Stella Dallas (1937)
The 1923 novel of the same name serves as the basis for this Barbara Stanwyck showcase. Her indelible performance was nominated for an Academy Award (Stanwyck lost Best Actress to Luise Rainer of The Good Earth). It's the story of party girl Stella Martin (Stanwyck) who marries well-to-do exec Stephen Dallas (John Boles). The two have a daughter, Laurel (Anne Shirley), who becomes the center of Stella's universe—even as her marriage crumbles. King Vidor directed this classic.
There's a big bonus feature included on this disc, the most significant feature of the entire set: the complete, 1925 version of Stella Dallas. The silent film, released just two years after the publication of the Olive Higgins Prouty novel, runs 110 minutes and was also produced by Samuel Goldwyn. It is presented in truly silent form as there is no score. It’s also completely unrestored and in exceedingly rough, with a bouncy image, poor contrast, and tons of print flaws.
Dead End (1937)
William Wyler directed this hard-boiled crime drama, notable for featuring the screen debut of the popular acting group the Dead End Kids. This group of young actors starred on Broadway in the stage version of Dead End (penned by Sidney Kingsley). Near the East River in New York City, rich folks live in blissful, willful ignorance of the slum tenants living in their shadow, just barely getting by. This slice of life about the haves and have-nots also boasts Humphrey Bogart in a supporting role as gangster Baby Face Martin. Young Tommy (Billy Halop) is at risk of being pulled into the crime world by Baby Face. Drina (Sylvia Sidney), Tommy's sister, attempts to keep her brother from heading down the wrong path.
Dead End received four Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actress (for Claire Trevor, who plays Bogart's ex-moll-turned-prostitute). The theatrical trailer is included on the DVD.
The Westerner (1940)
We stay in William Wyler country with this Gary Cooper vehicle. It may be Cooper who stars as the maverick Cole Harden, accused of stealing a horse, but it's Walter Brennan's show as Judge Roy Bean. Brennan picked up his third Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance as the corrupt judge in Vinegaroon, Texas. Judge Bean was a real guy, though the facts of his life have been fictionalized for dramatic effect for Wyler's film (the screenplay was penned by Jo Swerling, Niven Busch, and several uncredited writers). No bonus material here.
They Got Me Covered (1943)
This Bob Hope comedy is listed on the DVD box as 1942, though it appears to have been released in early 1943. Hope stars as award-winning newspaper reporter Kit Kittredge. We're in the midst of World War II. Kit loses his job upon returning from assignment in Russia. His boss (Donald MacBride) is dismayed over the correspondent's failure to report that the Germans invaded Russia. What follows is a brisk round of farcical, over the top, exceedingly light comedy as Kit is tipped off to the presence of spies in Washington, D.C. They Got Me Covered was directed by David Butler. No bonus material here.
The Princess and The Pirate (1944)
We stay with director Butler and star Bob Hope for this sea-faring yuk-fest, set in the 17th century. Here Hope plays the crummy, weak-willed actor Sylvester the Great. Along with rebellious royal Princess Margaret (Virginia Mayo), Sylvester is taken prisoner by the so-called Hook (Victor McLaglen), taken from a ship named the Mary Ann and brought aboard Hook's The Avenger. It's another light comic romp, all about the proverbial mouse becoming a man by standing up to his fears and facing challenges. Incidentally, Walter Brennan is present in this one too, as Featherhead, The Avenger's resident tattoo artist. The theatrical trailer is included.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947)
Long before Ben Stiller made an overblown hash out of James Thurber's New Yorker magazine article of the same name, director Norman Z. McLeod (The Marx Brothers' Monkey Business and Horse Feathers) crafted an adaptation that has stood the test of time. Danny Kaye stars as the titular milquetoast who, not totally unlike Sylvester in The Princess and the Pirate, must overcome meekness to truly act like a grown man. Another element Mitty shares with that film: Virginia Mayo co-stars. Here Mayo is Rosalind van Hoorn, the woman who turns Mitty's life upside down.
As far as special features go, there’s a two-minute interview with actress Virginia Mayo. There’s also a theatrical trailer.
It’s a pretty bare-bones set, but the movies all look pretty good given that it’s standard definition (with the exception of the ratty condition of the silent Stella Dallas, included, I’m sure, for historical purposes only). The standard-width DVD case houses all six discs and is itself housed in a glossy cardboard slipcase.