Tag Archives: Feuding Couples

LIFE LESSONS FROM THE ICONIC CELLULOID BITCH
The One and Only Bette Davis
by Sheri Warren Sankner

1. Iconic Bette DavisWhat can you say about Bette Davis and her devilishly entertaining career that spanned some 50 years of Hollywood’s golden age? She was called the “First Lady of American Film” and while only 5’3”, her personality was larger than life. Bold, brash and ballsy both on and off-screen, Davis became known as much for her scandalous affairs and bitter feuds with Hollywood rivals like Joan Crawford as for her Academy Award-winning acting. It was rumored she had affairs with George Brent, William Wyler, and billionaire Howard Hughes, among others. She was married four times, three of which ended in divorce, and always said that her career always came first. Her large, piercing trademark eyes inspired a #1 song in 1981, Kim Carnes’ “Bette Davis Eyes.” She had numerous biographies written about and even penned her own story, but it was her daughter Barbara “B.D.” Hyman 1985 tell-all book, “My Mother’s Keeper,” that painted her as a ruthless bully who faked attempted suicides for sympathy.

2. Davis and HowardDavis once said “old age is no place for sissies,” though no one would’ve ever dared call her such a timid or fragile creature no matter her age. On-screen she played up her deliciously evil, sarcastic, and sardonic personality. Her powerful, outspoken, unapologetic, go-for-it-all female roles were just as devious, scheming and selfish as any male. Davis earned star status with “The Man Who Played God” (1932), known as the actress that could play a variety of very strong and complex roles. But it was the role of Mildred Rogers in “Of Human Bondage” in 1934 that would finally give her major acclaim from the film critics, but resulted in a Best Actress nomination snub.

Davis sought the part of Mildred aggressively, feeling that it could be her breakout role after years of starring in Warner Brothers films that weren’t furthering her career. She begged studio chief Jack L. Warner to let her out of her contract so she could make the film. He relented, misguidedly thinking she would fail. When her standout performance sparked Oscar buzz, Warner went on the offensive with a spite campaign encouraging academy members not to vote for her.

3. Davis and MerrillDavis fans and supporters protested though and she garnered significant write-in votes for the Best Actress nod though she lost to Claudette Colbert for “It Happened One Night.” After that incident, write-in votes were never allowed again and the academy handed over the counting of the results to PriceWaterhouse, who still does the official counting.

Davis finally received her first Oscar for her role of Joyce Heath in 1935’s “Dangerous.” The one role that got away from her was Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone with the Wind.” Warner Brothers wouldn’t allow David O. Selznick to use her unless Errol Flynn played Rhett Butler.

4. Of Human BondageAdapted from W. Somerset Maugham’s 1915 novel, “Of Human Bondage” was a meaty role for Davis who reveled in the trashy, selfish waitress, playing opposite Leslie Howard’s Philip Carey, a club-footed young man who leaves art to study medicine. He is obsessed by the vulgar, low-class Cockney-accented blonde. He is smitten, even though she shows him nothing but disdain, repugnance and cruelty. Mildred is a manipulative, exploitative, two-timing, shrewish woman who distracts him from his studies and later more sympathetic love interests. When he proposes, she refuses and tells him that she will instead marry a salesman named Emil Miller (played by Alan Hale). The self-centered Mildred vindictively berates love-struck Philip with nasty insults proclaiming, “You dirty swine! I never cared for you, not once. I was always makin’ a fool of ya. Ya bored me stiff. I hated ya. It made me sick when I had to let ya kiss me. I only did it because ya begged me. Ya hounded me and drove me crazy! And after you kissed me, I always used to wipe my mouth! Wipe my mouth!”

5. Another Man's Poison PosterThe bumpy ride continues in “Another Man’s Poison,” based on a play by Leslie Sands. On the heels of their success and newfound love in “All About Eve,” Davis and husband Gary Merrill made this independent film noir feature set in an isolated house on the English Moors. Adulterous mystery writer Janet Frobisher is involved in murderous relationships. “Another Man’s Poison” is a sordid tale of murder, deception, and desire masterfully played by Davis and Merrill, one of three feature films the husband and wife made together.

