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DVD Review: Joan Crawford Collection, Volume 2

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The Joan Crawford Collection Volume 2 is a box set containing five of Joan Crawford's better films that span the years from 1933 to 1953. The range of stories is as varied as the years and each one is classic Crawford.

Joan Crawford was born Lucille Fay LeSueur in San Antonio, Texas in 1905. By 1916 she had move to Kansas City. She became a dancer in a chorus line which eventually took her to New York City, and by 1924 she had signed a contract with MGM and moved to Culver City, California. By 1929 she had made 29 silent films. By the time of the first film in this collection, she had also made 14 other sound films as well.

Sadie McKee (1933)

Also starring Gene Raymond, Franchot Tone, Edward Arnold and directed by Clarence Brown, Sadie McKee is about a determined girl during the Depression who, through her hard work, attains wealth and love. In this movie, Sadie suffers through three troubled relationships before she finds love. There are a lot of contrasts in this film: Crawford is down and out, but the clothes that she wears seem stylish, and she can change from an almost elegant tone into a tough broad when she is pushed. Sadie McKee is a great '30's feature that works perfectly with Crawford's style, bringing out all of those things for which she was known.

Strange Cargo (1940)

Also starring Clark Gable, Ian Hunter, Peter Lorrie, Paul Lukas, and directed by Frank Borzage, this film is based on Richard Sale's 1936 novel Not Too Narrow, Not Too Deep. Desperate for a second chance at life, a band of Devil's Island felons and a tough-as-nails prostitute struggle toward freedom. This is the eighth and final time that Crawford and Clark Gable teamed up. In this movie Gable plays a convict who strikes up a partnership with Crawford and a romance develops against the backdrop of action and adventure. This is a most unusual story and one that is not often seen, with the appeal of Gable with an edge and Crawford without the embellishment of beauty. Both performances are well thought out and carefully crafted.

A Woman's Face (1941)

Also starring Melvyn Douglas, Conrad Viedt, and directed by George Cukor, A Woman's Face is based on the play II Etait Une Fois by Francis de Croisset. It is set in Stockholm, Sweden and Crawford plays a physically scarred woman who blackmails others to survive. When she looks at the man she loves, she sees romance; when he looks at her, he sees horror. After 12 plastic surgeries, she comes out lovely. The man of her dreams asks her to kill the four-year-old nephew who stands between him and a vast inheritance. To watch this film gives some real insight into Crawford. This is not the surface emotion that sometimes comes to bear in her lesser roles; this, one of her best performances, shows some glimpses into the soul, the quality that could make Crawford great.

Flamingo Road (1949)

This film also stars Zachary Scott, Sydney Greenstreet, David Brian, and was directed by Michael Curtiz. Crawford plays a dancer in a carnival that is stranded in a small town in the south. This is another story of a steely dame with glamour, guts, and a gun. She becomes romantically involved with the local deputy sheriff and has a run-in with a corrupt local political boss who is determined to run her out of town before she spoils everything. This became one of the films that had her changing into her "older woman" era. What she has lost of her youth she makes up for in attitude.

Torch Song (1953)

Also starring Michael Wilding, Gig Young, Marjorie Rambeau, and directed by Charles Walters, this film is based on the story by I.A.R.Wylie called "Why Should I Cry?" Crawford plays a tough Broadway musical star who doesn't take criticism from anyone. She has two emotional levels — demanding and impossible. A blind pianist with whom she finds love just may be able to break through her tough exterior. Entrenched in her latter day career, this movie is almost campy with Crawford's stiff dancing and lip-synching performance. It also includes the infamous scene in which Crawford performs the number "Two-Faced Woman" in blackface — actually chocolate-brown face paint. At the end of the number she rips the black wig off her head and reveals bright orange hair. This movie must be seen to be believed. This film's appeal lies more in its cult status.

On each disk are a series of extras including vintage comedy shorts such as "Goofy Movies #4", "The Lonesome Stranger," and "Little Cesarie." There are theatrical trailers, featurettes such as "Gable and Crawford," and "Crawford at Warner's," as well as some audio-only bonuses. In my opinion, the extras are rather thin, but there are some good pieces.

What I liked about Joan Crawford Collection, Volume 2 is the wide variety of films that are presented in this collection. These are not second rate films; rather they are some of the quintessential Crawford features. Four of them are great, and one of them is worthy of inclusion, if only for the stark contrast to the first ones.

There is a lot of diversity in Joan Crawford Collection, Volume 2 and it's a solid collection. If you are a fan of the Golden age of Hollywood, of Crawford, or classic cinema in general, then Joan Crawford Collection, Volume 2 is well worth your time and effort.

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About T. Michael Testi

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