Barbara Stanwyck was one of the great stars of Hollywood, excelling at comedy, film noir, melodrama even Westerns. Whether her character was rich or poor, femme fatale or wronged woman, she had a tough-yet-appealing gait, and she was never dull.
Stanwyck is arguably most famous for her roles as the cold-as-ice murderess in "Double Indemnity," the flirty burlesque dancer in "Ball of Fire," the con artist who falls for a mark in "The Lady Eve," the duplicitous reporter in "Meet John Doe" and the broken-hearted mother in "Stella Dallas," among others. (Later TV shows that kept her stardom alive were "The Big Valley," "The Thorn Birds" and "The Colbys.")But the six films gathered in a new DVD box set also include some excellent roles for Stanwyck, stretching over 20 years.
• "BARBARA STANWYCK SIGNATURE COLLECTION" (Warner, 1935-53, b/w, five discs, $49.92).
"Annie Oakley" (1935) is a highly fictionalized and highly romanticized depiction of the Wild West sharpshooter's life, but Stanwyck makes it her own in a wonderful portrayal that gives this picture a real boost. It's easy to see the influence this film's mix of comedy and action had on the later stage/movie adaptation of Oakley's life, "Annie Get Your Gun." Preston Foster co-stars as Toby Walker (instead of Frank Butler), and that's Utah actor Moroni Olsen as Buffalo Bill.
"My Reputation" (1946). This glossy soap opera has Stanwyck as a war widow in the suburbs who begins a scandalous romance with an Army officer on leave, which causes gossip that affects her children. George Brent is only so-so as her love interest, but Stanwyck is perfect, the production is lush and the solid supporting cast includes the always reliable Eve Arden. (One of two films in this set making its home-video debut.)
"East Side, West Side" (1949) is another soap opera, this time focusing on marital infidelity among Manhattan's social set. Stanwyck's husband (James Mason) once had a fling (with alluring Ava Gardner), and when the woman comes back to town, trouble's on the horizon. Van Heflin gives Stanwyck a shoulder to cry on, and the film gets excellent support from Cyd Charisse, Gale Sondergaard, William Conrad, William Frawley and Nancy Davis (the future Mrs. Ronald Reagan).
"To Please a Lady"/"Jeopardy" (1950/1953). A double-bill disc. "To Please a Lady" has Stanwyck as a tough reporter out to get auto racer Clark Gable, who's a reckless jerk, but, of course, they fall in love. Not bad formula stuff, with nice support from Adolphe Menjou, Roland Winters and Will Geer."Jeopardy" has Stanwyck and husband Barry Sullivan vacationing on the Mexico coast when their young son goes missing, and then menacing Ralph Meeker shows up. OK suspense effort, but nothing special. (This is the other film making its home-video debut.)
"Executive Suite" (1954, widescreen) is a lavish boardroom, corporate-greed, cautionary tale, as Stanwyck reunites with William Holden (her co-star in the 1939 boxing drama "Golden Boy"), and a bevy of stars shows up in support June Allyson, Fredric March, Walter Pidgeon, Shelley Winters, Paul Douglas, Louis Calhern, Nina Foch and "Brigham Young" himself, Dean Jagger. (The bonus features include an audio commentary by filmmaker Oliver Stone, whose own film, "Wall Street," owes something to this one.)Extras: full frame/widescreen, audio commentary (Stone on "Executive Suite"), short films, cartoons, audio-only radio plays, trailers (each disc is also available separately, $19.97)