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Bette Davis' Impact Upon Women's Empowerment
100 years after her birth, in 2008, to the credit of the greatest actor of the 20th century, it's impossible to separate the personal empowerment of Bette Davis' viewers from societies becoming more gender & sexually egalitarian.
"Ex-Lady" is the film version of an unperformed (1931) play "Illicit." By 1933, the blatant sexuality of "Ex-Lady" was close to being considered censor-able. Warner Bros'. production explores the subject of open marriage way before it was popular. Brazen director, French Robert Florey accentuates the acute blend of delicious dialog, succinct script, on-point performances & sensual cinematography.
Helen Bauer (Bette Davis at 25yo) is a sexy, fashion illustrator. Don Peterson (Gene Raymond at 22yo) is an advertising executive who's proposed marriage to Helen; but, she initially refuses not wanting to give up her independence. Much to the chagrin of Helen's overly moralistic father, Adolphe Bauer (Alphonso Ethier), the unwed couple is obviously having a live-in sexual relationship. Had this film been released later, these sexual aspects of an unwed relationship would've been censor-able due to the Hayes Code.
What's more, after Miss Bauer eventually becomes Mrs. Peterson, Helen's reluctance to marry comes across like the woman has intuition, when her husband begins a sexual flirtation with the bored, flapper wife, Iris Van Hugh (Claire Dodd), of his alcoholic business rival, Hugo Van Hugh (Frank McHugh). When Helen tries to platonically date a handsome rouge, Nick Malvyn (Monroe Owsley), he unsuccessfully attempts to make an adulteress of her!
Several examples of delightful dialog make my points plain:
Don (Raymond): "I'm just about fed up with sneaking in...let's get married so I'll have the right to be with you." Helen (Davis): "What do you mean 'right'? I don't like the word 'right'." Don: "Let's not quibble about words." Helen: "No, I'm not quibbling, 'right' means something. No one has any 'rights' about me, except me."
Helen soft & sincerely conveys what Bette Davis believed: women are men's equals. Part of the reason such films appeal(ed) to Davis' audiences so much is because she portrays empowered women. Helen 'says without saying' that she has the 'right' not to get married & enjoy her sexuality, too (in 1933!).
When Helen (Davis) says: "I don't want babies," Davis commented later in her life (1971), there'd be fewer divorces if couples didn't marry simply to have sex & babies. If her point, that couples who get married ought to do so because they are very strongly committed to one another, hasn't been socially adopted in the US yet, & couples still wed for moralistic reasons, Davis' Helen conveys a higher moral reason for marriage: a feminist one that holds very heavy weight today, since equality between women & men is all the more prevalent, as this early 20th century dialog reveals:
Don (Raymond): "You're a successful woman; I ought not to like it." Helen (Davis): "You're a pretty successful man; I ought not to like it." Don & Helen simultaneously: "I'm a man!"
As usual, Bette Davis' unique set of physical & verbal expressions convey a woman's power; this time without disempowering her man. This remains her appeal to women & men: as a woman's role model who is eventually actualized & an independent woman who men do love. In this sense, Bette Davis' characters, as role models of empowered women, have far reaching effects upon changing the social status of women to be equal to men and reveals that men do like it.
Good Mix of Film Clips, Archived Self-Talks & Commentaries by Peers
For me, it's difficult to pick who was the greatest actor of the 20th century: Bette Davis or Barbara Stanwyck? Each had to work harder than men actors to get roles portraying strong women characters; each played so many diverse lead characters they they couldn't be stereotyped into a typical role; each had sensational acting ability; each couldn't be cast as simpleton sexual objects for men to exploit; each was utterly devoted to her acting career for their entire lifetime; each didn't receive nearly enough official recognition by being awarded for outstanding leading and supporting characters; each stoled the shows from great leading actors in nearly every scene they played; each was not what would be called a 'raving beauty', and yet, on film, their spirits brought the beauty forth from within themselves in such a fashion to become gorgeous; each allowed themselves to be cast in highly controversial roles well before the social issues were talked of in their time. Having said all of that, I cast my vote for Bette Davis as the greatest actor of the 20th century.
