Bette Davis Collection, Vol. 3 [6 Discs] [DVD]

As one of the most legendary of all film actresses, Bette Davis (1908-89) combined old school Hollywood glamour with a bad girl image, a distinct look, and clipped New England diction. This box set caters to Davis's legions of devoted fans, with six of her features: The Old Maid (1939), All This, and Heaven Too (1940), The Great Lie (1941), In This Our Life (1942), Watch on the Rhine (1943) and Deception (1946).
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Overview

Special Features

  • Expert commentaries
  • Warner night at the movies extras - select music/sports/patriotic shorts, cartoons, newsreels and trailers from the film's release year

Synopsis

All This and Heaven Too
An incredibly long but never dull adaptation of the Rachel Field best-seller, All This and Heaven Too was based on a once-notorious European scandal. Star Bette Davis, playing Henriette Deluzy-Desportes, is first seen as a French schoolteacher in a 19th century American seminary. When her supervisor, Reverend Henry Mortyn Field (Jeffrey Lynn), has questions to ask about her tainted past, Henriette relates her story in flashback. She had been hired by French duke De Praslin (Charles Boyer) to be the governess for his children. De Praslin's wife (Barbara O'Neil) was insanely jealous, so much so she inadvertently threw De Praslin and Henriette together. Henriette was willing to leave rather than cause more discord, but the influential wife vengefully refused to write a letter of recommendation (a bravura scene). Later, the impoverished Henriette was arrested as an accomplice in the murder of De Praslin's wife. The latter's position in French society stirred up volatile political ramifications, with Henriette innocently in the center of the storm. De Praslin committed suicide, exonerating Henriette on his deathbed, but she had already been condemned in the court of public opinion. Disgraced, she left for America to start life anew, which brings the story back to the present. Unable to continue running away from herself, Henriette confesses her past indiscretions to her students -- who promptly forgive her. Casey Robinson had a hell of a job adapting Rachel Field's cumbersome novel, but, by golly, he pulled it off. The performances in All This and Heaven Too are enhanced immeasurably by the lush Max Steiner musical score. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Deception
Deception is an operatic rehash of the 1929 film Jealousy. Music teacher Bette Davis--who evidently has a large student pool, judging by the size of her penthouse apartment--is reunited with her cellist lover Paul Henreid, whom she believed to have been killed in the war. Henreid wants to marry Davis, but he is unaware that she has, for the past several years, been the "protege" of composer Claude Rains. Rains agrees to keep quiet about his affair with Davis, but takes sadistic delight in tormenting the woman and working behind the scenes to sabotage Henreid's career. When Rains tells Bette of his plans to publicly humiliate Henreid, she shoots her ex-lover dead. Henreid agrees to stand by Davis no matter what is in store for her. Director Irving Rapper had originally wanted to treat the hoary plot twists of Deception comically, with the three principals walking off together at the end with a "what the hell?" attitude. He was tersely told to stick to the script; after all, people didn't pay to see Bette Davis but to see her suffer. Like the 1929 version of Jealousy, Deception was based on a play by Louis Verneuil. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

In This Our Life
In This Our Life is not a "for the ages" classic of the Golden Age of Cinema, but as a highly effective and entertaining melodrama, it more than fits the bill. Howard Koch's screenplay is a trifle predictable, but it's well structured and provides the requisite juicy roles for its pair of female stars. It also provides a number of little surprises -- a sympathetic and (for the time) non-stereotypical portrayal of a black character and two characters living not only in sin but adulterously so -- that give it some distinction. The script's main drawback is its initial lack of focus; it doesn't seem to quite know exactly what its story is and where the real conflict will lie. Ultimately, this doesn't really matter, for John Huston knows where it's going, and he shepherds the story along very efficiently, throwing in a little social commentary here, heightening the atmosphere there, tossing in a hint of the unsavory elsewhere. Although he doesn't really know what to do with the male actors (save for Charles Coburn and Frank Craven, each of whom is just right in entirely different ways), he handles the women in exactly the right way, including Billie Burke as the coddling, neurotic mother. It's Bette Davis, of course, who gets the showiest role, and she sinks her teeth into it and plays it for all it's worth. It's a great Davis performance, but she's still outdone by Olivia de Havilland, whose quiet, understated work anchors the film and ultimately makes the greater impression. It's terribly fine film acting, and immensely satisfying. ~ Craig Butler, Rovi

