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