The Bette Davis Project #16: Wagon Train, “The Elizabeth McQueeny Story”

Bette Davis guest starred in three episodes of “Wagon Train,” and BBFF Ivan tipped me off to a rerun of her second appearance in “The Elizabeth McQueeny Story”. This 1959 episode featured Ward Bond in the lead as wagon master Seth Adams leading a wagon train to, er, somewhere in the west. I don’t really know. Bette looks like she’s going to laugh when she makes her appearance as the fabulous Madame Elizabeth McQueeny, matron to 10 lovely girls who are going west to establish a finishing school. They come with high recommendations and are to accompany the train as it heads west. It takes a few days but Adams, being the smartest of the bunch, figures out that the Madame is actually planning on setting up a dance hall. Those aren’t students, they’re dancing goils! Acting, theater, and dance halls seem to be used as euphemisms for cat houses and prostitutes, but sometimes when the show says “dancer,” it really means “dancer.” Made for kind of an uneven episode, but there was some fun dialogue: ADAMS: “You’ll be entertaining a lot of men.” ELIZABETH: “I am a lot of woman.” Soon after setting out, the train runs into a group of native peoples who turn over a bedraggled and soused man who claims to be one Count Roberto de Falconi, played by Robert Strauss, who is epically hot in this episode. He’s no Animal Kasava here, is what I’m sayin’. Bette looks pretty damn great herself, although I notice … Continue reading

The Bette Davis Project #15: The Star (1952)

The Star tries so hard to be the All About Eve of film, to mix real life with cinematic license, but it never quite succeeds at its lofty intentions. It’s possible The Star was conceived as pastiche, but I truly doubt it. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a worthwhile film, because it is campy and fun and sometimes ridiculous, with one incredible scene that makes the boring worth trudging through. Bette plays aging film actress Margaret Elliot (sheesh, just call her Margo already). We see her as she stands sadly outside an auction house as her belongings are sold to pay her numerous debts. She catches her own agent leaving the auction with some of her stuff, which is hilarious in the same way Bette waiting for Anita Louise to die in That Certain Woman is. Margaret wants the lead in the upcoming film The Fatal Winter and insists her agent works on it for her, but you get the feeling he won’t. Afterward, she heads to her ex-husband’s house to visit her daughter Gretchen (Natalie Wood). Gretchen wants to go back to living with her mother, but because of financial concerns she can’t. Gretchen also insists that the kids at school bully her because Margaret isn’t really a star, which doesn’t seem particularly likely, but Gretchen has to be put-upon and that’s her particular cross to bear, apparently. Before Margaret leaves, her ex’s new wife accosts her with the “I didn’t steal your husband, you totally lost him on … Continue reading

Bette Davis Project #14: "The Virginian" and "The Nanny" (1965)

Thanks to my BBFF Ivan, I managed to catch a first season episode of “The Virginian” guest starring Bette Davis. A normal person would have gotten a capture of the title screen instead of a credit… but by now you all know I am not a normal person. Bette plays Celia Miller, spinster bank teller, whose bank had been robbed a year earlier by masked bandits. The manager was killed during the hold up, and one of the robbers was recently apprehended. This robber named Trampas (series regular Doug McClure) as one of his partners in crime. Since Trampas is a regular on the show, it’s obvious he didn’t commit the robbery, so the show focuses on whether he will be unfairly convicted or not. Trampas is arrested and taken back to the town where the robbery occurred, and The Virginian goes with him. They are both astonished to find two bank employees, Celia (Bette) and Mr. Darby (character legend Woodrow Parfey), confirm Trampas was one of the robbers. It soon becomes clear that Mr. Darby’s account is unreliable because of his poor eyesight, but no one can figure out why Celia, a well-known resident with an impeccable reputation, insists that Trampas was involved. When the arrested robber’s real accomplice arrives in town pretending to be a newspaperman, all is clear: Celia wants $10,000 from the accomplice for her cooperation in identifying the wrong man, allowing the accomplice to go free. Bette gives a perfectly cromulent performance as a lifelong … Continue reading

Bette Davis Project: Pretty, Pretty Pictures!

Over the years (years!) I have collected pictures of Bette, and at any given moment I have scads of promotionals for films but, because I didn’t always file photos under the name of the film or year they were taken, they get looked over when I do a post for the Bette Project. That’s my excuse for how these wound up here in a potpourri post, but really, is there a bad excuse for posting a dozen photos of Bette Davis? I submit to you that there is not. From “The Bad Sister” (1931). “The Bad Sister” From “Hell’s House.” “Cabin in the Cotton “(1932) “Fog Over Frisco” (1934) “Front Page Woman” (1935) Front Page Woman from Stirred, Straight Up, With a Twist “The Great Lie” (1941) “Hell’s House” (1932) “The Rich Are Always With Us” (1932) “Jimmy the Gent” (1934): Per the rules of the Project, I’m not watching films I’ve already seen, and “Jimmy the Gent” is one I watched years ago. “Jimmy the Gent” From “Dark Victory”, which also falls under the already-watched rule. I’ve seen this credited to George Hurrell, but it’s not on the Hurrell website, so I can’t confirm if it’s a Hurrell or not. But here are two bonus Hurrells I can confirm: Have a good weekend, everyone!

