All This, and Heaven Too

All This and Heaven Too

I live in fear of the day where I shall be driven to do something desperate.

Man, you really can’t go wrong with Bette Davis; the you, in this case, being myself. I’ve been a Bette Davis fan ever since I first saw one of the pictures she starred in, and she hasn’t disappointed whenever I’ve seen her on screen. That being said, that’s not to say that every film that Davis has starred in is altogether a worthwhile one. Here, we have All This and Heaven Too, which was apparently the Warner Studio’s answer to Gone With the Wind, a lengthy melodrama set in a bygone era, although much of the production value of the previous year’s Best Picture winner is absent here, so the comparison is somewhat limited in that regard. Still, while Warner might have failed in his regard to bring another GWTW to the screen and to his company, there are some things to like about this, his effort, even if that list ends up being a smidge shorter than one would’ve likely wanted.

Here, Davis is Henriette Deluzy-Desportes, now a schoolteacher in the framing device of the film, where she finds out the students she has been assigned to have no respect or liking to her because of her odious past, printed in scandalous newspaper articles the students are all familiar with. Resolving to clear the air, she enters the film into flashback to tell her story: how she was once a governess to the children of the Duke de Praslin, a French nobleman, and how his wife, the Duchess, and her erratic and paranoid behavior regarding the Duke and Henriette eventually leads the family to heartbreak and scandal. I do find it a little amusing that the film can be so succinctly summarized in the way that I have, considering that the film is basically all story and very little else. We follow Davis as she comes to the household, gradually wins over the affections of the children over their domineering and possibly insane mother, and how the Duke himself comes to regard her as the ‘lost soul’ he’d been waiting to find. Here’s the thing, though; the studio, or the producers, or perhaps the director (or a combination of these), were all so consumed with making this as grand a picture as they could’ve, that it failed to cross their minds whether or not the picture itself would’ve been better off had some decisions been made in other ways. Case in point: the film is two hours and twenty minutes long, and it feels as long as its running time, which suggests to me that the film could’ve done with some trimming to make it more accessible and not such a timesink. The film also gets a touch into the melodramatic in the second act, as it is basically required to, and this melodrama is revisited slightly in the climax of the film, and though it was probably a decision of the times to make it as melodramatic as it ends up being, it unfortunately means the film has not aged all that well, save for the performance of Davis, who barely holds the film together (Charles Boyer, who plays the Duke, is also deserving of some commendation as well).

All This and Heaven Too is a decent enough film, but therein lies the trap that it fails to avoid: it, like so many other Best Picture nominees in the years prior, is only good enough. It ends up being a film that I appreciate more than I actually like or was entertained by, which could be enough to be nominated for this award or, in some years, even win, but not in the still-early years of the Academy such as this. It also unfortunately left me with too little to say about it, which is always something that rubs me the wrong way when it comes to trying to review a film like that. The Warner Bros. studio might’ve aimed for a grand, award-winning picture with this, but what they ended up with sadly amounts to filler, and little else.

Arbitrary Rating: 7/10

Advertisements

The Long Voyage Home

The Long Voyage Home

I’m through with the land, and the land’s through with me.

Alright, so after my work schedule exploded, plus some time taken in-between to do various things (including a script rewrite that I haven’t finished yet), I decided randomly today that it was time to get back into this. It’s been a while, though, so I’ll have to get used to it again, and I dunno how easily that’ll happen, so bear with me. 🙂

After the Best Picture nomination for Stagecoach, director John Ford and star John Wayne got together again to make another great western… except this isn’t actually a western, but a seafaring film instead. The abrupt switch in genre from these two collaborators took me by surprise, to say the least, not to mention the strange shift in pacing that said genre switch ended up causing in this film, which I was probably expecting even less. Here’s where my familiar mild-backpedal kicks in: this isn’t to say that The Long Voyage Home is a poor film, but what it is is not what a John Ford/John Wayne picture is expected to be, and this took quite a bit of getting used to before I was able to ascertain what merit the film actually does have.

