film is subtitled in English and French.

In This Our Life
Newsreel (7:14) has the stars parade through Washington D.C. to support the troops. This is raw footage since you can see the cameraman rotate lens to get closer views of Laurel and Hardy shaking hands with the brass. The audio is extremely rough.
March On, America! (20:34) is a super patriotic Technicolor tour of the nation.
Spanish Fiesta (18:52) is the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo performing in Technicolor. A fine job of bring culture to the movie crowd.
Who’s Who in the Zoo (7:08) is a Loney Tunes cartoon directed by Norman McCabe. We get a tour of all the animals Porky Pig feeds at the zoo.
In This Our Life trailer (2:41) reminds us “what I want I go after….”
Desperate Journey trailer (2:59) opens with a bomber getting shot down and crashing in a forest.

The Old Maid
Newsreel (1:12) is a beauty parade to determine California’s entry in Miss America. Shockingly enough, none of the ladies have fake breasts. The camera films up their crotches.
Lincoln in the White House (20:51) is a Technicolor history lesson. It follows Lincoln from his inauguration to the Gettysburg Address. Frank McGlynn Sr. plays a noble Lincoln.
Sword Fishing (9:47) is a bow and arrow adventure with Howard Hill, the World’s Greatest Archer. Ronald Reagan is the narrator. Instead of a rod and reel, Hill goes after big fish with his bow and arrow. It’s Robin Hood meets The Old Man and the Sea. There’s amazing footage of a swordfish charging a boat.
The Film Fan (6:52) is a Looney Tunes cartoon directed by Bob Clampett. Porky Pig goes to the grand opening of a movie house.
Kristopher Kolumbus Jr. (7:30) is a Looney Tunes cartoon directed by Bob Clampett. Did you know Porky Pig found America? His encounters with the Indians will upset the tenderhearted.
The Old Maid trailer (2:52) swears this will be “a picture the whole world will talk about and remember.”
Confessions of a Nazi Spy trailer (3:20) swears it’s “the five most shocking words ever hurled from the screen!” The nation was overrun by Hitler’s agents.

All This, and Heaven Too
Newsreel (1:12) has Mickey Rooney and Bette winning the crowns as King and Queen of the Movies. Ed Sullivan hands out the hardware.
Meet the Fleet (20:18) is a Technicolor film dedicated to everyone in the Navy. We follow new recruits going through boot camp before Pearl Harbor. They’re enlisting to meet girls and travel.
Hollywood Daffy (7:03) is a Merrie Melodies cartoon directed by Friz Freleng. Daffy Duck attempts to get on the studio lot to become famous. There’s a Bette Davis cameo that name drops the film.
Porky’s Last Stand (6:36) is a Looney Tunes cartoon directed by Bob Clampett. Porky and Daffy’s lunch stand runs into trouble when they run out of hamburger.
All This, and Heaven Too trailer (3:35) thrills us with people telling us stories.
Dr. Ehrlich’s Magic Bullet trailer (2:03) gives us the inside scoop to penicillin. Edward G. Robinson plays the man who cured V.D. (back when they could be cured).
Lux Radio Theatre Broadcast (52:39) is the radio version with Bette Davis and Charles Boyer speaking their roles on 12/15/1941. Cecil B. DeMille talks about having Bette as a tenant during the introduction.

The Great Lie
Vintage newsreel (3:22) is a silent footage of Ciro’s nightclub. This really needs an informed narrator.
At the Stroke of Twelve (20:38) is murder investigation based on a Damon Runyon tale.
Kings of the Turf (9:42) is a Technicolor documentary on how they train race horses.
Polo with the Stars (9:10) lets us know about Hollywood’s favorite sport. You can learn how to train your horse to play the game.
Porky’s Pooch (7:06) is a Bob Clampett directed cartoon. A starving dog explain how he found a rich master.
Trailer for The Great Lie (3:01) kicks off with people buying tickets for the movie.
The Strawberry Blonde trailer (3:06) promotes a James Cagney and Rita Hayworth gay nineties romance. Hear Cagney say, “Fudge.”

Deception
Newsreel (2:31) reveals the birth of TV dinners. Life was hard before the birth of the microwaveable burrito.
Oscar-winning Technicolor Sports Parade Short: Facing Your Danger
Movieland Magic (16:27) is a Technicolor tour of how movies are made. We follow a typical movie actress whose day is a musical.
Mouse Menace (7:00) is a Merrie Melodies cartoon directed by Arthur Davis. Porky Pig hires evil cats to take care of a pesky rodent. He resorts to building a Robo-cat.
Deception trailer (2:29) promises “Reflections on a lady who tried to live a lie!”
A Stolen Life trailer (2:10) is Bette in her “most vibrant love story!” She got around in 1946.

Watch on the Rhine
Ozzie Nelson and His Orchestra (9:22) gives us the future TV star conducting and singing. He also gets to act as he finds himself being forced to wake up by his wife and an army drill sergeant.
The Wise Quacking Duck (6:30) is a Looney Tunes cartoon directed by Robert Clampett. Mr. Meek has to chop off Daffy Duck’s head so the wife can have a roast for dinner.
Newsreel (1:35) is “Bombs for Hamburg.” John B. Kennedy’s narration track is missing from this bombing run footage.
Watch on the Rhine trailer (2:12) pushes that this film is from the writer of Little Foxes.
Mission to Moscow trailer (2:15) is a biopic about the U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union. It actually promotes the USSR as our friend.

For cinema fans looking for a way to celebrate Bette Davis’ 100th birthday, Volume Three is the perfect gift. These six films remind us why she’s an icon besides being the subject of Kim Carnes’ “Bette Davis Eyes.”

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Warner Home Video presents The Bette Davis Collection, Volume 3. Starring Bette Davis, Mary Astor and Claude Rains. Six films on six DVDs. Not Rated. Released on DVD: April 1, 2008. Available at Amazon.com.