Bette Davis Project #13: That Certain Woman (1937)

“That Certain Woman” (1937) was the 3rd of a group of Bette movies I watched all in one night and was, by far, my favorite. Sadly, my copy of the film is poor, which you’ll confirm by looking at my screencaps. It’s available on DVD now but at a hefty price, so I won’t be getting a good copy of this any time soon. But if you get a chance to see this film, do! “That Certain Woman” is one of the few 1930s Bette melodramas that distinguishes itself from the others that so often feel like Kay Francis’ castoffs. For some reason, the copy TCM has covers the edges of the title screen with a grey border so you can’t see the usual “First National Picture” credit on the bottom. No idea why. I assume it’s a re-release print with some copyright issue. The plot of “That Certain Woman” is compelling in a way that your usual WB programmer isn’t. Bette is Mary Donnell, who we first see going to the cemetery on a cold, rainy evening in 1933. She’s followed there by a reporter who confronts her: She’s the former Mrs. Al Haines, widowed exactly 4 years earlier when her gangster husband was killed in the St. Valentine’s Day massacre. The reporter is doing a “where are they now” series on people involved in the massacre, but Mary won’t have anything to do with it. She’s got a job as a secretary now, a new life, and is … Continue reading

Bette Davis Project #12: Front Page Woman (1935)

“Front Page Woman” was released a mere six weeks after “The Girl from 10th Avenue”, and it shows. These two programmers share 6 cast members and even some of the same sets. Long-time readers will remember how tired I have become of George Brent playing the guy trying to keep a woman in the home where she belongs. Well, folks, “Front Page Woman” is by far the worst offender in that category… thus far. Ellen (Bette Davis) is a young reporter assigned to cover the execution of a murderer at midnight. Boyfriend and fellow reporter Curt (Brent) doesn’t think a woman should be reporting on such a thing and, true to 1935, Ellen faints to prove how right he was. I’m surprised she didn’t lose a heel while running or fend off the bad guy by hitting him with her purse. Maybe I should mention that Curt and the other reporters deliberately set out to upset her with graphic talk about the execution. Curt writes two news stories, one for his paper and one for Ellen’s to cover for her womanly inability to report the news, but a screw-up causes the exact story to go into both papers. Ellen thinks he deliberately sabotaged her, and he might as well have: At a 3-alarm fire, Ellen is not allowed in to the area to report on the news because she’s a woman. Curt adds to this problem by lying to the police officers that she’s not even a reporter in the … Continue reading

Bette Davis Project #11: The Girl From 10th Avenue (1935)

“The Girl from 10th Avenue” (1935) is one of those quickie Warner Bros programmers that at times rises above its mediocre goals. But most of these Warner Bros weeklies do, truth be told, and between cost-cutting and bored actors, so many of these films just do not impress. Bette is Miriam, a shop girl who happens to be standing outside the church where a fabulous society wedding between Valentine French and John Marland is taking place. Also standing in the mob outside is Geoff Sherwood, the lawyer that Valentine threw off so she could marry the rich John Marland. He’s drunk and belligerent and, when the cops decide maybe they should take him in, Miriam grabs him and steers him to a spaghetti restaurant, away from the cops. There Geoff decides he needs looking after, so he offers her $100 to watch him for a week. She tells him to go to hell at first, but eventually relents. Next thing they know, they’re married. Geoff doesn’t recall the marriage (booze) and Miriam considers just leaving and annulling the marriage (common sense), but to help get him sober, they agree to stay together with the caveat that either can leave at any time. Geoff rebuilds his career while Miriam works on becoming socially acceptable, as though she was ever crude and awful and unacceptable in the first place. But okay, let’s go with it. Miriam becomes fashionable and sophisticated:   Fabulous much?   Of course, this happens just as Valentine returns … Continue reading

"In This Our Life": The John Huston Blogathon

  Today’s entry is for the John Huston Blogathon, hosted by Adam at Icebox Movies, running from August 5th through 12th. Both the submissions and Adam’s own entries have been exceptional thus far, and more are coming in the days ahead. I highly recommend checking them out! *** Nobody likes “In This Our Life.” Oh sure, some people enjoy the camp, or like it because Bette Davis plays such a rotten woman, but that’s as far as it goes. I found some really unfortunate reviews of ITOL online, reviews that had major facts wrong, that described the movie as “icky” or “just okay” or even “obnoxious”, that repeated long-discredited rumors about cameos. ITOL doesn’t get a lot of respect, and I — self-appointed champion of the underdog — wanted to change that. About the cameos: There are no cameos in this film save Walter Huston as a bartender. I’ve got a screencap of the guys in the bar, people, so don’t push me on this. See?   ITOL is not a bad film, but it is an odd film, as it’s supposed to be a melodrama in the midst of the languid American South, not like you would realize this without being told. No one bothers with a Southern accent save Billie Burke, and the exterior shots of the house are so unconvincing they look as though they were shot for a New England area film like “Arsenic and Old Lace” instead. It’s undeniably a standard Warner Bros. film, albeit … Continue reading

Bette Davis Project #10: The Great Lie (1941)

Why “The Great Lie” wasn’t made in 1933 with Kay Francis is beyond me, because this is so obviously a Kay vehicle that it’s impossible to see it any other way. Well, the fact is that it never could have been a Kay movie; it’s based on a Polan Banks novel from 1936 when both Kay and her style of movies were fading out of popularity. To me, that makes it even more strange that WB would choose to go with this film in 1941 when Bette was at the peak of her career. The plot is your basic unnecessarily complicated affair: Pete (George Brent, of course) marries tempestuous pianist Sandra (Mary Astor), a glamorous and world famous diva who enjoys to party as much as he does. After a week of marriage and wild, apartment-wrecking parties, Pete finds out they’re not really married as Sandra’s divorce wasn’t yet final. He takes his own plane to Maryland to talk to Maggie (Bette), the woman he was supposed to marry but didn’t because she thought he was an alcoholic and he refused to stop drinking. Maggie caught cold when she read about Pete’s marriage and spent a day walking in the freezing rain. Maggie quite rightly chews his ass out for showing up a week after he married to whine that he’s made a blunder, so Pete doesn’t tell Maggie that he’s not really married, he just leaves and goes back to his wife. He tells Sandra they aren’t married and … Continue reading