The film recounts several stories of the men aboard the SS Glencairn, a British vessel making a long voyage from the West Indies to an eventual port home in Britain circa early-WWII. Their destination home, however, is quite a long ways away, and until then, we follow the men as they try and brave the challenges and tribulations at sea, especially so when their voyage crosses into war-ravaged territory. It’s a snippet of a synopsis indeed, made so as this is technically adapted from four stage plays by Eugene O’Neill, and as such is a bit of a mishmash of plot threads tied together through a common setting more than anything, but to be honest, this isn’t really a film to see for the narrative, or somewhat lack thereof. Rather, the production side of the film is the real selling point here; Ford in the director’s chair, the maritime setting and production value, cinematographer Gregg Toland’s work with light and shadow, and the commitment to the production by some of the name actors attached, including Wayne and Thomas Mitchell. Sure, Wayne’s faux-Swedish accent leaves something to be desired, especially when one is so used to the drawling tone he employs in his Western persona, but he only has around twenty lines in this anyway, so it’s not as negatively distracting as it otherwise would be. What the stars put on the back-burner, however, is overshadowed quite literally by Toland, who would experiment with a lot of the cinematography techniques he would later employ to groundbreaking effect in the following year with Citizen Kane. I’d say the cinematography, as well as the production value of the maritime setting, is what to really see this film for and take away from it.

Now, here’s where I either double down or play Devil’s Advocate with everything I’ve said up to now. I ended the previous paragraph saying that the cinematography and production value are why to see this film; it will probably go without saying at this point that such selling points are not unique to The Long Voyage Home, so why go out of one’s way to see this over other, better, potentially more entertaining films? Honestly, I can’t say, because there really isn’t much to sell this over other such films. Even its nomination for Best Picture seems a combination of premature (for Toland) and riding a small bit of coattails (for Ford and Wayne’s work in Stagecoach the year prior). It’s really not a poor film, but it does get slow at times, and when it does, it becomes a little too clear that the film’s selling points aren’t really enough to, well, to sell the film as a whole. There’s some nice work put in here, no doubt, but this ends up being another film one needn’t really seek out unless they are going through a list of films this happens to be on, as I am.

Arbitrary Rating: 7/10

Our Town

Our Town

It’s a nice town… Know what I mean?

I knew almost nothing about Our Town when I went into it, even after my usual bit of research, which is almost always a red flag for me; even the film’s Wikipedia page was devoid of the usual summary and production sections, opting for a few opening lines with a cast list and tiny Awards section, and nothing else. What I was able to find out was that this was a film adaptation of a Pulitzer-winning stage play, and so I made a mental note to be cognitive of the film’s dialogue and staging, which I expected to be above average. It was about a half hour into the film’s short running time that I began to wonder what the film was really doing, in just about every aspect of storytelling and filmmaking, as it seemed to be shirking every convention that was prevalent in Hollywood at the time, which would’ve been fine and perhaps even encouraging if the film really had anything to show for doing so. Instead, I ended the film truly wondering why one should even spend the scant hour-and-a-half with this film at all.

The film doesn’t have a traditional straight narrative, but is instead a picturesque view of life in Grover’s Corners, a small town in New England at the turn of the century. Where other films would take a premise like that and frame it as a slice-of-life spanning the years in the lives of several characters, Our Town takes it a step further, opting to make the film itself a cultural study of the town in question. The film even opens with what might as well have been a museum tour guide or curator giving a rundown of various facts about “our town”, as if this were a newsreel instead of a fictional film made for entertainment. The narrator-slash-tour-guide even stops the film at one point to bring in a historical professor to rattle off facts about the town’s past and demographics, which was more than an unusual move to see. I could see what the filmmakers were going for with why they opted to do the film this way, but the nagging thought in my head behind it all was: why should we really care that much about this town? It’s not important in the slightest; the narrator and historical guests even make that readily apparent at several points, which pretty much kills the angle they’re trying to achieve with why they made the film the way they did. Even so, the mood of the film was, to put it in a single word, swell, even if the technicals were a little off-putting in a few peculiar ways. The framing of some of the shots was odd, sorta like some of the shots were choosing to focus on something innocuous or unimportant instead of the person or people talking, and not in the Chekhov’s Gun kind of way. Not to mention the film’s strange framing of the actors, which outright broke several of the standard rules of framing shots without gaining anything in return for doing so, which bugged me a little more than often. I will say, though, the way the ending was handled does make up for a lot of the oddness the film had done up to then, even if it was changed from the original stage play and still feels like it was changed unnecessarily.

