Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex

If looks could kill, Bette Davis' glare would've had her on trial for murder several times a year. (Same goes for her sharp tongue.) This was a woman who didn't give a damn about what others thought of her. As her epitaph says, she did it the hard way.

Not long after her second Oscar win for Jezebel, Davis starred in Michael Curtiz's The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex. Alongside popular Warner Bros. couple Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland, she easily claims the show as her own. (Not a hard task for her to be honest.)

Though Flynn manages to hold his own fairly well. (Not bad for someone whose big break was only four years prior.) In contrast to Davis' persistent glowering, Flynn is of a more subdued frame of mind when it comes to acting. (Davis wouldn't realize it until years later.)

The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex is similar to the previous year's The Adventures of Robin Hood in that it puts its costume designs on full Technicolor display. (And like the earlier film, de Havilland's smile just dazzles in this format.) And the cinematography by Sol Polito and W. Howard Greene is in vivid detail. (To think it lost to Gone with the Wind.)

It may have gotten lost amid the many big titles of 1939 but The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex does have its merits. From the work of its three stars to the decadent set design, it's one of several sumptuous titles of Curtiz's career. Clearly, that man knew how to do spectacle.

My Rating: ****

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