Sunday, September 01, 2013

Monday, October 17, 2005

Pauline Kael

"Bette Davis is such an eerie stimulant in this movie that you can see why some people loved her and others hated her, while still others were split. This is the mawkish, trashy movie for which she won her first Academy Award; the award was generally considered to be belated recognition of her work the year before in Of Human Bondage, but terrible as Dangerous is, she hypes it with an intensity that frequently makes you sit up and stare. She plays Joyce Heath, a self-destructive, hard-drinking actress (possibly modeled on Jeanne Eagels) who is convinced that she jinxes the people she gets involved with. Davis is remarkable in her gone-to-the-dogs barroom scene, and she can be tough and surly, as in her scene with Alison Skipworth ("I don't want any of your greasy food; give me a drink"), but nobody could do much wiht the sequences in which she's required to renounce her true love, an architect (Franchot Tone), and sacrifice herself to the mealy-mouthed husband (John Eldredge) who is crippled for life as a result of her enraged, suicidal driving...."

Pauline Kael
5001 Nights at the Movies (1982), p. 133

Friday, October 14, 2005

David Thomson

"....Now look at the faces of Bette Davis in the late '20s and early '30s. It is certainly not the case that she was not pretty.... But it was a completely natural beauty, and it had not a hint of glamour or allure. She was plainly smart, merry and quick-- and her look promised sympathy and friendship, as well as teasing and mischief. It was not the look of someone consumed by a great dream of the self--like Garbo, or Joan Crawford even. You can see, from the earliest times ... that Davis might have dismissed Joan as a fabrication of hairdressing, cosmetics, photography and gall.... In America in the first decades of the twentieth century, Hollywood came to represent the manipulation of appearance as against an authentic, God-given naturalness. Bette Davis believed she looked like an 'ordinary' person, or an 'ordinary' genius.

"Audiences might have agreed, except for the eyes. Before she arrived in Hollywood, Bette Davis had eyes that popped a little or which looked as if she might have been crying. but in real life, tears tend to make the eyes go raw, narrow and tired-- and Bette's jumped open. They were startled and alert--as if she had just been touched somewhere intimate. It was thus that one saw the liquid gaze or pressure on her eyeballs and thought of tears. It was a sadness against which the pluck of her demeanour seemed all the more admirable. It is not crying, but a refusal to cry--and perhaps it leads to a determination that someone else, the man, will cry first. Decades ahead of feminism, or anything like it, Bette Davis was using stories to point up the aggressive energy of women....

"...She became convinced that movement and gesture were vital to acting and an assertion of her being. Davis often moves like a beast fearful of being leashed. If she had a tail it would beat off approach....

[After Of Human Bondage], ".... Her Oscar [for Dangerous] was not far away, no matter that when it came Bette would lead the cry that, really, Katharine Hepburn in Alice Adams was a far more deserving performance. We may agree, but where's the point when Oscars are more to do with passing climate than eternal justice? In the next decade, Joan Fontaine would lose for Rebecca and then be rewarded next year for the slighter Suspicion. Et cetera. There has always been the suggestion that Dangerous (1935) won to 'make up for' Bette's treatment over Of Human Bondage (1934). I suspect there's some truth in that, but I regret the sentimentality because it loses sight of how interesting a picture Dangerous is. Let's just say, someone was thinking when the Oscar was given to Bette Davis.

"Years later, Davis tended to be dismissive of Dangerous: 'It was maudlin and mawkish with a pretence at quality which in scripts, as in home furnishings, is often worse than junk. But it had enough material in it to build into something if I approached it properly.' Just as the line about home furnishings smacks of Ms. Davis--and shows how far above the common level of actresses she was--so the larger verdict exposes some failure to understand melodrama, or even herself.

"The one-word title describes the film's central character, Joyce Heath, but why? We see her first on a New York street, fallen yet alluring, alone and hardened to it. There is that provocative walk again, and it seems fit for a gunfighter on a Western street where she knows she is so much the boss that no one dares talk to her. One man on his way to his club notices her. 'Excuse me,' he asks, 'but aren't you Joyce Heath?' Bette stares him down with insolence, and says 'No ... You've made a mistake.' It is a great opening that pierces the heart of this self-destructive loner. She is dangerous because she cannot admit her own nature....

"What makes the film exciting still is its grasp (not always sure) on the whole subject of whether a great actress is meant to be good on stage or happy in life. And whether these two things are possibly balanced. Quite simply, I do not know of another film of this time that understands that subject so well-- unless it is Max Ophuls' La Signora di Tutti, made in Italy in 1934. Green and Doyle are not persuasive authors of this intricate material and Davis offers no help in suggesting that she might have urged the role into being herself. But someone at Warners had looked hard into Bette Davis and come away with a vehicle that might easily win, and deserve, an Oscar.

"For the jinx is in Joyce Heath's own head and it is her failure to work out her own life. There's no doubt that the chemistry of the film was enormously assisted by the casting of Franchot Tone as Don.... It's ... plain that he and Bette clicked as she had not yet done with an actor. Observers noted and Bette herself admitted that she was in love with Tone....

"I don't want to overpraise Dangerous, but I urge you to watch it closely:  not least for the suppleness and warmth Bette shows a lot of the time--her own attraction towards the idea of sex and intimacy. There is also the terrible opposite:  the need to launch into long, vituperative speeches in which her voice -- so distinctive -- takes on an imperial music of its own. Dangerous seems to know that Bette's strength is not in talk, or conversation. Sooner or later, she needs to explode over the man in her life-- it is not just her strength, it is her being. It is magnificent, and it has an eloquence that no other actress of the time could match. Like that gunslinger we felt in the opening, Bette's Joyce can out-talk every man she meets. She is utterly scornful of the widespread screen convention of the time--it embraced Garbo, Joan Crawford, Margaret Sullavan, and so many others--that a woman listens to a man, and speaks briefly in response in his natural pauses. (She fills in the gaps he leaves?) Bette's screen image is always ready not just for speech, but for tirade and tumult. She storms men's feeble defences; she berates them to their knees. It is what makes her Joyce Heath -- the mistress of soliloquy yet the castaway in company. And that I suggest, is the ultimate danger foreseen by this odd picture in being a great actress, or someone as notorious as Joyce Heath....

David Thomson, Bette Davis (2009)p. 7-28

"Bette Davis, by nature, had brown hair, yet so far in her movie career she had been a bright blonde-- somewhere between ash and bleached. Let me add this: that in going back over Davis films of the 1930s with friends, the most frequent remark they've offered is, 'I never realized how lovely she was.' It's true. In film after film--but never more than in Kid Galahad--Bette Davis exudes sex appeal. The only thing that gets in its way is her emphasis or forcefulness. But in a lot of films, she is boyishly slim, wearing clothes beautifully -- and she took care to be very well dressed -- with superb shoulders and eyes that are like eggs beneath her silvery blond look. It was an image being perfected at Warners --with photographers Ernie Haller and Tony Gaudio in the lead. And you have to see it to believe it.... [In Kid Galahad (1937)], [t]his is a woman who, at Metro or Paramount, might have been a sweetheart-- she is so gorgeous. I'll say it: in 1935-37, I don't think there's a more desirable or intriguing woman in pictures than Bette Davis."

ThomsonBette Davis (2009), p. 34-36