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TCM Greatest Classic Legends, Joan Crawford (DVD)

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The Joan Crawford Collection brings together a potent group of films from Crawford's career renaissance: her Warner Bros. run of the late 1940s, beginning with Mildred Pierce. Four of the titles are from that heated, noirish streak, including Crawford's 1945 Oscar-winning turn in Mildred, a great Hollywood example of an actress's persona meeting the zeitgeist moment. In this adaptation of the James M. Cain novel, Crawford plays a sacrificing mother perfectly willing to claw her way to success for the sake of her ingrate daughter. Michael Curtiz directed, snapping Crawford out of a long career slide.

Humoresque (1946) was promptly given the top-drawer treatment, and it's a truly epic melodrama about a restless society woman who takes up the cause of a young violinist (John Garfield) from the slums. Possessed (1947) gave Crawford a thorough workout as a woman in complete obsessive breakdown from various romantic traumas. What Crawford lacks in subtlety she makes up for in sheer will, which suits the character well (and brought another best actress Oscar nomination). The Damned Don't Cry (1950) is a film noir smash-up, with Crawford as a low-rent dame who brazens her way into becoming a fur-lined mobster's moll (it was loosely inspired by the Bugsy Siegel-Virginia Hill story). It's overripe but entertaining.

1939's The Women, an MGM picture, doesn't fit the mood of the collection, although it has its fans. George Cukor directed this catty version of the Clare Booth Luce play, which has an all-female ensemble cast; Crawford is in very good form as a bad girl. The movie's reputation is somewhat beyond its actual witchy charm. (Packaging gaffe: the photo on the back cover is from Seven Women.) DVD extras tend toward smallish documentaries, save the absorbing 90-minute career profile The Ultimate Movie Star on the Mildred Pierce disc, an even-handed study that includes frank revelations from director-lover Vincent Sherman and the "wire hangers" story from adopted daughter Christina. Sherman contributes a commentary on The Damned Don't Cry.