I’m really at a loss when it comes to trying to find nice things to say about this one; not because it was bad, but because it was weird, and there wasn’t any real reason for it to be. In film school, for instance, during one of the earlier classes on cinematography and camerawork, we had an exercise where we had to break down and figure out how to shoot a scene or two, and every time one of the students would try and do something in the shot without having a purpose behind it or because they “thought it would be cool or neat”, we had to stop and come up with something else, something more substantial. It taught us the lesson that doing things on the screen willy-nilly or for no actual reason other than self-indulgence was, well, self-indulgent, and didn’t actually serve the story being told or the film being made, which should always be priority number one. Our Town completely fails in this regard; I couldn’t ascertain why it did almost all of the things it did, or if I could, I could figure or reason out that it could have been done better if done differently, so then why indeed was it done the way it was? This was one of two films director Sam Wood helmed that ended up nominated for Best Picture for 1940, and thankfully, Wood got a nom for Best Director for the other film he put up instead of this one; if he had been nominated for this, I would’ve cried foul immediately. This isn’t really a bad picture, but it just flouts reasoning so much that I honestly can’t allow myself to call it a good one.

Arbitrary Rating: 6/10

Foreign Correspondent

Foreign Correspondent

I don’t want correspondence; I want news!

Man, it’s been a while since my last Hitchcock; I was unsure if I’d remember what one of his films was like since it had been so long. Foreign Correspondent would be one of Hitch’s first American productions, as well as one of his first nominations for Best Picture, along with eventual winner Rebecca. While this one may not have had the particular might of David O. Selznick behind it, it still managed a nom for the big one, which now that I’ve seen the picture I guess I won’t argue with. I will say, though, that while this was a decent watch, I can’t see myself ever going out of my way to see it again, and seeing how rewatchability is a very big thing for me with films, Foreign Correspondent ends up only barely getting a passing grade from me.

Joel McCrea is Johnny Jones, a reporter with the New York Globe, who gets appointed as a foreign correspondent with the peculiar pen name of Huntley Haverstock and is shipped off to London to get a fresh take on the burgeoning war in Europe. Jones/Haverstock is directed to a shindig thrown for the Universal Peace Party, headed by Stephen Fisher, in honor of a foreign diplomat named Van Meer. At the party, after schmoozing with Fisher’s daughter Carol, Jones discovers Van Meer is missing, and ends up on the trail of a conspiracy to undermine a secret peace treaty Van Meer was a part of; not to mention a potential romance with Carol, if he manages to survive the events that are unfolding all around him. After the first half hour or so, I was a little unenthused with how by-the-numbers the film had been up to then. It was roughly around that point that the film tried to up my interest by throwing a few of the standard Hitch curveballs into the plot, which succeeded if only mildly; I was interested in how the film would end up at its conclusion, but I still wasn’t able to skirt past the notion that the film was tossing its pitches at me for lack of anything else to do or say. It was a mystery with plenty of twists and turns before we get to the ending we get to, but as is often the case with mysteries, once the actual truth behind the twists and turns is made apparent and resolved, there’s no reason to ever take this particular ride a second time. Everything else about the film was serviceable enough, and the production value takes a noticeable upswing near the end with a plane crash sequence, but with everything being merely serviceable, the focus is put even more on the actual twists and turns of the mystery, which (again) only hold up on a first viewing, when we’re not aware of the actual truth behind everything that’s transpiring.

