The Bette Davis Collection

Those whom the gods seek to destroy they first make Bette Davis. Or so one would think from watching this Warner selection of her movies — four out of the five lay low a spirited high-born woman, with the lone straggler refusing to completely satisfy a worthy female's desires. Dark Victory features Davis as a spirited young woman with a rare brain disease that's making her grow blind, though her doctor (George Brent) conceals the information so as not to alarm her. A questionable medical practice, perhaps, but at least the film moves at an enjoyably brisk clip and refuses to make the smited free spirit deserving of her fate. No such distinction redeems the heroine of The Letter, a Singapore-set Somerset Maugham adaptation about a married woman who kills her lover and then must pay off a witness with an incriminating letter. There's some unfortunate racial stereotyping of supporting characters, but William Wyler's direction is superb at expressing the protagonist's creeping guilt and the tension involved in her beating the murder rap. Mrs. Skeffington features another schemer: a vain young woman trying to protect her spendthrift brother by marrying the boss he defrauded (Claude Rains). When he dies in WWI, she loses all interest in the marriage and clings tenaciously to her looks and her old suitors until diphtheria reduces her to a crone. The sharp-tongued Julius and Philip Epstein script goes a long way towards making this entertaining, though it offers the dubious advice that "a woman is only beautiful when she is loved." Still, it's an improvement on The Star, in which an aging Davis is a superstar on the skids who's desperate for one more shot despite being too conceited to submit to non-ingénue roles; it's too bad Davis had to submit to this glorified TV movie, with its blank, uninspired direction and an unfortunate scene where the heroine announces to her Oscar that the both of them are getting drunk. The refresher turns out to be Now, Voyager, in which an unhappy spinster is lifted by a sensitive psychologist out of the straitjacket of her bullying mother; it's too bad it also sets her up with a romance with a married man that can never be fulfilled. Still, it's the best of the collection and the least self-flagellant of the bunch. There are extras galore on the discs, ranging from commentaries and featurettes to cast highlights and radio shows. (Warner)