Annie Oakley1935

Stars: Barbara Stanwyck, Melvyn Douglas
Genre: Biography, Drama, Western
Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Runtime: 90 minutes

Classic film fans will find the Barbara Stanwyck Signature Collection as delicious as any multi-course buffet. The films combines some better-known titles (Executive Suite, Annie Oakley) with some lesser-known gems (My Reputation, Jeopardy) as well as some cool vintage extras. Robert Wise directed Executive Suite (1954), a still-relevant portrait of cutthroat corporate shenanigans, starring Frederic March and William Holden (in a truly dazzling performance) as the sharks in the corner-office tank. Stanwyck plays an heiress with her trademark unflappability--and with possibly the steeliest business persona of them all. Extras include an enthusiastic commentary by Wall Street director Oliver Stone, as well as a vintage short and cartoon. Annie Oakley (1935), the oldest film in this collection, went a long way toward cementing Stanwyck's tough-talking (and yes, straight-shooting) persona. Stanwyck is brassy and bold, and mighty fearless as the Old West legend. There's a fair amount of humor, too, in the screenplay and deft direction of George Stevens. Extras include a vintage short and cartoon. Stanwyck stretches her acting wings in the soapy love story My Reputation (1946). It's hard to imagine the tough-dame Stanwyck worrying about anything so ephemeral as a reputation, but in this well-acted film, she's convincing as a young widow who cautiously tries to date again, only to set tongues wagging, and scandalizing even her own children. Extras include a great musical short featuring Jan Savitt and Band, and a vintage cartoon. Mervyn LeRoy directs a fabulous cast in the film noirish thiller/melodrama East Side, West Side (1949), involving a bored married couple, past infidelities, and murder. Ava Gardner's a standout as the "other woman" who comes between Stanwyck's Jessie and James Mason's Brandon. The cinematography is atmospheric and taut. Even the supporting cast dazzles in its own right--Cyd Charisse, William Frawley, William Conrad, and a winsome Nancy Davis (the future First Lady). Extras include a short film and a fun Tex Avery cartoon, "Counterfeit Cat." To Please a Lady (1950) may have one of the least appropriate film titles ever--it's a high-octane drama set around the world of early car racing, with a romance between Stanwyck and Clark Gable as the hook. But the film itself is a blast, especially for the well-shot, adrenaline-rush scenes of car racing, decades before the polish of NASCAR. Gable's a reckless driving champ and Stanwyck's the hard-nosed reporter who revs up his heart. Stanwyck's Regina catches racing fever: "It's like the Fourth of July and the heavyweight fight and the World Series all rolled into one." Amen, sister. Jeopardy (1953) appears as a "double feature" on one disc with To Please a Lady. It's a fascinating psychological thriller that presages a whole genre of "ticking time-bomb" peril films, and also suggests a pivotal scene in Sometimes a Great Notion. Stanwyck plays a happily married wife, vacationing in Mexico with her husband (Barry Sullivan), who becomes trapped in the surf--and as the tide comes in, his luck may run out. A frantic Stanwyck has to make scary choices if her husband--and she--is to survive. The extra on this disc is an audio-only radio interview with Stanwyck. --A.T. Hurley

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