I said in the opener that it was due to the complete lack of rewatchability that this was barely getting a passing grade from me. I might have misspoken slightly; this is a good enough picture in its own right, but it’s unfortunately the kind of picture that, while plenty of effort and value were put into the film (and it shows), doesn’t warrant more than a single viewing. Viewed and judged as a stand-alone experience though, this was pretty good, and that’s at least more than I can say about a lot of the Best Picture filler of years past. I don’t know if I’d nominate this in an open field, or with a reduced category, but it was a nice little piece of entertainment to sit through. Ask me to sit through it a few more times, however, and I might have something less nice to say about it.

Arbitrary Rating: 7/10

Judging Oscar: Best Picture 1939

-Year in Summary/What Did Win-

If ever a year of cinema could, or should, call for the need of the expanded Best Picture category, it damn well better be this year: 1939 – The Golden Year of Hollywood. And truthfully, it does; the field that did get nominated is unquestionably the best the Academy has managed thus far, and there really isn’t a bad film among them – it’s just to what extent some films are better than others. Still, none could match the extravagance and spectacle of Gone With the Wind, the longest film ever released up to then, which would net eight competitive and two honorary Oscars, including Best Picture, as well as the historical win for Hattie McDaniel in the Supporting Actress category.

-Ranking the Nominees-

Goodbye, Mr. Chips

-It seems I’ve had a rough history in these segments with literary adaptations, so maybe I should’ve been more wary of Goodbye, Mr. Chips than I was. That’s not to say that this is poor or bad, because it’s actually quite likable. But thats the thing; thats all it is. Likable. It features a likable character having likable things happens to him, with one or two misfortunes that are ultimately shrugged off thanks to everyone supporting him because he’s so likable, and there is literally nothing else to this. I was partially through it when I started to wonder how it managed a Best Picture nomination amid the field it was in, and it’s that that puts it at the bottom for me.

Of Mice and Men

-Not very much room separates the prior nominee and Of Mice and Men; while I still enjoyed it, there wasn’t much to it that really stood up and shouted at me that this was Best Picture material. Burgess Meredith and Lon Chaney, Jr. are certainly worth the watch, but they’re not enough to elevate this any higher than it’s ending up.

Wuthering Heights

-Continuing this segment’s woes with literary adaptations of classic novels, we have Wuthering Heights, which while being rather atmospheric and consummate, helped along a lot by Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon, ends up falling into many of the same pitfalls as other literary Best Picture nominees of the past. It’s rudimentary and melodramatic, and doesn’t do enough to rise above that, so it’s unfortunately ending up below the fold for me.

Love Affair

Love Affair might be better remembered as the basis of the later remake An Affair to Remember, also directed by Leo McCarey. Remakes always tend to do one of two things; either they’re bad, and thus shouldn’t have even been remade at all, or they’re good, and they thus threaten to or successfully overshadow the previous version of the film or story. This is unfortunate in Love Affair’s case, because this is actually quite good; it’s got plenty of emotion and romance, and really doesn’t misstep at all with its story, and at an hour and a half, it doesn’t overstay its welcome. Really, the only reason it’s not higher is because of how good the remaining films are.

Dark Victory

-This is another one that’s also no higher because of the remaining films, and not because of any faults with it. Dark Victory, I suspect, managed a Best Picture nom because of Bette Davis’ performance, but it’s actually a lot better than it really has a right to be, given how thrifty the actual story is, but it more than makes up for that in how it tells what story it does actually tell. Coupled with Davis doing her thing at the level she’s accustomed to doing it, and this is definitely worth the watch if one is inclined to seek it out.

Stagecoach

Stagecoach is largely considered the progenitor of what the Western genre would build itself out of in the years to come, and the genre could’ve picked a much worse film to do so from. Stagecoach originates many of the conventions and tropes of good, solid Western films, complete with John Wayne being his best John Wayne, and director John Ford would revisit the genre several times. So, does that mean it’s a good enough film to win Best Picture? In my opinion, not quite, and not against most of the remaining films; this would end up being another example in these segments of a film that is a great and worthwhile viewing, but just doesn’t do enough to really warrant a win for the big one. I will say, though, that I’m glad it was at least up for the award.

