It's that cheese Appellate Judge James A. Stewart ate last night.
A much-needed spotlight on one of Hollywood's true cinematic greats.
My last encounter with Claudette Colbert was in the steamy 1930s version of Cleopatra, which was closely followed by the Hays Code when it hit movie screens. While moviegoers never got to see that much of the beautiful Colbert again, the French-born actress started a successful screwball comedy career with Three-Cornered Moon. Colbert also proved that she could stand out while hiding behind a Puritan bonnet in Maid of Salem. Those are just two of the six Colbert classics in Universal's The Claudette Colbert Collection:
Facts of the Case
The six black-and-white movies, made from 1933 to 1947, are on three discs:
Maid of Salem (1937)
Bluebeard's Eighth Wife (1938)
The Egg and I (1947)
Three-Cornered Moon may be "the first genuine 'screwball' comedy," according to a trivia page on the box. While romance, silly characters, and overlapping conversations are included, I'd describe it as a Depression-era morality tale rather than the fluff you'd think of today. At the outset, Liz and her siblings are vapid: one's a would-be actor with a pretentious accent; another, a law clerk, wants to pack up and just flee; and a third is a partying college student. Their mother spends money, but doesn't know what a margin is, and doesn't notice that her bank balance is down to $1.65. Having to go out and work—Liz finds herself fending off the advances of a married boss while learning how to operate a shoe-making machine—teaches them what's really important. Heck, Liz seems almost liberated by the lack of money, gradually turning a moody pout into a warm smile. Throughout, she laughs—or at least cracks wise—during all of her family's travails.
Maid of Salem is the only movie here that isn't a comedy. Colbert plays an unlikely Puritan, looking as radiant as Cleopatra in a lace bonnet and becoming a Sunday sermon subject for it. Thus, even before she stands up against the witch hunters, you just know she's going to be on trial herself. Colbert sounds like a twentieth century woman as she meets with Fred MacMurray and defends herself against witchcraft charges. MacMurray's fugitive is one-dimensional and broadly played, but that makes him a sharp contrast to the strict, even scary, elders of Salem. An optimistic ending seems out of place.
Robert Young, a television father figure, plays a charming cad in I Met Him In Paris. Here, Colbert's a more naïve character who could get swept away by Young's cad, drawing the protective attention of Melyvn Douglas' older, wiser bachelor. Colbert's likable and fairly straightlaced here, a stand-in for female moviegoers.
Bluebeard's Eighth Wife is an outrageous retelling of The Taming of the Shrew, with Gary Cooper's tycoon reading the play as he tries to deal with his new bride, unaware that she has the same intentions. It takes a lot to make a woman who would drive her husband to a nervous breakdown likable, but Colbert pulls it off. Side gags about pomposity in a French department store and a cure for insomnia are also good.
Colbert again finds a strong comic sparring partner in No Time For Love. Since he's a near-compulsive brawler who can throw a fancy dinner party into chaos, one wouldn't expect Fred MacMurray's Jim Ryan to catch the fancy of a magazine photographer who lives in a movie-perfect New York apartment. Still, MacMurray and Colbert are fun to watch as they bicker.
The Egg and I, with the episodic feel of an anecdotal book turned into a movie, feels like sitcom fodder. MacMurray and Colbert show off gifts for slapstick while playing more realistic characters. Colbert's Betty shows a sweetness not emphasized elsewhere in the set as she tames a "vicious" hunting dog and makes fast friends with her neighbors. While the story may make you think of Green Acres, Colbert avoids glamour here.
Whether glamorous or down-to-earth, Colbert comes across as a friendly, intelligent wisecracker who doesn't take things too seriously. The movies here are mostly star vehicles for Colbert; I'd call Bluebeard's Eighth Wife, No Time For Love, and The Egg and I the best in the set, mainly because of the strong chemistry she shares with Cooper and MacMurray.
A brief bonus, "Claudette Colbert: Queen of the Silver Screen," provides an admiring look at her career. There's also a trailer for the re-release of The Egg and I. The box features trivia for each movie.
Picture quality is decent for the movies' vintage. You'll find flecks and grain, though, particularly in the first three.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The movies here are good showcases for Claudette Colbert, but the silliness of Three-Cornered Moon and I Met Him in Paris won't stick in your mind much after you've seen them, and Maid of Salem could prove to be an unintentional comedy, since Colbert hardly seems Puritan.
Fans of Claudette Colbert will enjoy this collection, and, even if you aren't, the mix of romance and comedy is fun.
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Scales of Justice, Three-Cornered Moon
Perp Profile, Three-Cornered Moon
Distinguishing Marks, Three-Cornered Moon
Scales of Justice, I Met Him In Paris
Perp Profile, I Met Him In Paris
Distinguishing Marks, I Met Him In Paris
Scales of Justice, Maid Of Salem
Perp Profile, Maid Of Salem
Distinguishing Marks, Maid Of Salem
Scales of Justice, Bluebeard's Eighth Wife
Perp Profile, Bluebeard's Eighth Wife
Distinguishing Marks, Bluebeard's Eighth Wife
Scales of Justice, No Time For Love
Perp Profile, No Time For Love
Distinguishing Marks, No Time For Love
Scales of Justice, The Egg And I
Perp Profile, The Egg And I
Distinguishing Marks, The Egg And I
Review content copyright © 2009 James A. Stewart; Site design and review layout copyright © 2013 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.