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The Films of Bette Davis

TIFF Cinematheque’s Fall season of Hollywood Classics is dedicated to Bette Davis, one of the greatest actresses to emerge from the studio system. Curated by TIFF Cinematheque Senior Programmer James Quandt, this delectable tribute features 15 films that trace Davis’ four-decade evolution from glamour girl to Grande Dame to Gothic gargoyle.

Featuring a new digital restoration of the cult classic What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), as well as a host of other Davis favourites including the film that shot her to stardom Of Human Bondage (1934), Dangerous (1935) which garnered Davis her first Best Actress Oscar win for her turn as a self-destructive, tempestuous Broadway actress, and the endlessly quotable All About Eve (1950), an Academy darling, that received a total of six Oscars that year. Also included in the retrospective are Davis’ trilogy of films from her frequent collaborator, and favourite director, William Wyler, referred to as “the male Bette Davis” by Davis herself, including the superb Malay-set noir, The Letter (1940); the powerful costume drama, Jezebel (1938); and the viciously entertaining adaptation of the Lillian Hellman play, The Little Foxes (1941).

The Hard Way: The Films of Bette Davis runs at TIFF Bell Lightbox from November 15 to December 8, 2013.

See below for complete schedule.

Of Human Bondage

dir. John Cromwell | USA 1934 | 83 min. | PG | 35mm
Bette Davis finally became a star with her performance as a blowsy, malicious Cockney waitress who manipulates and torments the sensitive painter (Leslie Howard) who loves her.
Friday, November 15, 6:30 p.m.

The Letter

dir. William Wyler | USA 1940 | 95 min. | PG | 35mm
An ice-cold murderess (Bette Davis) plots to recover the incriminating letter that could send her to the gallows, in William Wyler's superb Malay-set noir.
Saturday, November 16, 4:30 p.m.

All About Eve

dir. Joseph L. Mankiewicz | USA 1950 | 138 min. | PG | Digital
The bitchery is exquisite, the invective divine in Joseph L. Mankiewicz's classic, Academy Award-winning tale of backstage ambition and deceit.
Sunday, November 17, 1:00 p.m.

Now, Voyager

dir. Irving Rapper | USA 1942 | 118 min. | PG | 35mm
Bette Davis goes from frumpy to fabulous as a repressed spinster who blossoms after emerging from psychoanalysis, in this classic romantic melodrama.
 Tuesday, Nov 19th 630 pm

The Great Lie

dir. Edmund Goulding | USA 1941 | 108 min. | PG | 35mm
Bette Davis stars opposite Mary Astor (who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance) in this tale of two women who discover that they are married to the same man.
Saturday, November 30, 4:15 p.m.

Dangerous

dir. Alfred E. Green | USA 1935 | 79 min. | PG | 35mm
Bette Davis won her first Academy Award for Best Actress in this story of an alcoholic, self-destructive former Broadway star who makes a final bid to return to the Great White Way.
Tuesday, December 3, 6:30 p.m.

Three on a Match

dir. Mervyn LeRoy | USA 1932 | 64 min. | PG | 35mm
Three childhood friends (Bette Davis, Joan Blondell and Ann Dvorak) tempt fate when they violate the old superstition about lighting three cigarettes on one match, in this crackling pre-Code drama.
Friday, December 6, 6:30 p.m.

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

New digital restoration!

dir. Robert Aldrich | USA 1962 | 132 min. | 14A | Digital
Robert Aldrich's Grand Guignol cult classic about a pair of aged, ex-starlet sisters (Bette Davis and Joan Crawford) bound together in bitter (and lethal) rivalry in a fetid Hollywood villa returns in a special fiftieth anniversary digital restoration.
Saturday, December 7, 4:00 p.m.

Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte

dir. Robert Aldrich | USA 1964 | 133 min. | 14A | 35mm
Bette Davis reunited with director Robert Aldrich following their unexpected hit What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? for another mossy modern Gothic, about a reclusive Southern spinster who becomes the target of a murderous family plot.
Sunday, December 8, 4:30 p.m.

