A three-part ode to acts of desperation
Fox Studio Classics
Fox, $15 each
In Old Chicago
MUSICALS and gangster dramas weren’t the only movies audiences flocked to in the 1930s -- they also loved disaster films like “San Francisco,” “The Hurricane” and this 1937 melodrama about the famed 1871 Great Chicago Fire. One of the most expensive movies of its day -- because of the still-effective re-creation of the fire -- the film revolves around the two O’Leary brothers.
A breathlessly handsome Tyrone Power plays the slick brother who opens a successful saloon with a beautiful entertainer (Alice Faye) and gets involved in dirty politics. Don Ameche is the earnest brother, an attorney vowing to stop the rampant corruption in the Windy City. And yes, these are the same O’Learys whose family cow kicked over the lantern that started the infamous blaze.
Alice Brady, best known for her comedic work in such films as “My Man Godfrey,” won a best supporting actress Oscar for her dramatic turn as their mother. But she didn’t attend the 1938 Oscar ceremony. When her name was called from the stage, an unidentified man walked up from the audience to claim the Oscar, and neither the mystery man nor Brady’s Oscar was seen again. Brady died in 1939 of cancer at age 46.
Extras: Two-sided disc features the 96-minute version of the film and the rarely seen “roadshow version” -- the one that was shown in big cities -- that is 109 minutes long. There’s also a “Biography” episode on Ameche and several newsreels dealing with the film, including the New York premiere and the cow chosen to play the pivotal role.
The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit
“Flannel Suit” is a lengthy but engrossing 1956 adaptation of Sloan Wilson’s 1953 novel about a young New York executive (a well-cast Gregory Peck) who becomes involved in the corporate rat race to support the middle-class lifestyle of his ambitious wife (a shrill Jennifer Jones) while dealing with painful memories of a love affair he had during World War II in Italy. Adapted and directed by Nunnally Johnson -- he received a Directors Guild of America Award nomination -- the film also stars Fredric March, Ann Harding and Portland Mason, the daughter of James and Pamela Mason, who plays one of the Peck character’s three children.
Extras: A look at the extensive restoration of “Flannel Suit,” a stills gallery and amusing commentary from film writer James Monaco, who puts this glossy melodrama in perspective.
Hush ... Hush Sweet Charlotte
In 1962, director Robert Aldrich (“Kiss Me Deadly”) teamed two veteran divas -- Bette Davis and Joan Crawford -- for the delicious Grand Gugnol horror film “What Ever Happen to Baby Jane?” The film was such a success that it revived the sagging careers of both actresses -- Davis received an Oscar nomination. However, the actresses, longtime rivals at Warner Bros. studio in the 1940s, continued their feud during production. So when it came time for Aldrich to make this 1964 gothic horror story with Davis, the Crawford role went to another Warner Bros. veteran -- and friend of Davis -- Olivia de Havilland.
Davis chews the scenery whole as a Southern spinster -- still living in the family’s now-decrepit mansion -- who the gossipy townspeople believe murdered her married lover (Bruce Dern) 40 years earlier with an ax. De Havilland plays Charlotte’s cousin as a malevolent version of her famed “Gone With the Wind” character, Melanie.
“Hush” received seven Oscar nominations, including best supporting actress for Agnes Moorehead as Charlotte’s eccentric maid. There were also notable nods for the hit theme song and for Joseph F. Biroc’s evocative black-and-white cinematography.
Extras: The original trailer, three TV spots and fact-filled commentary from film historian Glenn Erickson.
-- Susan King