"The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of" ... Bogart, Shakespeare, The Maltese Falcon, Those Great Movies

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Bette Is So Bad!

My favorite picture of Bette Davis ... I wish I could walk around with
venetian blind shadows across my face ... it makes you look so good!

Most of my classic film favorites are on VHS tapes, and we all know those are becoming as obsolete as my old black rotary phone.  The tapes are getting old and the picture and sound quality are deteriorating.  I'm getting panicky about some of the old treasures I have taped off Turner Classic Movies that will never be available on DVD because they are too obscure.  Replace all of my famous favorites with DVDs, you say?  Hah!  Not unless I win the lottery, which I have actually been told is about as likely as having a giraffe with no parachute jump from a plane and crash through your living room ceiling.

Last year I gave myself a birthday present and a Christmas present.  Not that I don't get presents from other people, you understand.  I really do have family and friends who are willing to spend money on me.  These two particular items, though -- I was so greedy that I made sure I got them as gifts by spending my own money on me.  The fact that I had to put off paying the electric and gas bills to do it was a minor point.  I got two of the DVD collections of the movies of Bette Davis.  What a thrill to bring those home!  I lived in Bette-land all weekend with each one I bought.  Today, for some reason I can't explain, I am in the mood to see the great Evil Bette.  Maybe I'm feeling evil, and no one could inspire me to greater heights of meanness than Bette.  So just for fun, I'm going to spend the next couple of evenings (and late nights probably) with Bette at her most bitchy.  Here, in chronological order, are the movies I'm going to devour like a glutton devours dinner:

Jezebel (1938) Bette brazenly embarrasses poor Henry Fonda by wearing a lipstick-red gown at a ball where all young virgins wear white.  Well, maybe there was a good reason she did not wear white, and maybe it was all Henry's fault.  Oh, and later she tries to break up his marriage.  Forgot about that one.

The Letter (1940)  Bette coldly shoots her lover, lies to everybody about it, deceives her trusting husband (Herbert Marshall), hurts him when he finds out the truth, puts him through the torment of forgiving her infidelity, and then tells him ... "With all my heart, I still love the man I killed." 
 Lucrezia Borgia was an amateur compared to Bette.

The Little Foxes (1941) Boy, even her veil looks evil. Bette is a scheming, manipulative woman who has nothing but contempt for her sweet husband (poor Herbert Marshall again!). She wants money from him for a nasty business deal, he won't give it to her, and she watches him die of a heart attack as he desperately tries to find his heart medicine. Why do women like that always get the good ones?

 In This Our Life (1940)  Bette sits as no lady should ever sit with George Brent in the room. She breaks George's heart, steals from Olivia deHavilland (her own sister) the husband that Olivia loves. Bette then drives him to suicide, is nonetheless welcomed home by Olivia and parents, goes out drunk and runs down a little girl, tries to blame it on a young black friend, torments her dying uncle for money, then runs from police, crashes her car and dies. Applause, curtain down, good riddance!

Mr. Skeffington (1944) Maybe this doesn't really qualify as true evil, but Bette is an egotistical woman incapable of love who marries for money (Claude Rains), cares only about her looks, and doesn't want or care about her daughter. She is also really stupid.  Again, a mean woman gets a sweet, loving man.
 It's making me really mad.

Whatever Happened To Baby Jane (1962) Bette at her hammy best as an over-the-top, evil woman. She's also crazy. She's also delusional. And she beats her crippled sister (Joan Crawford) and serves rats to her for dinner. I personally have 4 sisters. I am going to choose carefully who I live with if I can't take of myself!

I hope you enjoyed this trip down Evil Bette lane.  To be fair, sometime I'll do an article about the loving, sacrificial, scared and wounded Bette ... Dark Victory, Now, Voyager, All This and Heaven Too, The Great Lie ... Bette could do anything!


  1. Becky, that was a delightful Rogues' Gallery of Bette Gone Bad! How come the nice guys rarely see thought her kind until it's too late? :-) My favorite among them was THE LETTER; I'd even go so far as to say it's one of my favorite Bette Davis movies!

  2. Becky, I have never seen Whatever Happened To Baby Jane, but I saw The Nanny for the first time last night. I think her role in Baby Jane was training for her desperate and delusional Nanny. Joan Crawford could do "bad ass," excuse my language, but she couldn't match Bette for pure bitchy evil. I wonder how you feel about Bette in Of Human Bondage, Dangerous and Deception (and was the last one justifiable homicide?).

  3. Bette not only drove the men in her pictures to distraction, but also the men watching. My dad used to talk back to Stanley (In This Our Life).

  4. I was gonna comment on how much I enjoyed "this trip down Evil Bette Lane" but then I realized how a certain aunt neglected to ask a certain nephew over to her house for a Bette Davis marathon! Love, You know who I am.

  5. my EVILOMETER says...

    no opinion on the others,,,nice blog!!

  6. But Bette was so good at being bad. And really, she wasn't bad, just misunderstood. Why shouldn't she shoot her lover? After all, he was going to mess up her life!form Bette's point of view, all was justified (great post, Becky - and I once had that venetian blind look in my hair, but it looked too much like a zebra).