(writeup above courtesy of TIFF Cinematheque)

CAPSULE REVIEWS for 4 of her films are provided below, screeners provided by courtesy of TIFF Cinematheque.  All these 4 films won Davis Oscar nominations for Best Actress.

ALL ABOUT EVE (USA 1950) ****

Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz

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            High drama begins backstage when an innocent young Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) meets her idol Margot Channing of the stage (Bette Davis), introduced by her best friend (Celeste Holm).  Eve turns out to be not that innocent and plots to take over an important role in a new play written specifically for Margot.  At the centre of all this is the excellent George Sanders playing the most dislikeable play critic Addison DeWitt.  Mankiewicz’s film contains two of the best scenes ever staged.  One has Bette Davis freaking out and giving off her spill on what the evil Eve has been up to while pleading for every ounce of sentiment from her disgusted friends and the other has Celeste Holm laughing her head off at the dinner table after realizing how ironic fate had turned out.

DARK VICTORY (USA 1939) **

Directed by Edmund Goulding

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Bette Davis plays Judith Traherne, a young, carefree, hedonistic Long Island socialite who suffers from headaches, dizziness and lost of sight and balance.  She has what she believes is a malignant tumor that is removed by Dr. Steele (George Brent).  Dr. Steele hides the fact that the tumor will recur again.  Judith has a few months to live.  This is the story of how she finds out, and how she deals with the fact while romancing the good doctor.  Based on a play and scripted by Casey Robinson, the film unfortunately does not work.  Davis looks like a spoilt adult kid half the time that the audience can hardly care for.  In one scene, Judith’s best friend, Ann (Geraldine Fitzgerald) can only describe Judith’s best qualities as never ever being mean.  This is so laughable and one can only imagine this trait being possible only with the rich and famous who have never experienced suffering.  The segment in which Humphrey Bogart (as a stable hand) expresses his love for her is just as silly.  Davis won an Oscar nomination for her role despite the fact that she has likely delivered the most outrageous performance (pretending to be blind, groping around) of her career.

THE LETTER (USA 1940) ****
Directed by William Wyler

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The first few minutes of THE LETTER shows Bette Davis firing a number of shots into the body of her lover while prancing around like diva as if life hardly matters.  She, Leslie Crosbie then recounts the events to her husband (Herbert Marshall) so cool and calculated a state that it seems she is hamming it up.  Under the hands of a less talented director or actress, all that befalls on screen could be dismissed as melodramatic rubbish, but under the direction of William Wyler and with the grand performance of Bette Davis, THE LETTER succeeds as melodrama at its peak and most effective.  Leslie, the rubber plantation manager’s wife (Davis) is arrested for murder and would be acquitted except for the existence of a letter that compromises her case.  She buys the letter, which proves her infidelity, which is gradually exposed at the film’s end.  Wyler shoots his melodrama with the greatest seriousness, specially the scene in which Davis meets the Eurasian widow in order to purchase the letter.  The locals are stereotyped with the greatest hilarity but the film also excels in the wry humour all around the film’s plot.  The shot of the lawyer’s sleazy Chinese clerk opening the car door of his employer followed by him driving off in his own car is priceless.  The film is based on the play of the same name by gay British playwright W. Somerset Maugham whose stories always ridicules (like this one) the institution of marriage.

WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? (USA 1962) *****

Directed by Robert Aldrich

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            Robert Aldrich’s camp classic (his other being THE KILLING OF SISTER GEORGE) written by often collaborator Lukas Heller, has the ageing Bette Davis now playing a gothic gargoyle, child star Baby Jane Hudson now living in her faded glory looking after her crippled sister, star Blanche (Joan Crawford).  When Blanche acquires new fame when her old films are played on TV, Jane Hudson’s jealousy gets the better of her.  Jane tortures her poor sister (dead bird on her dinner platter; snide remarks; tossing away her personal letters) who is desperately tying to call outside the villa for help.  Aldrich’s film moves like a real horror story in which a helpless protagonist’s fate lies in the hands of a crazed sister.   One must hand it to Davis (she won an Oscar nomination) for doing this incredible role of a real ugly monster covered in over-caked make-up and shuffling around in oversized slippers.  This is a digital restoration print screening marking the film's 50th anniversary.

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