Crystal of In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood is at it again with the blogathons, this time with one about birthday girl Bette Davis. With Davis being one of my favorite actresses, I decided to chip in. Alas this was one of those blogathons that wouldn't allow duplicates and all the obvious titles were already claimed. Thankfully I noticed there was one Davis film I saw that wasn't claimed by another. The film in question?
|(1934, dir. John Cromwell)|
With W. Somerset Maugham's source novel being one of my favorite books, I was curious about the film. Apart from chopping this epic of a book down to a tidy 83-minute running time, Cromwell does stay true to what Maugham wrote. For some reason there were two other adaptations of the novel. Hey, if it isn’t broken, why try to fix it?
By the time Davis made this, she had been in Hollywood for only a few years but appeared in over twenty films. As was the case with several actresses of the time (and perhaps today), she wasn't getting the roles she desired. Then came along the role of Mildred Rogers, and she knew that this would further her career.
Bear in mind that this was a role that Katharine Hepburn, Irene Dunne and Ann Harding turned down because such a venomous character would easily mark the end of a glamorous screen image. That didn't stop Davis from pursuing the part, who had to fight tooth and nail with Warner Bros. co-head Jack L. Warner to lend her to RKO. (Warner only relented because Mervyn LeRoy wanted Dunne, who was under contract at RKO, for one of his films.)
Though Cromwell and Maugham approved of Davis as Mildred, not everyone was so won over. Leading man Leslie Howard was at first indifferent at the prospect of an American playing a Cockney. (The same could be said for several other British actors among the cast.) But as production wore on, Howard warmed up to Davis when it became clear she was stealing the whole show. (Hopefully they were more amicable when they made The Petrified Forest two years later.)
Many sources say that Davis earned ten Academy Award nominations throughout her career but some will repute that she had an additional nomination (albeit a write-in) from her work in Of Human Bondage. Indeed Davis' work as Mildred did establish her viability as a legit actress (as well as making the masses know she was very good at playing women with long-simmering fury) but did she deserve a proper nomination? You're damn right she did. (Now I haven’t seen it yet but perhaps her Oscar win for Dangerous the following year was AMPAS trying to apologize?)