For the release of a restored version of the classic melodrama. From screwball romps to wild-eyed chillers, Voyager, here is the finest of Hollywood’s queen of mean.
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20. Death on the Nile (1978)
Agatha Christie film Bette Davis was nearing the end of this Agatha Christie movie, with A-listers dialing in an enhanced version of themselves. On a paddle boat in the 1930s, Peter Ustinov’s detective Hercule Poirot investigates the murder of a wealthy heiress and suspects an American woman named Mrs. Van Schuyler, played by Bette Davis, of attempting to steal the victim’s pearl necklace.
19. The Star (1952)
One of Davis’s gothic “has-been” roles, this one was nominated for an Oscar, although it isn’t widely known or appreciated. She portrays Maggie Elliot, a former movie star who is now broke, unable to find work, and forced to take a job at a department shop. When she finally accepts a role in a film about an ex-star who can’t come to terms with the end of her career, the plot takes an intriguing meta route.
18. The Scapegoat (1959)
While working with Alec Guinness and Robert Hamer on this Daphne du Maurier adaption, Davis plays a bedridden character with some terrific stairway work when she wants to enter the drawing room for a scene. Played by Guinness, a shy Englishman is forced to face with his family, including a cranky countess (Davis) who is dubious of her son because of his sudden change in demeanour.
17. Juarez (1939)
During her “melodrama” phase, Davis was given the opportunity to show off her hauteur, neurosis, and a sad sense of entitlement in this “queenly” part. As the wife of Austrian Archduke Maximilian (Brian Aherne), who was crowned ruler of Mexico by Napoleon III in the nineteenth century, she holds no less a title than Queen Carlota of Mexico (Claude Rains). With the help of the American-backed Mexican populist Benito Juaréz (Paul Muni), Benito Juaréz’s army pushes Napoleon to evacuate French forces, leaving Maximilian and Carlota vulnerable. During her return to Paris, Davis’s Carlota has a desperate, frantic moment.
16. All This, and Heaven Too (1940)
For this pre-revolutionary France scenario, Charles Boyer and Davis are a perfect match, but perhaps these two actors are too similar in their self-consciousness to be a truly great movie romance. Davis plays a governess, Henriette, who is a far cry from her usual caustic villainous demeanor. This sweet-natured young woman, whom the Duc de Praslin (Boyer), a man plagued by his miserable marriage, falls head over heels in love with, becomes his new mistress. In the aftermath of the fight with his wife, Davis is given an air of martyred purity and romance.
15. The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942)
Davis made his first foray into the world of humor in this screwball frolic based on the Moss Hart-George Kaufman stage production. When Sheridan Whiteside fractures his hip while on a national lecture tour, Maggie Cutler, his assistant, persuades a prominent local family to allow him to stay with them while he recuperates. She is Maggie Cutler, the self-effacing spinster. Maggie falls in love with Bert, a local newspaperman and budding dramatist, while they are dealing with this nightmare-inducing houseguest; she decides to marry him and pledges to exhibit his current play to Sheridan. However, the reviewer appears to enjoy the play and cleverly arranges for a handsome young actor in it, who would lure Bert away from Maggie, to be cast in it.
14. Of Human Bondage (1934)
A darker, more shrewish and unsympathetic performance than the ones for which Davis would become famous, this was Davis’ breakout role in a film adapted by W Somerset Maugham. Lewis Howard plays Leslie Howard as a sensitive medical student and would-be artist who falls for the blowsy, blond waitress Mildred (Davis). He is on the verge of losing his life because of his fascination with a woman who has no respect for him. Davis had a stagey and strident role in the film, but it surely made her a household name.
13. The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939)
Michael Davis stars in a film about Elizabeth I’s complicated political fling with Errol Flynn’s Earl of Essex. Davis, who was 31 at the time of the play, had to wear a lot of makeup to play the role of Essex, who was 31 at the time of the play. She is enamored by Essex, who has just won the battle of Cádiz in her honor. The fear of his ambition, treachery, and fame, as well as his possible relationship with Lady Penelope Grey, played by Olivia de Havilland, accentuates their sexual chemistry. Davis was occasionally overshadowed in romantic comedies by the more swaggering leading man.
12. Hush … Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964)
Davis’s performance as Miss Havisham-like character Miss Reed in this follow-up to What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? was nothing short of sensational. After 30 years of being plagued by the murder of her husband, Miss Charlotte, an aging and lonely southern beauty, has arrived. Local officials want to demolish her home to make room for a new motorway, so she enlists the help of her young cousin, who has familial ties to the area. Legal action brings up all kinds of ghosts from the past for Miriam (Olivia de Havilland), who is the protagonist in this film. Davis’ gothic performance was excellent, but she really needed a star like Joan Crawford to play off of.
