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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Samuel Goldwyn Movie Collection Vol. 2
The Samuel Goldwyn Movie Collection Vol. 2
Warner Bros. // Unrated // July 7, 2015
List Price: $59.92 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Tyler Foster | posted September 16, 2015 | E-mail the Author
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Fans of film history should be well-aware of who Samuel Goldwyn is (not least of the reasons being a still-active production company bearing his name, as well as his place in the middle of "Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer"), but a package of his films would seem to be less of a sure-fire sales gambit than a package of a director or actor's movies. Then again, this set, which contains Stella Dallas, Dead End, The Westerner, They Got Me Covered, The Princess and the Pirate, and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, is the second of two Goldwyn collections put out thus far by Warner Bros., so maybe they know something I don't. That said, the good news is that the six films on tap here are all fairly strong, with the "worst" two basically coming down to personal taste rather than any particular fault on the part of the filmmakers.

The first up is Stella Dallas, featuring an Oscar-nominated Barbara Stanwyck performance. Although it might sound like a backhanded compliment against the rest of the film, her performance is the defining reason to watch the movie, a melodrama about a young woman who swoops in at the right moment to marry mill executive Stephen Dallas (John Boles), only for them to drift apart as their daughter, Laurel (mostly played by Anne Shirley in the film's second Oscar-nominated performance) grows up. Although the core conflict between Stella and Stephen is sometimes vague (mainly, he dislikes her boorish, alcoholic friend, played by Alan Hale), Stanwyck's performance is not. She radiates love for her daughter, love that turns tragic as Laurel begins to want for style and class that Stella knows deep down she can't provide as well as Stephen can. As the film moves toward its climax, Stanwyck is a flooring blend of emotions at any given moment: pride, heartbreak, loneliness, and wistfulness, sometimes all at once, and always with such potency that it's hard to believe the movie's nearly 80 years old.

The second in the set is the crime thriller Dead End, which takes its title and applies it to multiple characters, multiple plot threads, and the literal setting of the movie, which takes place at the end of a waterfront alley (a piece of stunning production design, combined with some fun modelwork). The key characters include Drina (Sylvia Sidney), who watches over her younger brother Tommy Gordon (Billy Halop), who runs a street gang known as The Dead End Kids. Drina has eyes for Dave Connell (Joel McCrea), who works odd jobs around the neighborhood, but he's too busy thinking about his unfulfilled dreams of being an architect, and statuesque blonde Kay Burton (Wendy Barrie), who he worries is accustomed to a lifestyle he can't provide. The catalyst for conflict is Hugh "Baby Face" Martin (Humphrey Bogart), who used to live in the neighborhood. Dave spots him right away, and tries to get the reknowned killer to buzz off, but Martin's mother lives in the neighborhood, and he ignores Dave's orders. When Martin's attempts to reconnect with mom and an ex-girlfriend (Claire Trevor) go south, he plots a kidnapping scheme, which has ripple effects on all of the characters involved. The film's constantly developing narrative is unconventional enough that some viewers may get restless, but the performances by the cast (and the joy of examining the intricacies of that elaborate set) will bring them back.

Like many western, samurai, and gangster pictures of the era, The Westerner is set in a small town, where "the westerner" of the title, Cole Harden (Gary Cooper) drifts in and finds himself in the middle of a violent conflict. In this case, the conflict is between the newly-arrived homesteaders, who want to farm on the land in the area, and the already-settled cattle ranchers, who are lead by the corrupt "Judge" Roy Bean (Walter Brennan), who has declared himself law in the town without any credentials, and hangs people at a moment's notice using his cronies as a jury. Cole almost falls victim to this practice, but smooth-talks his way out of it by latching onto Bean's obsession with actress Lily Langtry. He intends to keep on walking out to California, but ends up courted by Jane-Ellen Matthews (Doris Davenport) and her father Caliphet (Fred Stone) to work on their farm. The film's dramatic depiction of intolerance and arrogance remains potent (the cattle-ranchers' intolerance plays out with similar vitriol and irrational cruelty as racism), and the film features some spectacular sequences, including a crop fire and a climactic shootout. Cooper is strong as the voice of reason, but Brennan steals the show (and won an Academy Award) as the hateful Judge.

