Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Bette goes beyond the forest ...

Is BEYOND THE FOREST a camp stinker, a Trash Classic or an undervalued late Forties melodrama proving Bette Davis with one of her great roles, in her last film at Warner Bros? Its hard to decide....

Rosa Moline is bored with life in a small town. She loves Chicago industrialist Neil Latimer who has a hunting lodge nearby. Rosa squeezes her husband's patients to pay their bills so she can visit Chicago; her husband's patience is also tried: he tells her to go and never come back. Once there, Neil tells her he doesn't want her. Back home and pregnant, Neil shows up and now wants her. The caretaker at Neil's lodge threatens to reveal her pregnancy... 

Legend has it that Bette at 40 was all washed up in the late '40s, her Warner Bros contract was running out, her films were under-performing ... King Vidor's meller certainly finished her off in style.

Bette plays Rosa Moline, a small town strumpet ("a 12 o'clock girl in a 9 o'clock town") who wants more than her hick doctor hubby can provide. Sporting a Dracula-like black wig and pounds of lipstick, quivering with impatience at being stuck in a coal-mining town as the wife of a dull doctor, she's Madame Bovary in a major key, spitting out her lines with gusto (yes,"What a dump" as spoofed by Elizabeth Taylor, below) as everyone else cowers around her. Our other favourite Ruth Roman barely gets a look in ...

Bette's explosive performance is among the best of her career (and that's saying something!). Her character has to be among the most evil in 1940s movies. What is remarkable is that Bette compels us to care about and, even root for this greedy and self centered woman. 
As the opening title, in keeping with Forties morality, puts it:
This is the story of evil. Evil is headstrong - is puffed up. For our souls sake, it is salutory for us to view it in all it's ugly nakedness once in a while. Thus may we know how those who deliver themselves over to it end up like the scorpion, in a mad frenzy stinging themselves to eternal death. 

Bette seems to have a whale of a time sashaying around, snarling at everyone, including her saintly doctor husband Joseph Cotten. What though does the visiting millionaire see in her? Surely there are more attractive and younger cuties around? As my very-knowing friend melvelvit puts it: "How could a past-her-prime, dimestore siren like that keep Joseph Cotten and David Brian in such thrall? Why, sex of course. Rosa no doubt did things in bed they couldn't get enough of ... , its the most extreme portrayal of a malignant bitch of the forties."

Bette was in luck though, as ALL ABOUT EVE fell into her lap next year, giving her perhaps her most iconic role, and she continued throughout the Fifties in lesser roles (THE STAR, THE VIRGIN QUEEN, THE CATERED AFFAIR) ending the '50s doing two cameos in 1959: coming on as Catherine The Great for the last five minutes of the otherwise dull JOHN PAUL JONES, and a few scenes with Alec Guinness in THE SCAPEGOAT; (Joan was also cameo-ing that year, "as Amanda Farrow" in THE BEST OF EVERYTHING, a Fox Trash Classic) - they both rose again in 1962 .... BEYOND THE FOREST though remains a Trash Classic.

1 comment:

  1. I only saw BEYOND THE FOREST once a long, long time ago. I remember I enjoyed it hugely but I'm not sure why, if you get my drift. Hopefully, I will get the chance to see it again.

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