Bette Davis remains central to Warners’ legacy, so naturally the studio is releasing a second box of Davis titles flush with extras, if not always well-chosen ones. As in volume one, the pics are a mixed bag, from classic or iconic to dated but worthy. All merit release — or in the case of “Jezebel” and “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” re-release in enhanced editions.
First among unequals is the two-disc “Baby Jane,” which dishes up a crisp new transfer and a surfeit of supplementals. The most enticing, especially for gay viewers, is a commentary track featuring playwright and actor Charles Busch and drag entertainer John Epperson, better known as Lypsinka. Their disappointingly sober rambling goes down easy but suggests a rush job.
The bonus disc contains a featurette comparing Davis with co-star Joan Crawford, and a fine 50-minute TCM docu devoted solely to Davis. But they aren’t a patchon three archival items: a grainy “making of” short with terrif behind-the-scenes footage; an excerpt from “The Andy Williams Show” of Dec. 20, 1962, in which Davis shamelessly sings and shimmies to promote the film; and — paradoxically best of all — a 1967 BBC docu profiling Crawford, who speaks at length and with surprising candor.
A ravishing new transfer of “Jezebel” from the original nitrate is of benchmark quality. A solid commentary track from Jeannine Basinger doesn’t hurt, but this pic’s inherent merits — William Wyler’s sharp directing, Ernest Haller’s nuanced cinematography, Max Steiner’s evocative score and Davis’ Oscar-winning perf — all now beautiful realized, make extras redundant.
Yet what a pity there’s no commentary accompanying the welcome first release on DVD of “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” the still-hilarious George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart comedy the Epstein brothers turned into a model screenplay. The wan featurette that substitutes brings little joy, barely mentioning Davis’ remarkably understated ensemble turn.
“Old Acquaintance” makes its first homevideo appearance here, but this archetypical “woman’s picture” is most notable today for capturing Davis and real-life rival Miriam Hopkins feuding on celluloid. The commentary track offers what may be the last public remarks of director Vincent Sherman, who recently died just shy of 100.
No commentary accompanies “Marked Woman,” with Davis a hustler and Humphrey Bogart a crusading D.A. Cinematically, it’s this collection’s least impressive item, though its featurette provides helpful context.
Set comes with “Stardust: The Bette Davis Story,” a 90-minute TCM docu whose frank, rather than hagiographic, evaluation of Davis’ career proves a welcome counterweight in this collection.