  7. DORIAN, thanks - and as hard as it is to pick one, The Letter is my favorite. Strange, because she doesn't use here famous mannerisms of walking and smoking, etc., but it is a fabulous story and performance.
    GYPSY, I've never seen The Nanny! I've got to do that. Of Human Bondage, Dangerous and Deception were all great evil Bette. I don't think Deception was justifiable homicide. I don't think Rains was really going to do anything - I think he was just punishing her and trying to scare her. She, let's say, overreacted, probably because she had come to hate him. Murder in the First!
    CAFTAN WOMAN, love what your Dad does. I wish somewhere in the movie someone had explained why the two girls were named Stanley and Roy. The parents must have really wanted boys!
    PATRICK, OK, OK, I get it. Saturday night, my house, double feature - In This Our Life and Deception! I have popcorn...
    DOC, your evilometer is working just fine! But you skipped No 7! LOL!
    FLICKCHICK, I'm still laughing about your hair! Hey, I guess the fact that a man has become inconvenient is a justifiable reason for taking him out! LOL!

  8. In the THE LETTER and BABY JANE ole Bette is as nasty as a week old dead fish lying in the sun. As for VHS tapes I have a load myself that I refuse to get rid of because they are not avaiable in any other format!

  9. That IS nasty! I am going to keep my tapes until they rot, and buy up every VCR I can get my hands on! I feel your pain!

  10. Sounds like a wonderful line up of films. The Letter, is one of my favorite Davis's performance playing the adulterer/wife. Her performance as "Leslie" who was thoughtful, yet demanding, beautiful yet repulsive, and submissive yet authoritative.

    The supporting cast is equally as wonderful, with Herbert Marshall outstanding as her husband, James Stephenson, as Davis's lawyer, Victor Sen Yung, and Gale Sondergaard, was magnificent playing the role of, "Mrs. Hammond."

    Not to forget.. Max Steiner, added one of film's greatest musical scores.

    Mr. Skeffington, is another favorite of mine. Although, I do have mixed feelings about the end of the movie...

  11. Hi Dawn! You are on the money about The Letter. What a cast! And Steiner's music always is perfect for whatever story he composes for.
    Very interesting comment about Mr. Skeffington. I always felt the same way. That selfish, conniving, loveless Fannie gets to redeem herself by doing what she should have done years ago in caring for her loving husband, really irked me. I swear I always thought she probably wouldn't have taken poor Job in except that he was blind and she could still pretend to be pretty! LOL!

  12. Evil Bette. Ha! I got such a giggle out of this post, Becky. Poor Herbert Marshall. I could never stand him (or Geroge Brent) so I rarely felt sorry for his plight. Though I did experience a twinge when he withered without his heart meds while Bette watched and waited.

    Love that venetian blind photo.

  13. Glad you giggled, Yvette, but how could you be so cruel to Herbert Marshall or George Brent? You seemed like such a nice person... At least George Brent -- he's so handsome and usually masculine/sensitive. Now I happen to love Herbert Marshall, but I can see how there might be disagreement about him. Yeah, that heart attack scene with him and evil Bette was just horrifying!

    I think the venetian blind photo is a work of art -- love it too! I wonder what you could do with that as a black and white painting or other art form? And for that reason, do me a favor -- your art is so beautiful. I would hate for you to have eye problems. Do get your glasses checked, if not for my sake, then at least for George! LOL!

  14. Speaking of Bad Bette, have you seen THE NANNY? I always thought it was underrated. Last time I saw it, I was pretty engrossed.

  15. Hi Rick -- I didn't try to include all of Evil Bette, but do you know I have NOT seen The Nanny. When I was young, I didn't like to see her in pad parts when she was much older. It was a young person thing, thinking it was embarrassing for her, etc. Of course I grew up and got over that...I definitely want to see it. I hope maybe Netflix has it! Thanks for coming over!

  16. Of course, I mean to say "Bad" parts, not "Pad" parts! LOL!

  17. By the way, Becky, since you are such a great Bette Davis fan. I recommend a very funny book which I know you will love. THE DEVIL MET A LADY by Stuart Kaminsky in which Bette Davis is threatened by a loony and private eye Toby Peters must protect and hide out with her. It is hilarious.

  18. Yvette, thanks for the recommendation! That sounds like an absolute hoot!

  19. Wonderful post as always. I've always loved that shot with the blinds ... so beautiful, and William Wyler does wonders with the clouds and moonlight in "The Letter." Although some of
    Gale Sondergaard's icy stares send shivers down my back :) And while not an evil role, I do like witchy Bette tearing up the scenery during the first part of "Dark Victory." Actually, your next post should be Nasty Bette, which are those roles that aren't evil but aren't sugar and spice, either!

  20. Thanks, CFB! That is a gorgeous photo, isn't it? You know, I didn't think of a "nasty Bette" post. If I had, I probably would have saved Mr. Skeffington for that. First part of Dark Victory doesn't really seem to fit, though. I mean, she certainly chews it up, but she seems more scared to me. I actually thought that might fit in a "scared, sacrificial, vulnerable Bette" type. Maybe 1/2 nasty Bette - like in A Stolen Life where she's the mean twin, but I can't think of others offhand. Any ideas for that?

  21. Throwing in my votes for SATAN MET A LADY and MADAME SIN. Go, Evil Bette!

  22. As you know, I love BD. She could play good, bad but never indifferent. One point...I don't see her as evil in "Baby Jane," just entirely screwed up by her childhood, the stardom of her sister and her sister's devious lie. And BD played it brilliantly over-the-top. Joan, as she was wont to do, emoted dramatically...Always thought Bette was Oscar-robbed re: "Baby Jane"...

  23. Ah, Eve, you are so soft! "Oh judge, my childhood was bad, so I killed those 13 people." LOL! Actually, you have a good point about Jane - what I should have said was that Joan was not exactly poor innocent sister! You put it well about Bette -- never indifferent! I loved that she never minded looking bad or acting realistically. If she had been worried about stuff like that, Baby Jane would not have been the memorable character she was! Thanks for coming by!