“Rediscovering Myrna Loy” could be the best way to remember the durable star who died this week at the age of 88. MGM/UA’s $100-collection of four of her films on laser disc is one of several handsomely packaged sets that focus on significant stars of the ‘20s, ‘30s and ‘40s in some of their major and minor films.
Loy was best known for her “Thin Man” films with William Powell and for her work in the acclaimed “The Best Years of Our Lives.” But she was also at her winsome, sophisticated, witty best in the four films that make up this set.
The 1933 “Penthouse” teams her with Warner Baxter in the delightful W.S. Van Dyke-directed comedy-mystery that helped underscore her immense talent and wit, this time as a call girl who helps solve a murder. The same year, she jousted with heavyweight champ Max Baer in the surprisingly enjoyable love story “The Prizefighter and the Lady,” which also features fighter Jack Dempsey and actors Walter Huston and Otto Kruger.
Loy co-stars with Gable and Powell in the 1934 “Manhattan Melodrama,” the film John Dillinger reportedly saw before the FBI ambushed him outside the Biograph Theatre in Chicago.
In 1940’s “I Love You Again” Loy and Powell once again reignite their incredible chemistry in a clever film that turns amnesia into a fresh bit of screwball comedy.
If Loy’s career had just been co-starring with Powell in the “Thin Man” series she would have had claim to permanent film stardom. MGM/UA offers that 1934 film on laser for $35, as well as in a wonderful “Thin Man Collection” that includes all six in the series for $125. The set features the sophisticated married sleuths and their now-famous dog Asta in “After the Thin Man” (1936); “Another Thin Man” (1939); “Shadow of the Thin Man” (1941); “The Thin Man Goes Home” (1944) and “Song of the Thin Man” (1947).
Other laser sets spotlighting some of Hollywood’s most compelling female stars make imposing holiday gifts. One of the best is “The Greta Garbo Collection” (MGM/UA, $100), which showcases arguably the most glamorous actress of them all in some of her most memorable roles. “Anna Christie,” Garbo’s first talkie in 1930 pairs her with Charles Bickford in an adaptation of Eugene O’Neill’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play. As the tragic “Camille” in the 1936 film directed by George Cukor, Garbo may have never been better.
The 1927 “Flesh and the Devil” brought Garbo and John Gilbert together in some steamy scenes, both on screen and off.
In another signature role as a doomed heroine, Garbo essays the title role of “Anna Karenina” in the 1935 film of the Tolstoy novel. Fredric March co-stars.
MCA Universal’s “The Ultimate Mae West Collection” ($100) offers the incomparable comedian in her Paramount years in “I’m No Angel” (1933) opposite Cary Grant in the West-scripted comedy; “Belle of the Nineties” (1934); “Night After Night” (1932) with George Raft, and in the 1936 “Klondike Annie” with Victor McLaglen, directed by Raoul Walsh.
“The Joan Crawford Collection” (MGM/UA, $100) offers the melodramatic star in pairings with major male stars of the day but in lesser films: “Sadie McKee” (1934) with Gene Raymond and Franchot Tone; “Mannequin” (1938), her only appearance with Spencer Tracy; “The Ice Follies of 1939" with James Stewart; “When Ladies Meet” (1941) with Robert Taylor and Greer Garson. The best of the batch may be the 1941 “A Woman’s Face,” directed by George Cukor and co-starring Melvyn Douglas and Conrad Vedit in a tense drama in which plastic surgery plays a substantial role.
You can catch better Crawford in other MGM collections including the “Forbidden Hollywood” series and the Clark Gable-Joan Crawford boxed set.
“The Bette Davis Collection” (MGM/UA, $100), like the Loy and Crawford sets, comes with handsome annotated liner notes and generous chapter stops, plus an overweening paean by Roddy McDowall. Five fascinating films are offered: “The Old Maid” (1939) with Miriam Hopkins; “The Letter” (1940) based on a Somerset Maugham novel directed by William Wyler; “In This Our Life” (1942), directed by John Huston and co-starring George Brent; “A Stolen Life” (1946) with Glenn Ford and filled with fascinating, effective double-exposure shots; the classic 1942 “Now, Voyager” (also offered singly for $35 on laser) pairs Davis with Paul Henreid in one of the cinema’s most famous romantic scenes: Henreid lighting two cigarettes simultaneously and handing one to Davis.