Knight at HOME at the Movies
Bette! Joan (via Mommie Dearest)! Marilyn! June MUST be busting out all over...
...with gay pride and you won't hear me complaining. These fabu-lush DVD offerings are the first of a month of
gay friendly DVD releases. Get those wish lists updated immediately!
Warner Bros. Home Video have given classic movie fans and Bette Davis divas a
Christmas present in June with their new Bette Davis Film Collection Volume 2.
The first volume includes many of the Great Ones’ biggest hits: Now, Voyager, Dark
Victory, The Letter, as well as the lesser known Mrs. Skeffington and The Star. This new
batch, with five films and a new documentary, spans a greater period of time and gives
a clearer picture of Davis’ phenomenal gifts. There’s not a dud in the bunch. Marked
Woman (1937) finds Bette in top form as a tough clip joint “hostess” out to get a
mobster. The following year she played southern belle Jezebel (1983) and took home
the Oscar a year before Vivien Leigh’s Scarlet O’Hara. Davis is willful and spoiled and
spites convention by wearing a red dress to the big ball (it was actually deep gold—the
film is in glorious black and white) thus shaming herself and losing her man Henry
Davis made a rare, delightful comedy, The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942), in which she
takes a backseat to star Monty Wooley as the witty but overbearing Sheridan
Whiteside, who takes over the household of his Ohio host and hostess after slipping on
their front steps and being forced to recuperate at their home. Based on the hit play,
this is a perennial holiday favorite in our household and I’m thrilled to toss my worn
out video copy for this pristine transfer.
Miriam Hopkins teamed with Davis in The Sisters (1938) and again in Old Acquaintance
(1944) which is making its DVD debut here. The off screen feud between the two had
been in the making for years (Hopkins starred in Jezebel on the stage) and the
fireworks flew on the set. This is a perfect example of a wartime “woman’s picture” – a
story of competing writers – one serious (Davis, natch) and one popular but a writer of
junk (Hopkins) and a major drama queen. Lots and lots of silly fun.
The centerpiece of the collection, naturally, is the 2-disc special edition What Ever
Happened To Baby Jane? (1962), the infamous onscreen pairing of Davis and her arch
rival Joan Crawford. Warner has included some nifty vintage feature material (including
a game Davis belting out the title song on the Andy Williams show!) and a rare film
profile of Crawford done while the star was in England promoting Beserk! in 1967.
There's also a new featurette that details the feud between the battling Hollywood
titans that features an enthusiastic gaggle of gay media figures (Michael Musto,
Alfonso Durade, Charles Busch, etc.). An early 90s full length documentary, “All About
Bette,” narrated by Jodie Foster is another wonderful extra. Finally, a fun, fact filled
commentary track by Charles Busch and John “Lypsinka” Epperson is just the ticket to
round out this terrific feature. Now if we could only get a soundtrack release of Frank
DeVol’s wonderful score and some deleted footage I’d be completely happy.
There’s also a new feature length documentary, Stardust, which gets into Davis’
tempestuous personal life (though Bette’s daughter and turncoat, born-again B.D.
Hyman doesn’t participate). After a myriad of documentaries on Miss Davis this offers
some nice – and juicy – insight into what made Bette tick. It's only available with the
Each of the movies include brief new featurettes and vintage material to give the viewer
the feeling of returning to the era in which these were originally released. New transfers
of several of the titles is also a boon. Highly recommended, naturally! Volume 3 is
expected next year (and in the meantime, I'm hoping to see The Catered Affair --
celebrating its 50th anniversary this year).
Paramount Home Video has answered the call of gay fans far and wide with their
Mommie Dearest (Hollywood Royalty Treatment) DVD release. This is a
huge leap over their previous bare bones only offering and will of course be of interest
to gay men as it’s the ultimate Hollywood diva biopic. Faye Dunaway who melted the
walls with her committed portrayal of Joan Crawford again does not participate in any of
the three new making of documentaries about the 1981 film but her exclusion is
discussed – with everyone from costar Diana Scarwid and producer-screenplay writer
Frank Yablans encouraging the reluctant diva to embrace her work in the film. As is
continually noted throughout the featurettes (which all have pretty much the same
gang of gay commentators as the Davis set), Dunaway is extraordinary in the movie –
it’s her commitment to Crawford’s maniacal control, ego – both masking bottomless
anger and self doubt – that is riveting and funny at the same time. Even Yablans
admits that he should have had the late director Frank Perry tone her down during the
“Tina, bring me the ax!” scene, however. Christina Crawford is another non-participant
though we get a great little bonus in which John “Lypsinka” Epperson makes up as
Crawford and then chats about his idol when the transformation is complete.
Finally, I highly recommend three distinct viewings of the film: one unadorned, with
your closest and wittiest friends making with their own gay version of MST 3000, a
second with the language set to French (very funny during the “wire hangers” scene)
and finally, the third with John Waters’ hilarious commentary. Any DVD that features a
Waters’ commentary automatically gets added to my collection and this may be his
most hilarious. Two regrets: none of those deleted sequences we’ve all been waiting
for and I’d also like to see Henry Mancini’s soundtrack released – it’s wonderful.
But there’s still more (I told you your gay cup was going to runneth over this week) –
Fox Home Video, in honor of what would have been Marilyn Monroe’s 80th birthday,
have put together the 6-disc Marilyn Monroe: 80th Anniversary Collection.
This is a compilation of films from their previously released Diamond Collections,
Volume 1 and Volume 2. It includes some of Monroe’s best work for the studio
(including Gentlemen Prefer Blondes from 1953 – one of my favorites) and shows
Marilyn's wide ranging appeal in a western, film noir, a musical, and of course, romantic
comedy. The other movies in the set include River of No Return (1954), Niagara (1952),
The Seven Year Itch (1957) (a 2-disc special feature edition which includes an episode of
AMC’s “Backstory”), Let’s Make Love (1960), and Marilyn: the Final Days. This last is the
fascinating documentary narrated by James Coburn that details the aborted shooting of
Something’s Got to Give, Monroe’s last uncompleted feature and the mystery of her
untimely death in 1962. The documentary concludes with the existing footage (not
much) edited together into a mini featurette. Marilyn was thin and gorgeous but it’s
not hard to see why Fox pulled the plug. The movie, a remake of the Cary Grant-Irene
Dunne-Randolph Scott My Favorite Wife comedy, was retailored for Doris Day and James
Garner (called Move Over Darling, it was a hit when released in 1963). All in all, a nice,
wide ranging set, beautifully packaged.