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?!


  1. I agree it's a lot more fun to write about something one likes than something one doesn't, but a review like this has its benefits. I hadn't seen this film & had wondered about it. Now, if I decide to watch it, at least I'm somewhat forewarned. Also agree with you on old period pieces. Even tho my wife Eberle & I are big Bette Davis fans, we had a similar reaction to "The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex." I know that's a filck that's highly thought of, but we found it rather dull.


  2. Totally agree, Raquelle. I found this film excruciating to watch. Bette Davis usually makes all the films she's in, but she couldn't save this one. Charles Boyer is so annoying. And Barbara O'Neil - ugh!

    Thanks for commenting on my blog!

    I'm glad you did, now I have another great blog to follow!

  3. Haha! When things got dull they should have thrown in some songs and Busby Berkeley to liven things up. But alas, sometimes they forgot that trick. Too bad! :)

  4. I kinda like writing about movies I don't like. While watching them, I always think of some funny way to tear into 'em...while the movies I adore, I fear my writing won't do them justice.


    "I try to find merit in everything I view. But I can't be pleased with everything can I?!"

    Nope, you can't be pleased with everything. :)

    Especially period films. I usually find those rough-going.

    I've never seen this one, though. Probably never will.

    I do like THE PRIVATE LIVES OF ELIZABETH AND ESSEX (as John up there mentioned). Did you like it??

  5. I think Ginger's question is addressed to Raquelle, but just to clarify re "Elizabeth & Essex": I do recall liking it at some point in the past-- in the very distant past, as a young lad I pretty much worshipped Errol Flynn-- but when Eberle & I watched it a while back it seemed like there was no "chemistry" at all between Bette Davis & Errol Flynn. Maybe it was just our mood on a given evening....

  6. John - Thanks for the encouragment. I'm always worried to stir the wrath of a particular movie's fanbase by panning it.

    Jonas - Busby Berkeley choreography would have definitely helped that movie. All the children could do dancing formations around the couple!

    Ginger - I've never seen Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, and can't say I'm all that interested in it. I love contemporary period pieces (oxymoron?) but classic period pieces as you say are rough-going.


Leave me a comment! If it is a long one, make sure you save a draft of it elsewhere just in case Google gobbles it up and spits it out.

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