Saturday, January 10, 2009
Good Heavens: All This, and Heaven Too (1940)
All This, and Heaven Too (1940) is a Warner Bros. period epic starring Bette Davis and Charles Boyer. It was directed by Anatole Litvak, whom Bette Davis was both rumored to have clashed with professionally and had a romantic affair with. And according to Robert Osborne, studio execs felt that in this stage of Bette Davis' career, she had enough star power to carry a movie as the sole major star. This film is a departure fromt that with that as Charles Boyer, at the height of his fame, sharing top billing with the great Bette Davis.
The story is based on the Rachel Field novel. It's a fictionalized account of the true story of Henriette Deluzy Deportes (Davis), an English governess who finds work in the home of the French Duc de Praslin (Boyer). Deportes falls in love with the children she cares for as well as their father, provoking the ire of the Praslin's insanely jealous and demented wife, the Duchess de Praslin (Barbara O'Neil). Fans of Virginia Weidler will be happy to see her in this film playing one of the Praslin children.
The film was expensive and lavish with lots of period costumes and grand sets. All that money couldn't ensure a hit, and this film went on to have lukewarm reviews and did poorly at the box office. I can't say I'm surprised as I did not enjoy this film that much. For one, I have a tendency to shy away from classic period films. Studios back in the day took period dramatics too seriously. What we end up with is a lot of grandiose films that have the potential to overwhelm and bore instead of awe. For me personally, it was far too long (140 minutes) and every scene was dripping with seriousness. There needed to be some lighter elements, such as happy scenes with the children, to let the pace of the movie move forward more smoothly rather than dragging on which it did. I also wished they had tempered the characters a bit. More subtlety and less dramatics. Barbara O'Neil's performance, although nominated for an Oscar, felt over-the-top in the worst way possible. I found myself laughing at some of her scenes, which was definitely not what the filmmakers intended as a suitable audience response.
Writing about this film was quite painful. I delayed it as long as I could. I do not like to write about films I don't enjoy because I try to find merit in everything I view. But I can't be pleased with everything can I?!
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