Ninotchka

-Ernst Lubitsch’s films in this category have so far been mostly lacking, almost as if the director were giving perennial warmups up for the award instead of the home run he and the Academy clearly wanted him to give them. Ninotchka might not be the absolute home run the Academy wanted out of Lubitsch, but it is damn close; not to mention however many times the latest Greta Garbo picture has been mentioned in the potential nominations section, and one of her films finally gets a nom for Best Picture, as well as one for her for Best Actress. Still, while this is a winner, and unquestionably the best Lubitsch film yet nominated for the big one, there are still better films that wrangled a nom in this golden year, and so Ninotchka ends up here.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

-The 30’s absolutely belonged to Capra. That said, I was hesitant about where to place Mr. Smith Goes to Washington before my rewatch of it, almost as if I didn’t want to give Capra yet another award, like I was tired of doing it or something. Well, Capra never fails to deliver when he really needs to, and this ends up above the one before it for a somewhat-backwards reasoning; while this doesn’t have the Lubitsch touch going for it, it makes up for it and then some with a whole lot of heart, an amazing amount of relevance that still shines today, and more feel-goodiness than a film like this really has any right to. Add to it the never-better James Stewart, and in any other year, one could easily put this one smack at the top of the leaderboard.

Wizard of Oz

-Unfortunately for the previous film, and really all the other nominees, this is 1939, the Best Year in Hollywood History, and director Victor Fleming isn’t gonna give up this award without a fight. The Wizard of Oz became an annual tradition on television in the late 50’s, and it wasn’t long before it was a staple of American cinema classics; thus, it is quite difficult to look at the film through any eye but a nostalgic one, let alone critically. If one does manage it, though, Oz is still an excellent film, filled with fantasy and wonder, and perhaps the greatest attention to detail of any film up to that point in time. This wasn’t just a film; this was an achievement, and while the Academy might’ve been a little scoffed at for awarding Best Picture to what was ostensibly a children’s film, the reputation of this one over time would’ve seen their decision validated… save for one other picture.

Gone With the Wind

-Really; was there any doubt this was gonna end up on top? Gone with the Wind is monumental; a staggering achievement in literally every way, a groundbreaking color film, and a massively entertaining picture all in one. I’ll echo the thoughts of some that the film’s second half doesn’t match up to the first, but this is a piddling criticism in the face of just how amazing Gone With the Wind is as a whole. With this and Oz, Victor Fleming had one of the best single years of any director in history, so his win for Best Director was absolutely unquestionable; and, I’ll go ahead and say it, so was this film’s win for Best Picture. The Academy basically had no other choice. It really is that good.

-What Should Have Won-

While GWTW absolutely deserved the win, and even with the field being as exemplary as it was this year, there are a few films that could’ve reasonably made it into the fold. The 1001 List’s field from this year includes Only Angels Have Wings, Destry Rides Again, and Gunga Din, each of which might’ve stood a chance, and certainly would’ve in other years. It also includes Babes in Arms, which I don’t think would’ve. On the foreign front, Jean Renoir gives us The Rules of the Game, which many consider the best foreign language film ever made, and after his previous film managed a nom last year, the Academy could’ve seen fit to add this one as well, if it weren’t so busy reaping the spoils of the English language fare. If they had looked to box office, they might’ve considered the Henry Fonda vehicle Jesse James, or the Charles Laughton picture The Hunchback of Notre Dame; they evidently did consider producer Darryl F. Zanuck’s The Rains Came, which was nominated for six Oscars, including beating The Wizard of Oz for Best Special Effects, but not Best Picture.

-What I Would’ve Picked-

Seriously; would I pick any other film than Gone With the Wind for this year? Would anyone?