Ironically, Davis’ Janet Frobisher kills her estranged husband with poison. When his bank robber partner, George Bates (played by Merrill) comes calling, Janet confesses the murder to George. As they are trying to dispose of the body, George conveniently passes himself off as the Himalayan-traveling husband to Janet’s nosey neighbor, her illicit lover and his fiancé (who just happens to be her secretary). Plot twists and turns and plenty of deception keep both Davis and Merrill on their toes. Finally, when George kills Janet’s beloved horse Fury, the only thing she truly loves, Janet plans to get rid of him once and for all. The dialogue is fast-paced and edgy, reinforcing the cat-and-mouse game the leads are playing. It’s Bette Davis at her bitchy and brutal best!

Check out both Davis films now on MovieZoot.com here.

CAN STORIES OF DEATH BE HEALTHY?
“Death in Small Doses”
by Chris Hoey

1. Lead Image Death in Small Doses image 1Shakespeare’s Macbeth and his Lady longed for power at any cost. They set the bar very high for notorious couples seeking shortcuts to the top. “Death in Small Doses” provides another twist on tales of taking the easy way. What is it that captures our attention about the idea of a trusted partner, providing the deadly poison that defeats the soul and spirit before delivering a deadly blow? Is it he betrayal? What do we love about stories of those who risk it all to get more than their fair share? What happens when a person finally finds their soulmate, but knows nothing of the darkest shadows of that mate’s soul?

History is filled with true stories of betrayal and murder. A man in Boston was convicted in 2004 of murdering his wife with antifreeze-laced Gatorade. The 2000 death sentence of a California woman was upheld by the California Supreme Court when they found that her sentence was fair for the murder of her husband. She carried it out with a concoction of oleander tea and antifreeze. He was her fourth husband. There must be more to these stories than the satisfaction of justice being served. There is always an element that somewhere, someone has “gotten away with it.”

2. Norman Mailer - Death in Small Doses image 2Norman Mailer, reportedly quipped “Let’s get out of here. I think this guy is innocent. I thought we were going to be having dinner with a man who actually tried to kill his wife. This is boring,” when Alan Dershowitz described how Claus Von Bulow had not actually attempted to murder his wife with a lethal dose of insulin. Sunny Von Bulow’s story was depicted in 1990’s “Reversal of Fortune,” with Jeremy Irons playing the husband who seems so likely to have done it. By the end of the film, you are not relieved to find that he was innocent. Instead, you wonder how justice could be blind to Von Bulow’s obviously oozing guilt. Irons won both the Oscar and the Golden Globe for his portrayal of the innocent man who seemed so rightly accused.

3. Richard Thomas - Death in Small Doses image 3“Death in Small Doses” adds another twisted tale of deception and disloyalty to these stories we love. Richard Thomas, of “The Waltons” plays the husband accused of killing his wife. The film plays with his fame as “John Boy,” perhaps one of the most trusted and upstanding characters in American television.  He is perfectly cast as the husband who presents evidence that his wife, who conveniently suffered from clinical depression, committed suicide. Tess Harper, plays the Assistant D.A, who is determined to uncover the truth. Harper went on to play roles in “No Country For Old Men”, 1986’s “Crimes of the Heart,” and 1997’s “The Jackal,” with Bruce Willis and Richard Gere.

4. Cain & Abel - Death in Small Doses image 4From the first fatal betrayal by Cain to the political betrayals that emerge daily from Washington DC, nothing captures the public’s attention like the intrigue of the treacherous former friend and lover. Our stories explore the depths to which greed can drive us. Maybe we love these stories because they reinforce, ultimately, our sense of what’s right and wrong. We love our stories of death in small doses to keep our sense of morality healthy.

Watch Death in Small Does on MovieZoot.com here.