This biographical documentary of Bette Davis' work and life is revealed quite expertly well through a well balanced mixture of actual film clips from some of Davis' great silver screen performances, television talk-shows when she reveals key intimate details about her life, values, beliefs, and sensibility.
The film biographers of "Stardust..." do a remarkably fine job of selecting clips of Davis' peer commentators who were knew Davis as their friend, mother, acting mentor, neighbor, and a kids-turned-actors who grew up either on stage with Davis or in her home.
This is one of the most well balanced film biographies of an actor that I have viewed (repeatedly). There are historic clips not available (at this time) to the public, included in "Stardust...." This, for a Davis collector, it is a must own, especially in DVD format.
Terrific Combo of Great Guests
Veteran double-Oscar winner & 10 time nominee, Actor Bette Davis, novelist of "In Cold Blood," Truman Copote, and the 1960's legendary rock band, "Jefferson Airplane," make a splendid combination of guests for Dick Cavett to feast upon as he probed into their private lives.
Having seen the entire show, I am anxious to buy it. Anyone who has a clue to where this one can be purchased, please write me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
I call this episode of Cavett's one of his classics due to the great combination of guests. The talk show is anything but 'typical' and far exceeds the likes of those put on late night programing in 2008 (at this writing). Obviously, I feel it's worth owning.
The Dick Cavett Show: Bette Davis (1971)
Davis at 63 is a Straight-Speaking Pip!
Cavett had a style, like Johnny Carson, of bringing the truth out of many of his guests. This interview of Bette Davis, who is 63 years young, reveals what a fun-loving, straight-talking, career-devoted actor par excellance she had turned out to be.
Not nearly finished with acting, she wasn't looking for 'stardom'. Davis said, flat out, that she wanted to be the best actor she could be, period. She wouldn't allow herself to settle for less.
Bette Davis said that she'd act 'as long as she still had high heels and a make-up bag'. That she did until 1986-87 when she was literally dying of cancer, in "The Whales of August." Sixteen years after this interview, Bette Davis was still playing the leading roles of remarkably strong women, with all star casts (in "Whales,"--Lillian Gish, Vincent Price & Ann Southern).
Davis spent her cancer-struggling days traveling around the world to present awards to peer actors in the public. Still, like so many of her characters, willing to be seen by the public as someone less than a glamor-puss who was star-struck on herself.
If anyone knows how to lay hands upon the full copy of this Cavett-Davis interview to buy please contact me at email@example.com.
The Petrified Forest (1936)
When Bette Davis Learned to Steal the Show . . .
. . . it was when she was 27yo. and she stoled the lead from Leslie Howard (a veteran actor by 1936) and Humphrey Bogart (who landed the supporting actor role via Howard's petitions to Warner Bros.).
In the desert of the US Southwest, Davis runs a desert diner and store owned by her dizzy daddy. Howard is a visiting vagrant writer on foot who stops in the diner to eat. After Davis waits on him, they strike up an intense conversation. However, the gangster Duke Mantee and his mob are making their way through the desert leaving a trail of blood behind them. Thus, Bogie, putting on a real thug act, also enters the diner scene where almost the entire film is set.
This was Davis and Howard's 2nd match up on the silver screen: Of Human Bondage was their Oscar-worthy-but-overlooked 1st. Their screen chemistry was simply sensual and a true pleasure to absorb.
Bogie's gangster character was nearly comical compared to Howard's philosophical and sophisticated wanderer. Davis played the young woman who has a talent for capturing the colorful desert scenes on canvass, but wants to go abroad to France, where her long lost mother is from and resides.
Therefore, Davis' character acts like a bridge between the two key men opposites: Bogart and Howard. She's both "street smart," from having to run the desert diner, and intellectual, since she is an avid reader and artist.