-How Did Oscar Do?-

Finally. Finally, you managed a great field, Oscar, even with the expanded category. Of course, it only took the greatest year in Hollywood history for you to do it, and I have no pretenses that the next few years are going to match this in any way. But still, I will give you this year, Oscar. Well done.

Goodbye, Mr. Chips

Goodbye, Mr. Chips

A pity I never had any children… But you’re wrong; I have! Thousands of them!

If what readers I do have will allow me the slight plug for one of my contemporaries, Steve of 1001 Plus has a certain type of film that he’s experienced countless times through his movie-watching endeavors that he has grown to loathe; a type of film, almost a genre, that he has coined the ‘misery parfait’, where the film is essentially absolutely nothing but bad situations and horrible events thrown at a main character who tries to endure it all. The resulting films, of which there are more than a few on the 1001 list, are often miserable to sit through, and perhaps just as pointless to try and find real worth in, especially when one sees more than one such film. Well, here we have a film that might very well lie on the exact opposite side of the spectrum from those films; a film that is basically nothing but good things and joyous mood regarding the main character. Here’s the thing, though; Goodbye, Mr. Chips may be the opposite of a misery parfait for its main character, played by Robert Donat (though that’s not to say that a bad thing or two doesn’t happen in the film), but it ends up being very nearly as pointless a film to sit through as if it had been one, for oddly similar reasons.

Mr. Chipping is a retired English schoolteacher from Brookfield School, who thanks to a cold is forced to miss opening day for the first time at the school where he still keeps up with the students. As he relaxes by the fireside, he reminisces back on his nearly-60-year teaching career, meaning of course the actual film is told in flashback, from his inauspicious arrival at Brookfield to his marriage to Katherine Ellis, played by Greer Garson, to the many years he spends becoming an integral aspect of the school, often teaching several generations of young lads in the same families. There’s really nothing more to it than that; the film recounts how Chipping, who garners the nickname Chips from his wife, starts out having little to no respect from the boys, who play practical jokes on him, but who slowly grows into a much-beloved teacher, all the way through the turn of the century and into the rough years of World War I London. For those looking for a bit more substance or depth to their films, you might want to give Goodbye, Mr. Chips a pass; aside from one or two events that can fairly clearly be placed in the negative column, this is all about how swell a guy Mr. Chips is and how everyone likes him, which while I wouldn’t normally have a problem with given how many of the other kind of film I’ve had to sit through, essentially means that this film has zero conflict, and as any screenwriting (or, presumably, writing) book will tell you, conflict is what makes drama, and with no drama, you have no narrative, and with no narrative, you have no story. As for Donat, who won Best Actor over the likes of Clark Gable in Gone with the Wind and James Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, I can kinda see why the Academy picked Donat, even if I don’t personally agree; the makeup and styling alone that cover Donat’s Chipping in all his adult ages probably would’ve won it for him, but it wouldn’t have worked nearly as well if Donat weren’t able to sell the character no matter what age he is on the screen, and Donat does that with room to spare.

I can see why people like this film; it’s all about how likable the main character is, and how because he’s a good a guy as he is, people will stand up for him even through what might be construed as the rougher patches of his life. Basically, it’s a wish fulfillment, especially in today’s day and age where such people are nigh-impossible to come by, and even less so when the people we’re looking at that we wish were up to that standard are ourselves. But, the thing is; it doesn’t make for a film that is all that honestly worth watching. Even if we take an expanded definition of conflict, to not mean two opposing forces butting heads but instead to merely be the struggles the protagonist must overcome to achieve a goal of some sort, Goodbye, Mr. Chips fails in that regard as well; Mr. Chipping doesn’t have any goals to achieve in this, aside from the persistence of being a good teacher, and if there were goals for him to achieve, which I won’t spoil for whatever reason, there are points in the film where his character even deliberately says that such goals are flights of fancy for him at best, and even if they weren’t, they basically just happen to him anyways instead of being achieved through the overcoming of obstacles. In short, this is a film that, because it flies in the face of basic storytelling constructs and conventions, should not work at all, and it’s only thanks to actors like Donat and the production itself that this is even worth sitting through in any way. It is a feel-good of the utmost feel-goodiest kind, though, so there is that at least.

