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Hollywood's Greatest Actresses [10 Discs] [DVD]

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Overview

Synopsis

Three Came Home
Based on the autobiographical book by Agnes Newton Keith, Three Came Home stars Claudette Colbert as Mrs. Keith. Trapped in Borneo during the Japanese invasion, Mrs. Keith and her British husband (Patric Knowles) are penned up in a prison camp along with several other subjects. Despite the humanitarian views of camp commander Col. Suga (Sessue Hayakawa), Mrs. Keith is subject to torture, starvation, and humiliation at the hands of the guards, with Suga helpless to intervene lest he incur the wrath of his own superiors. Three Came Home contains several unforgettable moments, including a comic interlude between the male and female prisoners that ends abruptly with a barrage of Japanese bullets, and the heartwrenching scene wherein Suga learns that his family has been killed in a bombing raid. Since lapsing into the public domain in 1977, Three Came Home has popped up innumerable times on cable television. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman
A woman struggles to reassemble her broken life in this drama that features Susan Hayward in her first starring role. The woman started out as a night-club singer, but abandoned her career after marrying a budding radio star. At first she does everything she can to insure his success, but when he finally hits the big-time, the woman finds herself deeply depressed and turning toward the bottle for solace because he is increasingly absent from her life. She becomes a full-fledged alcoholic and her husband, unable to take it anymore begins divorce and custody procedures. It takes such extreme measures to wake her up to her problem. Fortunately, with hard work, and renewed support from her husband, she overcomes her addiction. ~ Sandra Brennan, Rovi

Lady of Burlesque
Barbara Stanwyck shines in her second portrayal of a showgirl in less than two years (the first was in Howard Hawks' Ball of Fire in 1941). In Lady of Burlesque -- which, at times, has a Hawksian edge to the dialogue -- she portrays Dixie Daisy, a striptease artist at a Broadway theater in New York at the end of the 1930s. In the course of fending off the unwanted advances of brash comic Biff Brannigan (Michael O'Shea), with whom she is teamed in several numbers, and staying clear of the dressing room feuds of her fellow dancers -- including a very nasty dispute between Dolly Baxter (Gloria Dickson) and Lolita La Verne (Victoria Faust) -- she finds herself up to her neck in trouble when one of the women is found strangled with her own G-string. The police don't know what to make of it, especially as the victim was already dying of a fatal dose of poison, which means that there are two murderers somewhere in the theater; and when a second woman turns up strangled inside a prop that Dixie was supposed to be hiding in onstage, she looks like a good suspect. Between the backstage comedy-drama, and the songs, dances, and on-stage comic routines, with the police breathing down both their necks at different times, Dixie and Biff manage to solve the mystery and find each other in this briskly paced, funny, yet amazingly gritty comedy-thriller. Lady of Burlesque was allowed to fall out of copyright in 1971, and since then it was seen in substandard editions until the May 2001 DVD release from Image Entertainment. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi

Of Human Bondage
The first of three film versions of Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage stars Leslie Howard as sensitive, clubfooted artist-cum-med student Philip Carey. Despite his yearnings for the finer things in life, Carey cannot extricate himself from a mutually destructive relationship with sluttish waitress Mildred Rogers (Bette Davis). After an incredible series of emotional disasters, Carey finally finds happiness in the arms of Sally Altheny (Frances Dee). The industry buzz in 1934 indicated that Bette Davis was a shoe-in for an Academy Award for her savage portrayal of Mildred, but her home studio Warner Bros. failed to mount an adequate publicity campaign on Davis' behalf, allegedly because she'd made the film on loan-out to RKO and Warners wasn't about to heap praise upon a rival. It is now generally conceded that Davis' Oscar win for 1935's Dangerous was consolation for her losing the statuette in 1934. Long out of circulation due to the 1946 remake, the 1934 Of Human Bondage has since slipped into the public domain, and is now seen more often than either of the subsequent remakes (the last was in 1964). ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

