Big Hand for the Little Lady, A [1966]

A truly random collection of movies comprises Leading Ladies Collection Volume 2, five films offering juicy roles to esteemed actresses. The ladies in question are, without a doubt, acting up a storm. The oldest title in the bunch is I'll Cry Tomorrow (1956), a look at the troubled life of alcoholic singer Lillian Roth, given a typically from-the-guts performance by Susan Hayward. Hayward even does her own singing, although her style can best be described as "belting." She and director Daniel Mann seize on the new frankness of the era, providing a no-holds-barred description of addiction as well as some handy psychoanalyzing. Hayward snagged an Oscar nomination for her work; a couple of extra features give a taste of the real Roth at work. A Big Hand for the Little Lady (1966) has the feel of a TV Western upgraded with a spiffy big-name cast. Henry Fonda and Joanne Woodward are the rube couple sucked into a high-stakes poker game in Laredo one day, where the wife must take over the cards when hubby falls ill. A delicious cast of character actors (Jason Robards and Charles Bickford among them) and a twisty plot make this an enjoyable, if modest, outing. Up the Down Staircase (1967) is one of the cinema's signature "inspirational teacher" movies, with Sandy Dennis (fresh from an Oscar win for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) as the idealistic instructor at an inner-city school. The movie still has appeal, in the form of Robert Mulligan's realistic direction and Dennis's Method-acting fragility. Rich and Famous (1981) was the final film for a Hollywood legend, director George Cukor, who made many a classic "women's picture" in his time. Thus it's fitting that he guide Jacqueline Bisset and Candice Bergen in performances that appealingly tweak their usual images, and still represent some of their best work. It's a remake of a Bette Davis-Miriam Hopkins picture, Old Acquaintance, about the enduring bond between two frequently-bickering writers. Finally, Shoot the Moon (1982) is a view of divorce that rarely gets below the surface, despite the full-bore performances by Albert Finney and Diane Keaton as the tormented couple. Director Alan Parker brings his slick approach to bear, and Finney and Keaton sneak in whatever subtlety they can around the edges. --Robert Horton

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