Watch on the Rhine
An expansion of, and improvement upon, Lillian Hellman's stage play of the same name, Watch on the Rhine stars Paul Lukas, recreating his Broadway role of tireless anti-fascist crusader Kurt Muller. As the clouds of war gather in Europe in the late 1930s, Muller arrives in Washington DC, accompanied by his American wife Sara (top-billed Bette Davis) and their children Joshua (Donald Buka), Bodo (Eric Roberts) and Babette (Janis Wilson). The Mullers stay at the home of Sarah's wealthy mother Fanny Fannelly (Lucille Watson), who lives in her own world of society get-togethers and can't be bothered with politics. Also staying with Fanny is Rumanian aristocrat Teck de Branovis (George Coulouris) and his American wife Marthe (Geraldine Fitzgerald). To protect his family, Muller keeps his "underground" activities a secret from Fanny and her guests, but de Branovis is suspicious of the mild-mannered visitor. It turns out that de Branovis is actually a Nazi sympathizer, willing to betray Muller for a price. Using blackmail as one of his weapons, de Branovis threatens to destroy all that Muller has been fighting for. To prevent this, Muller kills de Branovis in cold blood. Now technically a murderer, Muller bids his family a reluctant goodbye, heading back to Europe to continue his vital work. If ever there was a justifiable homicide in a motion picture, it was the killing of the odious de Branovis in Watch on the Rhine. Still, the Hollywood production code dictated that a murderer must always pay for his crimes, thus a coda is added, alluding to Muller's death-providing a golden opportunity for a nifty smiling-through-the-tears curtain speech by Bette Davis. Scripted by Lillian Hellman's lover Dashiel Hammett, Watch on the Rhine earned several Academy Award nominations, as well as a "best actor" Oscar for Paul Lukas. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Old Maid
When Zoë Akins' play The Old Maid (based on a novel by Edith Wharton) won the 1934-1935 Pulitzer Prize, the selection was roundly condemned by critics, who felt that Lillian Hellman's The Children's Hour was more deserving, but had lost because of its lesbian theme. Certainly, Akins' story of the relationship between two Southern cousins in the years between 1833 and 1854 is nothing spectacular. Delia Lovell marries James Ralston, leaving her old beau Clem Spender out in the cold. Delia's cousin Charlotte comforts Clem by spending the night with him. Charlotte becomes pregnant, secretly farming out her daughter, Tina, to another family. The years pass; Charlotte sets up a day nursery so that she may remain close to her daughter (still in the dark as to the true identity of her mother). Meanwhile, Charlotte has become engaged to Ralston's brother Joseph. The troublesome Delia, who discovers her cousin's secret, contrives to prevent Charlotte from marrying Joseph, then arranges to have Charlotte raise Tina as her niece rather than her daughter. More years pass; Tina regards Delia as her mama and Charlotte as just an "old maid." At Tina's wedding, Charlotte almost reveals the truth to her daughter, but.....It's all slick romance-magazine stuff, and hardly worthy of the Pulitzer. On the other hand, the film version of The Old Maid, starring Bette Davis as Charlotte and Miriam Hopkins as Delia, is a classic of its kind, and one of Davis' best vehicles. The story is given additional substance by moving the early scenes up to the time of the Civil War, making Clem Spender (George Brent) less of a cad by killing him off at Vicksburg, thus rendering it impossible for Clem to make an honest woman of Charlotte. From the vantage point of the 1990s, when film stars find it difficult to turn out more than one picture a year, it is incredible that The Old Maid was but one of four first-rate Bette Davis films to be released in 1939; the others were Dark Victory, Juarez, and The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Great Lie
The Great Lie is Soap Opera Deluxe from Bette Davis' peak period at Warner Bros. Davis plays a socialite who is madly in love with playboy aviator George Brent. Brilliant but bitchy concert pianist Mary Astor (who won a well-deserved Academy Award for her chain-smoking histrionics) is also in love with Brent, going so far as to marry him in a secret ceremony. When it appears that the marriage may be invalid, Astor is too devoted to her art to take the necessary corrective steps, so Brent returns to Davis, who is too proud to be picked up on the rebound. While flying an important government mission, Brent disappears and is presumed killed. Davis meets Astor, who had been impregnated by Brent before the question of their marriage's validity came up. Since her first marriage had been in secret, Astor is terrified that her career will be ruined by the sudden appearance of an unexplained child, so Davis, out of love for Brent, agrees to claim the baby as her own. When Brent, who of course has not been killed after all, resurfaces, Astor demands that the child be returned to her, hoping that the child will forever bind Brent to her. Davis tells Brent the whole sad story, whereupon our long-absent hero declares his love for Davis and his willingness to give up the child to Astor. At the last moment, Astor returns the kid to Davis and Brent, and the film ends on a splendiferous musical chord courtesy of overworked Warner Bros. composer Max Steiner. In lesser hands, The Great Lie would have been outrageous hokum, but somehow Bette Davis and Mary Astor (and, to a lesser extent, George Brent) make you want to believe that the story has some resemblance to Real Life. The film was based on the novel January Heights by Polan Blanks, which was not governed by Hollywood censorship and thus didn't have to bend over backwards to "legitimize" the baby in the story. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

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