Oscar night is the one evening each year when actresses have parity in Hollywood. Now that it's over, female stars can return to playing patient wives or waiting for an agent's call. Or, for real wallowing, seeing a movie from the era when women onscreen were equal or superior to men. Here are six upcoming diva DVDs to glamorize your evenings--and to make every modern actress want to pour herself another vodka hemlock.
BELLS ARE RINGING
Arguably the last totally terrific MGM musical, this 1960 adaptation of the Broadway hit preserves Judy Holliday's signature role as Ella the switchboard operator, who has all the answers for her callers but none for her lonely self. A nonpareil comedienne and prime show-tune belter, Holliday teams with Dean Martin in a delight that was her triumph and her elegy. She died at 43, of breast cancer.
THE PHILADELPHIA STORY
In 1940, two years after being labeled "box-office poison," Katharine Hepburn returned to Hollywood, starring in the film version of the Philip Barry comedy she had performed in on Broadway. Cannily, she let her character be pushed around--literally, by Cary Grant--while radiating a patrician glow even Cate Blanchett couldn't match. James Stewart is the working-class fella who briefly obscures the Grant-Hepburn limelight, and George Cukor directs with his usual quiet mastery. Those lusciously long takes remind viewers that star quality, not editing, is the essence of classic Hollywood cinema. The DVD has some cool extras, including Hepburn's 1993 documentary self-portrait All About Me and a fine study of the Cukor touch by TIME's Richard Schickel. A rare treat is two radio plays of The Philadelphia Story, also with Hepburn, Grant and Stewart.
With chic cheek-bones, a jawline that could slice bologna and a warm voice that could go shrill in odd moments, Carole Lombard was perfect casting for this 1934 romp, directed by Howard Hawks, about a Broadway director (John Barrymore in all his spuming comic majesty) and the actress who was his protege and is now his career lifeline. The film was a career maker for Lombard, who died in a plane crash, at 33, in 1942.
One of the great actresses who never won an Oscar, Barbara Stanwyck had an intelligence and fire that lasered through all her roles. She's best as a predator on the make but showed her range in this 1937 sudser about a back-street woman who embarrasses her daughter (Anne Shirley) as the girl rises in society.We won't describe the ending, except to say that if Stanwyck doesn't make you cry, we would be tempted to refund your money--to help pay for a heart transplant.
DINNER AT EIGHT
To become an immortal diva, it wasn't mandatory to die young, but it couldn't hurt. Jean Harlow succumbed to kidney disease at 26, after starring for Þve years as MGM's cheekiest blond. In this 1933 ensemble comedy, Harlow, billed fourth, steals the show as Wallace Beery's conniving wife. An affront to the society swells she meets, she was catnip to amass audience who saw her as their stand-in, with a sailor's mouth and a heart of the purest brass.