MARLENE DIETRICH IN “THE BLUE ANGEL”
When She’s Just Not That Into You
by John Francis

1. Marlene in The Blue AngelCalling the great German actress Marlene Dietrich merely a temptress in “The Blue Angel” is like calling Donald Trump a divisive man.

The 1929 film, the first major German “talkie,” was directed by acclaimed German director Josef von Sternberg, who took a chance on the young actress and essentially made her (or perhaps more correctly, gave her the opportunity to become) a major international star. Sternberg later claimed that he had “discovered” Dietrich. They also became romantically involved and eventually made six films together.

“The Blue Angel” was actually supposed to be a star vehicle for German actor Emil Jannings, who was a silent film star and won the first Academy Award for Best Actor for two films, the Sternberg-directed “The Last Command” and “The Way of All Flesh.”

But it was Dietrich’s magnetic personality and overt sensuousness and sexuality that took over the film and made her a star. Jannings’ career actually took a nosedive after that, particularly since his heavy German accent didn’t translate well to sound motion pictures and his later embrace of the Nazis made him a pariah in Hollywood.

2. Marlene and Emil JanningsIt didn’t help that in “The Blue Angel,” his character, Professor Immanuel Rath, at first a steadfast and self-righteous teacher and keeper of morals, especially those of his students, becomes a downtrodden, obsessed, jealous and humiliated shell of a man due to his love and obsession for Dietrich’s seductive and wanton cabaret performer Lola Lola.

His Prof. Rath goes from being a respected and admired academician to basically a roundly scorned and humiliated clown working in a cabaret, The Blue Angel of the title. Sternberg described the story as “the downfall of an enamored man,” calling the professor “a figure of self-satisfied dignity brought low.”

Lola, despite or perhaps because of, her almost callous indifference to him, takes a shine to the chivalrous educator, who doesn’t seem to care that she’s a lowly cabaret performer with loose morals and a seeming disdain for men who lust for her nightly. He’s besotted, which, of course, will lead to his eventual sad demise.

Dietrich is said to have been the prototype for the sleek and deadly “femme fatale” (fatal women) that became popular in the film noir genre of the 30s and 40s. While later femme fatales used their wiles and sexuality for nefarious ends, such as gaining money or favors, Dietrich’s Lola is not out for money or property, in fact, she doesn’t seem to have an endgame other than to string the hapless professor along and use and abuse him. Against all rationality, they actually get married, which doesn’t exactly go the way the good professor had imagined.

The late renowned film critic Roger Ebert, perhaps like many viewers of the film, found this puzzling.

“There are times when she seems fond of him, times when she is indifferent, times when she is unfaithful, and yet she has a certain stubborn affection for this pathetic figure,” he writes in his 2001 review of the English language version. “Perhaps he acts as a front for her shadow life of discreet prostitution; perhaps, in a world that regards her as a tramp, she values the one man who idealizes her.”

3. The Blue Angel PosterMatthew, a blogger with classicartfilms.com, came to the same conclusion, that “she probably was fond of him and had some form of sweet affection towards him. I also believe it was because he was one of the few men in her life who regarded her less as a tramp or a prostitute and more as a human being. There are times in which she seems to care for the professor’s feelings and then the next minute she can coldly be indifferent to them by being openly unfaithful.”

He also says that the song that Lola sings at the end of the film, “sums up her character perfectly and how she embodies the perfect all-dominant female sexual creature; a dangerous woman who can naturally move from one male victim to another, always feeling completely indifferent about it.”

The song is “Falling in Love Again,” which is used in the finale of the American version of the film because it wasn’t as dark as the German language version, which has the professor, destitute and filled with remorse, dying at the desk he used to teach from at his former school.

In it, Dietrich sings, “I can’t help it … Men swarm around me like moths round a flame … And if their wings are singed, surely I can’t be blamed …Falling in love again …Never wanted to … What’s a girl to do?”

What’s a girl like Lola to do, indeed?

Watch The Blue Angel on MovieZoot.com here.