Given that this motion picture was filmed with sound barely beyond the silent years, Davis' live stage experience shows & shows up Bogie by far. There would never be a time in the history of Davis and Bogart's five movies together when Bogart was ever able to command the lead away from Davis. However, in "Dark Victory," Davis and Bogart did make a great love match.
It was later during "The Big Sleep" when the 25yo Lauren Bacall and the 46yo Bogie brought out the very best in each other. So much so immediately after that film was made they were wed. It was to Davis' credit that she groomed Bogie into a better actor. He wouldn't be the last actor Davis groomed into greatness.
The Bride Came C.O.D. (1941)
Hilarious Comedy Between Davis and Cagney
Baffling how this, of all Davis and/or Cagney movies is set on the side burner. It's a riot! Cagney does indignant acts to Davis that make for the charms of both lead actors to be brought out. The public already new that Cagney could play well in comedies; but, with Bette Davis usually performing such serious characters, the surprise is how Davis pulls of playing in this comedy so well. She's really at the mercy of the script that Cagney riotously acts out.
Davis is playing a runaway daughter of a tycoon; Cagney plays the plotting private pilot who has schemed to take her home to Daddy for a meager dividend. The hilarity begins when Davis realizes she's been hijacked by Cagney and attempts to parachute out of his airplane.
After recently viewing this several times, for the first time, it because curious to me why Bette Davis wasn't cast in many more comedies. Was there anything she couldn't do? (She even sang and did more comedy in a dance during her starlit spot in, "Thank Your Lucky Stars!").
Superb Trio in Classic of Classical Music Score
One of the few actors of Bette Davis' time who could match her screen intensity was Claude Rains. Paul Henreid is paired with Davis as her true love for another convincing romance. But, the script-stealing scene is between Davis and Rains. Matched penultimately perfect for the picture, Davis and Rains match each other's most intense acting skills during a major bedroom blow-out between them. I live to watch that scene over and again for its acting mastery.
Since Deception is about three classical music artists, the classical music score makes Deception's choice script musically enhanced to a classy degree. I love how Rains takes "the 4th Warner Brother's" acting intensity and levels it with his own. Even Bogie couldn't do that when staged with Davis! Don't miss this tightly wound triangulation with Henreid underplaying himself as his role calls for.
Winter Meeting (1948)
Bette Davis' Poet Susan Greive & John Hoyt's Stacey Grant
It takes good critiquing skills to fully appreciate the surprisingly seductive subtleties of Bette Davis during her motion picture making prime. Winter Meeting is an intellectual's & critic's delight. Davis doesn't ever step out of her leading role as an extremely constrained character, Susan Greive. I can't find a flaw in her meticulous performance. The story is also of interest to the period when it was filmed.
Bette Davis at 40yo & 59 films into the height of her acting career, stars as an accomplished, upscale poet, Susan Grieve. Although Grieve is well traveled from soliciting her literary work, she resides in a posh brownstone in NYC. Her closest friend & confidant is an old-monied dapper gentleman, complete with the social graces of exquisitely good taste, Stacy Grant (43yo John Hoyt).
Believing that his secretary Peggy Markham (Janis Paige) will seduce a visiting war hero, Slick Novak (James Davis), Grant arranges a dinner party for the foursome, including the very reserved & demure Grieve (Davis). Instead, Novak instantly falls for the ever so proper poet who has no romantic interests.
After Grieve & Novak engage in a private romance, she's romantically awakened in a way that she's never been before. As such, Grieve is falling in love with Novak. Something has to go wrong to upset as fine a romance as theirs, doesn't it? It always does....
This film offers no exception. Novak has a closely guarded secret that he discloses to Grieve that changes everything between them.
I found the best on-screen chemistry to be between Davis & Hoyt. Davis comes off as the kind of woman who enjoys being around elegant men who aren't hounding after women; perhaps even gay men. Hoyt fits that image to a T. Their ultra close friendship is worth more than any romance~