THE DVD SHELF: "Some Like it Hot," a Bette Davis collection and Olivier's Shakespeare

The DVD Shelf   THE DVD SHELF: "Some Like it Hot," a Bette Davis collection and Olivier's Shakespeare This month's column discusses the Collector's Edition of "Some Like It Hot”; reissues of a handful of Bette Davis films (including "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane” and "The Man Who Came to Dinner”); and Laurence Olivier's acclaimed screen adaptations of three Shakespeare plays.
http://images.playbill.com/photo/s/o/somelikeithot1

And here comes "Some Like It Hot” in yet another DVD release. This "Collector's Edition” gets a two-disc treatment with a slew of bonuses. ("Totally Hot Extras include All-New Documentaries, Collectible Booklet, Postcards and More!” says the sticker attached to the cover.) "Some Like It Hot” might not be Hollywood's finest comedy ever, but it's way up there and remains refreshingly good.

What they like hot is the situation, namely two innocents fleeing the mob by disguising themselves as girl musicians. Billy Wilder took his plot from an old German film and made it all-American (circa Prohibition-era), mixing in a trio of exceedingly contemporary actors (circa 1959). These three – Mr. Lemmon, Mr. Curtis and Ms. Monroe – give what might well be their finest performances, and the whole thing is pure joy.

Devout fans of the film presumably already have the film on DVD or video. The "totally hot extras” will give them plenty to ponder. These include two new documentaries, "The Making of Some Like It Hot” and "The Legacy of Some Like It Hot” as well as commentary featuring Lemmon (who died in 2001) and Curtis (who confesses that another actor – with a higher voice – was called in to dub some of his Josephine dialogue). As for those who have never seen "Some Like It Hot,” you are hereby advised that there is an enormous treat awaiting.

* * * *

Warner Home Entertainment, which brought us "The Bette Davis Collection” in 2005, now follows up with "The Bette Davis Collection, Volume 2.” If the original five-disc box contained the obvious choices – "Dark Victory,” "Now, Voyager” and the like – the new six-disc box has titles that are in some ways more interesting. "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane,” to name one, is no all-time great film classic; but with Davis battling Crawford, it is – to quote the promotional material – "the classic catfight of all time.” "Jezebel” was something of a consolation prize for Davis, who competed for but lost the role of Scarlett O'Hara. The ante-bellum "Jezebel” beat "Gone with the Wind” into release, and Bette took home a Best Actress Oscar in the process. Henry Fonda co-starred, with Fay Bainter taking a supporting Oscar as well. Broadway fans will be especially interested in the film version of The Man Who Came to Dinner, in which Monty Woolley re-creates his Broadway role as Sheridan Whiteside. Davis, playing secretary Maggie, received top billing; her presence no doubt helped justify the use of the little-known Woolley. Monty is quite something in the role, and we are lucky to have his performance preserved on film. Also included in the box are "Marked Woman” (with Humphrey Bogart) and "Old Acquaintance” (with Miriam Hopkins), along with the first-time-on-DVD documentary "Stardust: The Bette Davis Story.”

The British stage star Laurence Olivier conquered Hollywood in 1939 with "Wuthering Heights,” after which he was constantly in demand on stage and screen in London and America. While first and foremost an actor, Olivier was also a keen stage director. His international star power allowed him to bring three Shakespearean tragedies to the screen directed by and starring himself, "Henry V” (1944), "Hamlet” (1948) and "Richard III” (1955). The Criterion Collection has now combined the three into a sparklingly-good box set, "Olivier's Shakespeare.”

"Henry V” had great impact, being a morale-booster filmed and released during wartime, with impressive battle scenes in glorious Technicolor. (The film was not released in America until 1946.) "Hamlet” was one of the pinnacles of Olivier's career, earning him his only acting Oscar (in ten nominations). Producer Olivier also received the Best Picture Oscar, the first ever awarded to a non-American film. "Richard III,” the last of the trio, features an especially striking star performance. The latter is a two-CD set, incorporating Kenneth Tynan's 1966 BBC interview with Olivier. Sir Laurence is, not surprisingly, surrounded by top-notch actors, including Robert Newton and Leslie Banks in "Henry V”; Jean Simmons and Eileen Herlie in "Hamlet”; and Gielgud, Richardson and Claire Bloom in "Richard III.”

While Olivier does not give us true Shakespearean renditions of the plays – there are severe cuts, inevitably – they make good introductions to the works, should introductions be needed. What's more, for all but the most Bard-conscious viewers, Olivier's work should enhance understanding of the plays.

Steven Suskin, author of "Second Act Trouble,” "A Must See! Brilliant Broadway Artwork,” "Show Tunes,” and the "Opening Night on Broadway” books. He can be reached at Ssuskin@aol.com

Today’s Most Popular News: