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Hollywood's Biggest Stars [10 Discs] [DVD]
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Overview

Synopsis

The Big Trees
Ever since slipping into Public Domain, The Big Trees has become one of the most accessible and oft-televised of Kirk Douglas' pictures. Douglas plays an unscrupulous lumberjack who covets the land owned by a religious sect. All that's saving him from being the film's main villain is the fact that there's an even nastier contingent out to claim the sect's territory. His greed tempered by the love of pious Eve Miller, Douglas turns out to be a good guy after all in the film's climax. Watch for Alan Hale Jr. as "Tiny," doubling for his own father, who appears in long-shot in the stock footage. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Stranger
The Stranger is often considered Orson Welles' most "traditional" Hollywood-style directorial effort. Welles plays a college professor named Charles Rankin, who lives in a pastoral Connecticut town with his lovely wife Mary (Loretta Young). One afternoon, an extremely nervous German gentleman named Meineke (Konstantin Shayne) arrives in town. Professor Rankin seems disturbed--but not unduly so--by Meineke's presence. He invites the stranger for a walk in the woods, and as they journey farther and farther away from the center of town, we learn that kindly professor Rankin is actually notorious Nazi war criminal Franz Kindler. Conscience-stricken by his own genocidal wartime activities, Meineke has come to town to beg his ex-superior Kindler to give himself up. The professor responds by brutally murdering his old associate. If Kindler believes himself safe--and he has every reason to do so, since no one in town, especially Mary, has any inkling of his previous life--he will change his mind in a hurry when mild-mannered war crimes commissioner Wilson (Edward G. Robinson) pays a visit, posing as an antiques dealer. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Beat the Devil
Humphrey Bogart stars as one of five disreputable adventurers who are trying to get uranium out of East Africa. Bogart's associates include pompous fraud Robert Morley, and Peter Lorre as the German-accented "O'Hara", whose wartime record is forever a source of speculation and suspicion. Becoming involved in Bogart's machinations are a prim British married couple (Edward Underdown and blonde-wigged Jennifer Jones). As a climax to their many misadventures and double-crosses, the uranium seekers end up facing extermination by an Arab firing squad. The satirical nature of Beat the Devil eluded many moviegoers in 1953, and the film was a failure. The fact that the picture attained cult status in lesser years failed to impress its star Humphrey Bogart, who could only remember that he lost a considerable chunk of his own money when he became involved in the project. Peter Viernick worked on the script on an uncredited basis. Beat the Devil eventually fell into public domain, leading to numerous inferior editions by second and third-tiered labels. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Amazing Adventure
Amazing Quest was the original British release title of the 1937 comedy Romance and Riches (aka Riches and Romance). Making a rare return trip to England, Cary Grant plays the heir to a huge fortune. Alas, Grant is miserable, because he's never worked for his money. Determined to prove his worth, Grant makes a wager than he can earn his keep for a full year without ever touching the family millions. He loses his bet when he must draw upon his money to wed poverty-stricken Mary Brian, the better to save her from an unhappy marriage of convenience. Still, his experiences among the working classes have left an indelible impression; turning his back on his "equals," Grant invites all of his newly acquired lowborn friends to his wedding reception. Like His Girl Friday, Penny Serenade, and Charade, Amazing Quest is one on the ever-growing list of Cary Grant films that have lapsed into public domain, and thus are more readily available than when first released. Amazing Quest was based on a novel by E. Phillips Oppenheim. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Borderline
This crime melodrama with humorous undertones involves the investigation of dope smugglers on the Mexican border. Americans Fred MacMurray and Claire Trevor enter the scene and find themselves embroiled in the illicit activities. Both are government agents, but each one thinks the other is a crook. The real bad guy is Raymond Burr, head of the smuggling ring. At one point, MacMurray and Trevor must pretend to be husband and wife, which weakens their mutual mistrust. Eventually, MacMurray and Trevor sort out the heroes from the villains, and the dope ring is scuttled...at least for the time being. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Great Guy
After retiring from a boxing career, Johnny Cave (James Cagney) accepts an appointment to serve as head of the Bureau of Weights and Measures. However, when he discovers that his organization is full of corruption and lies, he sets out to uncover the scam, much to the dismay of his girlfriend, Janet (Mae Clarke), and his underhanded coworkers. ~ Iotis Erlewine, Rovi

Marie Galante
Movie newcomer Ketti Gallian plays Marie Gallante, who is abducted by a most ungallant drunken sea captain. He leaves her stranded in Yucatan, where she gets a job as a cafe singer in hopes of paying her way to the Panama Canal zone. While en route, she meets the two-fisted Crawbett (Spencer Tracy), who unlike most of the other men she's encountered believes the kidnapping story. Crawbett, a secret agent, comes to Marie's rescue when she gets inadvertently mixed up in a plot to sabotage the Canal. His job done, Crawbett decides to stick around in Panama for a while when he falls in love with Marie. Based on a novel by Jacques Devel, Marie Gallante was intended to make a star out of Ketti Gallian, but it was the reliable Spencer Tracy who attracted the crowds and earned the critical plaudits. Elements of the film's plotline would later resurface in the 1940 programmer Charlie Chan in Panama. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Scarlet Street
Masterfully directed by Fritz Lang, Scarlet Street is a bleak film in which an ordinary man succumbs first to vice and then to murder. Christopher Cross (Edward G. Robinson) is a lonely man married to a nagging wife. Painting is the only thing that brings him joy. Cross meets Kitty (Joan Bennett) who, believing him to be a famous painter, begins an affair with him. Encouraged by her lover, con man Johnny Prince (Dan Duryea) Kitty persuades Cross to embezzle money from his employer in order to pay for her lavish apartment. In that apartment, happy for the first time in his life, Cross paints Kitty's picture. Johnny then pretends that Kitty painted to portrait, which has won great critical acclaim. Finally realizing he has been manipulated, Cross kills Kitty, loses his job, and because his name has been stolen by Kitty, is unable to paint. He suffers a mental breakdown as the film ends, haunted by guilt. Kitty and Johnny are two of the most amoral and casual villains in the history of film noir, both like predatory animals completely without conscience. Milton Krasner's photography is excellent in its use of stark black-and-white to convey psychological states. Fritz Lang is unparalleled in his ability to convey the desperation of hapless, naïve victims in a cruelly realistic world. ~ Linda Rasmussen, Rovi

Made for Each Other
James Stewart and Carole Lombard star in this comedy-drama about the struggles of a young married couple directed by John Cromwell. Stewart and Lombard play a recently married couple, Jane and John Mason. John works as an attorney for the law firm of skinflint Judge Doolittle (Charles Coburn). Doolittle calls John back to work immediately after the wedding ceremony, forcing the couple to abandon their honeymoon. But John is ready to do Doolittle's bidding, since he hopes to become a partner in the firm. Doolittle is openly disappointed at the marriage, hoping John would have instead married his daughter Eunice (Ruth Weston). Eunice eventually marries another lawyer in the firm, Carter (Donald Briggs). John and Jane try to make ends meet and invite Doolittle, Eunice, and Carter to dinner. The dinner turns into a disaster, climaxing with Doolittle informing John he has decided to make Carter a partner in the firm. Crushed, John and Jane work hard but to no avail, sinking deeper and deeper into debt. Jane has a baby, but when the child becomes seriously ill, the only way to save the baby is to have a special serum flown in through a blizzard from Salt Lake City. John needs $5000 to hire a pilot and get the medicine, and his only hope is to beg Judge Doolittle for the money. ~ Paul Brenner, Rovi

They Made Me a Criminal
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