Of all the films in the set, They Got Me Covered and The Princess and the Pirate were the two that were personally least effective, although it comes down to Bob Hope's style of comedy more than the actual craft at hand. The former has Hope playing a disgraced reporter who stumbles onto a ring of spies working out of Washington D.C., while in the latter he plays an impressionist who happens to be on a ship when pirates take it, looking for an undercover Princess (Virginia Mayo). There's nothing particularly wrong with Hope's style of one-liner or slapstick, but they'll appeal more to those who find the familiar more funny than the unexpected, as most are telegraphed with a "take my wife, please!" cadence. The most interesting thing about both films is how unusually violent they are for being such broad comedies -- neither film pulls its punches when it comes to the spies or pirates providing a backdrop for Hope to riff on.

The final film in the set, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, recently got a boost in profile when 20th Century Fox put out a long-gestating remake. In the original, Mitty (Kaye) is a copy editor at a company that puts out magazines filled with colorful fiction. It's a shame Mitty isn't writing the stories himself, because he's prone to fantastic daydreams in which his world-famous talents as a doctor, or a gambler, or a fighter pilot help him catch the eye of a beautiful blonde (Mayo again). Although he can't keep every instruction given to him by his exasperated mother (Fay Bainter) straight in his head, he's doing okay until one day the blonde walks out of his fantasy and into his real life. The flesh-and-blood version of his dream woman is Rosalind Van Hoorn, who is trying to track down some lost jewels hidden from the Nazis during WWII. Before he knows it, Mitty is wrapped up in an actual tale of intrigue, complete with assassins (including one played by Boris Karloff), dead bodies, and potentially, a happy ending for him with the woman he's always wanted. Although the remake focuses on the fantasy material, these are arguably the less interesting half of the movie, with Kaye really shining in the exasperated returns to reality (such as one series of incidents which takes him through his boss' office twice), or his chemistry with Mayo, which is excellent. The fantasy sequences also include the movie's weakest elements: two musical numbers by Kaye which feel more like star indulgence than a crucial part of the story.

The DVD
The Samuel Goldwyn Film Collection: Volume 2 arrives in packaging designed to complement the first volume, with a black backdrop instead of a white one. DVD cover art for all six films is shrunken and placed in a grid on the front, with the familiar Goldwyn logo at the top. A matte cardboard slipcover provides short summaries of all six films, and inside, the summaries are replaced with a billing block for each film. Each film is housed on its own individual disc, all of which fit neatly inside a single-width Amaray with two discs on the inside front and back covers, and the other four housed on two swing trays in the middle. There is no insert.

The Video and Audio
All of the presentations on these discs mirror the stand-alone releases previously put out by Warner Bros. and MGM. Although print damage varies from film to film, most of them look pretty good; the only really noticeable issue is the fluctuation in quality on The Princess and the Pirate, which features a number of moments and sequences that jump back and forth between a significantly inferior print. All are presented in 1.33:1 full frame, and all are presented in mono except for The Westerner and The Princess and the Pirate, which are presented in Dolby Digital 2.0. French and Spanish Stereo tracks are also present on The Westerner, and a Spanish mono track is available on Dead End. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing are available on all six movies.

The Extras
Most of the films in this set are accompanied by a theatrical trailer at best (Dead End and The Princess and the Pirate offer them, while The Westerner and They Got Me Covered include nothing at all), with Walter Mitty tossing on a brief interview with co-star Virginia Mayo (:) in addition to its own trailer. Yet, Stella Dallas does offer one significant (if not particularly enticing) extra: the complete 1925 version of Stella Dallas, also produced by Goldwyn. Although the comparison is interesting, the tough thing about this second Stella is that it's truly silent -- no soundtrack of any kind accompanies the movie. It's also surprisingly faithful to the feature presentation, lowering even the curiosity value.

Conclusion
One conceivable reason for bunching these films together is that many of them appear to have been out-of-print and highly sought-after for at least some period of their home video afterlife. They are also almost all pickups, at one time distributed by 20th Century Fox for MGM rather than Warner Bros., so maybe the studio could also just look at this as the easiest way to market a handful of recent acquisitions. Still, those looking for a thematic or tonal connection between these movies, which include a melodrama, a thriller, a dark western, an imaginative comic fantasy, and two broad Bob Hope pictures, will probably come up short. Quality-wise, though, it's a good set, with an average more than worthy of a recommendation.


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