Friday, February 26, 2016


Bette Davis is married to successful attorney Barry Sullivan; they have a nice house, a circle of sociable friends, and two daughters, one of whom (Betty Lynn) is seriously dating Brett King, a pleasant but lower-class Czech lad, which bothers Davis. One evening, seemingly out the blue, Sullivan asks Davis for a divorce. She, unable to understand why success and money don't satisfy him, is upset that he can't pinpoint his free-floating frustration with his life. In a series of flashbacks, we see their relationship grow. Early on, she directs a client toward her struggling husband instead of to his more knowledgeable friend (Kent Taylor), and years later, when this fact becomes known, it drives a wedge between Sullivan and Taylor, and is the start of the slow fracturing of Davis and Sullivan's marriage. Back in the present day, Davis has her attorney hire an investigator who snaps pictures of Sullivan in a compromising position with his young mistress (Frances Dee)—or perhaps would-be mistress, it's a little ambiguous. Thanks to the threat of making the pictures public and ruining Dee's life, Davis gets everything she wants in the divorce settlement. She goes on a cruise and does a little flirting with fellow passenger John Sutton, but when it turns out he's married and is just looking for a fling, she's disappointed. Back home, at Betty's wedding to Brett, she sees Sullivan and breaks down in a teary mess, regretting everything that's happened. Can there be a happy ending in store for these two "kids"?

Well, yes, in the last moments of the film, there is a strong hint at a rather improbable happy ending which makes hash of much of what has gone before. Fans of romantic melodrama (what they called "women’s pictures" back then) will enjoy this, though fans of Bette Davis may not. Released just one year after her career-crowning performance in ALL ABOUT EVE (though actually filmed just before EVE), Davis merely idles at half-speed until her crying jag scene at the end, which is so realistic it's almost painful to watch—you really feel for her character and her regret over the many ways in which she has subverted her own attempts at happiness. Her scenes with Sullivan are fine, though she never quite strikes the sparks she did with her other leading men of the 1940s. Stage actress Jane Cowl plays an older woman who has lived her life very much like Davis and who becomes a kind of warning to her; in Cowl's last scene, she's set up in a nice house in the Caribbean living with a "protégé" who writes poetry—and is most likely gay. Cowl's warning: "When a woman starts getting old, time can be an avalanche, and loneliness a disaster." Stylistically, the most interesting thing about the film is the flashback technique. Each flashback plays out in a very stagebound fashion; for example, in a scene in which Davis and Sullivan get in a car and go for a drive, the car roof is a scrim which, when lighted from above, becomes almost transparent and we can see the night sky through it. The same for a scene set in a house where the walls are briefly invisible as the lighting changes.  For this kind of film, it's well done but a bit bloodless. [DVD]

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