Where’s the Barbara Stanwyck Box Set?

June 15, 2007

The other night, I watched The Secret Love of Martha Ivers for the first time. It’s a 1946 film by legendary producer Hal Wallis with a fantastic cast – Van Heflin, Lizabeth Scott, a young Kirk Douglas, and last but not least, Barbara Stanwyck. Wallis wasn’t missing with many of his films during this time period, and he certainly didn’t miss with this one. It’s a mature, psychological, noiresque drama that draws one in with its well developed characters, who are portrayed skillfully by the film’s starring quartet. I would definitely recommend the film. I’m actually writing here, however, because the film reminded me of a question that’s been bothering me lately: Why haven’t they released a Barbara Stanwyck DVD box set?

By no means am I a frequenter of box sets. I tend to be too cheap. The appeal of these sets, however, certainly does not escape me, and a Stanwyck set would be one of those where I’d be tempted to actually purchase it. There’s something cool about getting a nicely-packaged, themed mini-library of movies with a single purchase. Classic film lovers, in particular, seem to enjoy them, and classics bulletin boards and blogs across the Web are littered with threads discussing the confirmed releases, rumored releases, wished-for releases, etc., of these box sets. Having perused some of these discussions before, I know that I am not the only one wondering why Stanwyck hasn’t gotten her own set yet. In fact, you’ll occasionally see people discussing a “rumored” or “promised” Stanwyck box set. In particular, there have been reports connecting Warner Brothers and its nice “signature collection” line of box sets with Stanwyck, but as of yet, nothing has materialized.

Well, I imagined this might have something to do with distribution rights, and this interesting review on the Cineaste website of the Warner box sets states as much. stanwyck.jpgStanwyck was famously independent in a period where studio heads were still calling the shots. As a result, the rights to her films eventually became scattered across multiple distributors. Thus, despite the appeal of such a box set, the associated legal and financial difficulties have probably scared away many a potential suitor.

I decided to look a little closer at the matter. To help figure this out, I recruited the help of the DVDFile website’s article on DVD distributors. Then, I looked at Stanwyck’s filmography – more particularly, at the list of her films currently available in DVD. Using Warner’s signature collection box sets as a model, I tried arranging a box set that would use 1 or 2 films considered outright classics, 1 or 2 solid but sometimes overlooked classics, and 1 or 2 lesser-known films (while these are sometimes just filler, they more frequently seem to be good films that just don’t seem to stand out on their own for whatever reason). I also tried, as the signature collections usually do, to show a range of genres and representative films. Doing so, I came up with the following list as a sample box set:

  • Double Indemnity
  • Christmas in Connecticut
  • Stella Dallas
  • Clash by Night
  • Forty Guns
  • Crime of Passion

Such a set has several solid films, represents Stanwyck in a variety of genres, and includes some of her most classic roles. Further, it leaves some of her other classic films (such as The Lady Eve) to highlight future box sets, since an actress like Stanwyck could certainly fill more than one quality set. So here’s the problem.  I selected these films based solely on what I believed would likely compose a good box set. Looking at the companies that appears to hold these rights, however, proves that such a set would be impossible. Looking at the different distributors for this set – Double Indemnity (Universal Studios), Christmas in Connecticut (Warner Home Video), Stella Dallas (MGM), Clash by Night (Warner), Forty Guns (20th Century Fox), and Crime of Passion (MGM) – shows how scattered these rights are. There are other studios too – Paramount, for example, distributes both The Strange Love of Martha Ivers and Sorry, Wrong Number.

The upshot of all this is that a Stanwyck box set is not impossible; it’s just a challenge. Warners has filled multiple well-balanced Bogart collections because it has almost all of his films. That’s not the case with Barbara Stanwyck. Her best films are scattered across the major studios. The good news is that Stanwyck did so many good films that this should not stop a set from eventually coming out. Reportedly, Warners has said that it has enough to films to fill multiple Stanwyck box sets, and I feel relatively certain that at least one will come out within the next couple years. The bad news is that the “dream” box set that some fans like to speculate on simply will never happen.


One Response to “Where’s the Barbara Stanwyck Box Set?”

  1. gspence1173 Says:

    ok, man can I post an obscene comment? box set? too easy!

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