Arbitrary Rating: 7/10

Dark Victory

Dark Victory

The great thing, Anne, is for her never to know.

Oscar has a storied history, especially in Best Picture, with films that are largely a vehicle for a single performance, especially it seems in these still-early years. To the credit of today’s film, Dark Victory, the decision was made to center it around Bette Davis, which is a decision that few of the time or even perhaps today would find too much fault with. Davis, one of my now favorite classic actresses, had just come off a Best Actress win for Jezebel, and evidently she was hungry for more, given how much she puts into her role in Dark Victory. Thankfully, everybody else involved with the film seemed to pick up on this, as they also put everything they have into making this not just a star vehicle for Davis, but a damn fine film in its own right.

Davis is Judith Traherne, a young socialite concerned with little more than living life at the absolute maximum, through parties and adventures and especially horseback riding, though her own body seems to be starting to break down from her hedonistic lifestyle, with intermittent headaches beginning to plague her. It’s when she suffers a spout of double vision and takes a tumble off her horse that her friends, especially her closest friend Ann, are convinced there’s something more wrong with her, even as Judith refuses to see it for herself. The family doctor brings in Dr. Frederick Steele, a specialist in the brain, who breaks through Judith’s hardened facade and manages a diagnosis. It’s only after surgery that things become even more complicated, both romantically between Judith and Dr. Steele, as well as medically when the prognosis of Judith’s condition post-operation becomes known. It was quite the pleasant surprise to find that the film, especially with Davis doing her thing, was up to the challenge of matching her skill level; while Davis is still by and large the best thing Dark Victory has going for it, the film is elevated through everyone else trying and largely succeeding at matching her. The plot is rather simple, when one stops to think about it, but that the film manages to make as much of it that it does without overstepping into melodrama or cramming in needless side narratives is to be congratulated. That’s not to say that the film isn’t a little melodramatic, given the story of course, but it works, mostly thanks to the cast really managing to sell it instead of cranking it up to eleven. The narrative itself is also perfectly structured, making the most of whatever shortness the story inherently has; there’s an excellent section in the middle of the film, for instance, where Judith has been told her surgery was a success, despite Dr. Steele admitting to Ann that the reality is almost precisely the opposite, and Judith goes about living her life anew while the people around her, namely Ann and Dr. Steele, are forced to wear a smile and act as if nothing is wrong. The one aspect of the story I unfortunately wasn’t too much a fan of was Humphrey Bogart’s role; while I saw what the film was trying to do with including him, I also saw that the film was basically married to the idea of including him despite the fact that he isn’t given much to do in the narrative, which given that it’s Humphrey Bogart playing him makes it that much more saddening.

Even with everything that this gets right, and it gets quite a bit right, I still couldn’t help but feel that if it weren’t for the presence of Bette Davis, this wouldn’t have gotten the nom for Best Picture. It is clearly her star power that got this noticed, and I suspect that it is almost entirely because of her star power that this managed a nom for the big one. And really, if that’s the case, that’s a shame, because there’s a sophistication about this one and how it discloses its narrative that frankly a lot of other films that wrangled a Best Picture nom in the past (and future) could look toward and learn from. I got distinct vibes of 1931’s Bad Girl; this doesn’t have much in terms of story, but what it does have is delivered beautifully, with nary a semblance of camp or putting on airs because Hollywood movies were expected to do that. In short, this impressed the hell out of me, and it wasn’t just because of Bette Davis that it did (though it goes without saying that she is excellent in the role regardless). If it was released in another year, I could see this making a heck of a push for a potential win for Best Picture, but given when it was released, it’ll have to settle for being a part of the best year in Hollywood history, and seeing how good a film it actually is, that’s not a bad thing to settle for.

Arbitrary Rating: 8/10