A Star Is Born
A Star is Born came into being when producer David O. Selznick decided to tell a "true behind-the-scenes" story of Hollywood. The truth, of course, was filtered a bit for box-office purposes, although Selznick and an army of screenwriters based much of their script on actual people and events. Janet Gaynor stars as Esther Blodgett, the small-town girl who dreams of Hollywood stardom, a role later played by both Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand in the 1954 and 1976 remakes. Jeered at by most of her family, Esther finds an ally in her crusty old grandma (May Robson), who admires the girl's "pioneer spirit" and bankrolls Esther's trip to Tinseltown. On arrival, Esther heads straight to Central Casting, where a world-weary receptionist (Peggy Wood), trying to let the girl down gently, tells her that her chances for stardom are about one in a thousand. "Maybe I'll be that one!" replies Esther defiantly. Months pass: through the intervention of her best friend, assistant director Danny McGuire (Andy Devine), Esther gets a waitressing job at an upscale Hollywood party. Her efforts to "audition" for the guests are met with quizzical stares, but she manages to impress Norman Maine (Fredric March), the alcoholic matinee idol later played by James Mason and Kris Kristofferson. Esther gets her first big break in Norman's next picture and a marriage proposal from the smitten Mr. Maine. It's a hit, but as Esther (now named Vicki)'s star ascends, Norman's popularity plummets due to a string of lousy pictures and an ongoing alcohol problem. The film won Academy Awards for director William Wellman and Robert Carson in the "original story" category and for W. Howard Greene's glistening Technicolor cinematography. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Algiers
This Hollywood remake of the French Pepe le Moko adheres so slavishly to its source that it utilizes stock footage from the original film, and even picked its actors on the basis of their resemblance to the French cast. Contrary to legend, star Charles Boyer never says "Come wizz me to zee Casbah"; as master criminal Pepe le Moko, he's already in the Casbah, a crook-controlled safe harbor which protects Pepe from the French authorities. Pepe's friendly enemy, police inspector Joseph Calleia, treats his pursuit of Pepe like a chess game, patiently waiting for his opponent to make that one wrong move. The ever-careful Pepe has the misfortune to fall hopelessly in love with tourist Hedy Lamarr (in her first American film). A combination of events, including the betrayal of Pepe by his castaway lover Sigrid Gurie and Hedy's tearful return to her ship when she is misinformed that Pepe is killed, lures the hero/villain into the open. Arrested by Calleia, Pepe begs for one last glance at his departing sweetheart. At this point in the French version, Pepe cheated the hangman by killing himself; this would never do in Production Code-dominated Hollywood, so Algiers contrives to have Pepe shot while trying to escape. Algiers was remade in 1948 as a musical, Casbah, starring Tony Martin. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Nothing Sacred
"This is New York, Skyscraper Champion of the World...Where the Slickers and Know-It-Alls peddle gold bricks to each other...And where Truth, crushed to earth, rises again more phony than a glass eye..." With this jaundiced opening title, scripter Ben Hecht introduces his classic comedy Nothing Sacred. Fredric March plays Wally Cook, a hotshot reporter condemned to writing obituaries because of his unwitting complicity in a fraud. Anxious to get back in the good graces of his editor Oliver Stone (Walter Connolly), Cook pounces on the story of New England girl Hazel Flagg (Carole Lombard), who is reportedly dying from radiation poisoning. Actually, Hazel isn't dying at all; she's been misdiagnosed by Moscow's eternally drunk doctor (Charles Winninger). But when Cook offers to take her on an all-expenses-paid trip to New York in exchange for her exclusive story, it's too good an offer to pass up. Once in the Big Apple, Hazel is feted as a heroine by the novelty-seeking populac; she enjoys the adulation at first, but soon (and with the help of gallons of alcoholic beverages) suffers the pangs of conscience. She confesses her deception to Cook, who by now has fallen in love with her. Cook and Stone conspire to keep the public from discovering the truth, eventually dreaming up a phony suicide. Travelling incognito to avoid arrest, Wally and Hazel marry and go on a honeymoon, secure in the knowledge that New York City has forgotten all about her and moved on to their next fad. Brimming with witty, acerbic dialogue and hilarious bits of physical business, Nothing Sacred is among the best "screwball" comedies of the 1930s. The musical score by Oscar Levant both mocks and celebrates the George Gershwinesque musical style then in vogue. As an added bonus, the film is lensed in Technicolor (avoid those two-color reissue prints), allowing modern viewers to see what New York City looked liked back in 1937. Nothing Sacred was later adapted into a Broadway musical, Hazel Flagg, which in turn was filmed by Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis as Living It Up (1954), with Lewis in the Carole Lombard role. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Torch
The Torch was originally released in Mexico as La Malquerida. It also bore several other titles, including Duelo en las Montanas, Del Odio Nacio el Amor and The Beloved. By any name, this is the story of a fear-inspiring revolutionary general (Pedro Armendariz) who develops a passion for the daughter (Paulette Goddard) of a wealthy villager. It's hate at first sight so far as the girl is concerned, but this will soon change. Designed as a dual-market production, The Torch was produced by star Paulette Goddard and RKO's Bert Granet, and directed by volatile Mexican filmmaker Emilio Fernandez. The international supporting cast includes Gilbert Roland as a kindly priest and Walter Reed as an American doctor who also yearns for Goddard. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Rain
The pleasures of the flesh confront the discipline of the Lord's teachings in this screen adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham's story Miss Sadie Thompson. Sadie Thompson (Joan Crawford) is a sassy streetwalker who lands in Pago Pago in the South Pacific after an epidemic grounds the ship on which she's booked passage. Sadie's shapely legs, free spirit, and quick wit soon attract the attention of a group of American soldiers stationed on the island; while most are motivated by simple lust, the naive Sgt. O'Hara (William Gargan) falls head over heels for Sadie, thoroughly unaware of her checkered past and shameful profession. Rev. Alfred Davidson (Walter Huston), a fire-and-brimstone preacher bent on bringing salvation to the soldiers, is fully aware of Sadie's occupation and moral code, and is determined to convince her to change her ways. Sadie slowly but surely is softened by Davidson's conviction, but the preacher soon finds himself affected by her sensual presence; O'Hara also learns the truth about Sadie, but hatches his own plan to reform her -- marriage. While a box office failure in 1932, Rain has gone on to become a cult favorite, thanks to Crawford's vivid performance as Sadie and director Lewis Milestone's adventurous visual style. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi

The Last Time I Saw Paris
Loosely based on F. Scott Fitzgerald's short story Babylon Revisited, MGM's The Last Time I Saw Paris is a star-studded soap opera, luxuriously lensed by director Richard Brooks. In his last film as an MGM contractee, Van Johnson plays reporter Charles Wills, who while covering the VE Day celebrations in Paris, meets and falls in love with the gorgeous Helen Ellsworth (Elizabeth Taylor). Soon afterward, Charles and Helen are married. Charles supports his wife with a low-paying wire service job, devoting his evenings to writing a novel. After numerous rejections, Charles is more than willing to give up writing and live off the revenue of a Texas oil well in which he'd invested. As he squanders his newfound riches on creature comforts, he loses his literary ambitions and, slowly but surely, the love and devotion of his wife. His self-destructive behavior is halted only by a devastating tragedy. Donna Reed costars as Charles sister-in-law Marion, who carries a torch for him throughout the picture, and Eva Gabor contributes a supporting role. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

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