11. Mr Skeffington (1944)
Anti-Semitic melodrama The Staircase has additional stunning staircase moments with Davis on her most toweringly unsympathetic form, as well. To say that Fanny is shallow and self-obsessed would be an understatement: She’s the vain, spoiled and empty-headed sister of Trippy. When Mr. Skeffington (Claude Rains) is accused of stealing from his Jewish employer, Fanny realizes that she must woo this man and convince him to marry her in order to save her beloved Trippy from going to prison. With all of its unhappiness and dishonesty the Skeffingtons’ marriage begins, with Mr Skeffington all too aware of how the bigots feel about him, and how little his coquettish wife truly cares about that or anything else, and so on Davis plays a terrible character, but she gets rescued at the end.
10. Dangerous (1935)
Of Human Bondage was Davis’ breakout role, and she won her second Oscar for this portrayal, which was a considerably more likable and relatable one than her first. As a former actress, she portrays Joyce, a jinx-obsessed woman who believes that everybody who gets near to her is doomed. She meets Don (Franchot Tone), an architect who, despite being engaged, falls head over heels in love with the fascinating and turbulent Joyce. He then puts his money where his mouth is and backs Joyce in a new play, resulting in an emotional commotion that Davis is clearly enjoying.
9. The Letter (1940)
This noir melodrama, largely based on a genuine scandal and another Somerset Maugham adaption, provided Davis one of her greatest movie “entrances.”. The film begins at a late-night rubber plantation in Malaya, where indigenous employees are dozing or playing cards as the camera pans across the landscape. Suddenly, they hear gunshots; a guy stumbles out of the main house as Davis calmly follows him, firing bullets into him while the camera pulls in for a closeup on her stunningly uncaring beauty. This man was allegedly attempting to rape Leslie Crosbie (the manager’s wife), but a letter found in Davis’s possession proves that she had already planned the rendezvous. A defense against attempted rape, Leslie contends, this letter must now be returned. A powerful and tantalizingly mature performance.
8. Dead Ringer (1964)
Actor Paul Henreid directs this suspenseful thriller in which Davis plays one of two identical twins. Both Margaret, a recently widowed widower, and her sister Edith, a spiteful, dowdy singleton who once dated the wealthy man Margaret married after fooling him with a false claim of pregnancy, are played by her. To get her hands on her sister’s money and comfort, Edith has devised a plot to kill Margaret and make it look like her own suicide, so she may take her place. Granted, the “twins” idea may have pushed Davis to overact, but it’s still an amusing performance.
7. Jezebel (1938)
“Phosphorescent beauty” is what Graham Greene referred to Davis’ “phosphorescent beauty” in this southern belle role that earned her her second Oscar. Davis’s character, Julie, is betrothed to Henry Fonda’s Pres Dillard, a banker in pre-Civil War New Orleans. Instead of the white gown that unmarried females are meant to wear to the elite Olympus ball, his wary fiancée achieves Jezebel status by insisting on wearing a daring red dress. Because of the humiliation of Pres marrying someone else, Julie becomes filled with vengeance and ends up in a tragic situation herself. Davis is at his best in this role as an American aristocracy.
6. Marked Woman (1937)
A public disagreement with Warner Bros. over the quality of her scripts reintroduced Davis as a studio player with this brazen criminal drama.. Humphrey Bogart’s portrayal of a district attorney on the campaign trail in the fight against a legendary racketeer who employs nightclub hostesses to dupe patrons into drinking and gambling was a surefire hit with her. It is Mary, played by Davis, who is scared of being “tagged” as a hostess if she refuses to serve her boss any food or beverages. A straightforward performance, if a little one-note.
5. The Little Foxes (1941)
In William Wyler’s film adaptation of a Lillian Hellman play, Davis gave a stunning performance as a young lady on the verge of maturing into a haughty, condescending, yet secretly frightened older woman. Regina Giddens plays a married woman who is resentful of not being as wealthy as her brothers, who are the legal heirs to their father’s estate, yet again as a southern belle. To encourage her ailing husband to fund the brothers’ new cotton mill, she bargains a larger portion of the company, which leads to a violent confrontation with her tired husband, who finally sees how much she despises him and probably herself as well. Fear and dismay are clearly visible on Davis’s face, creating a terrible mask.
4. Dark Victory (1939)
In this epic and unabashedly emotional melodrama, Davis was nominated for a second Oscar and paired with “Little Ronnie Reagan,” the actor she called. Davis portrays Judith Traherne, a carefree socialite who enjoys parties, smoking, and drinking. She appears to be in awe of her own beauty. Judith is convinced to see a specialist, Dr Steele, played by her longtime co-star George Brent, who diagnoses a brain tumor and realizes that she does not have long to live and that death will be preceded by a brief period of blindness. Judith’s death will be preceded by a brief period of memory loss. When Dr. Steele falls in love with Judith and marries her out of compassion and romantic valour, he vows to keep Judith’s condition a secret from his wife until the end.
3. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
To avoid being written off as a has-been in Hollywood during the early 1960s, Bette Davis discovered a method to satirize not only her own persona but modern America’s obsession with the cult of youth in the fiercest and most brilliant way possible. She teamed up with Joan Crawford in a harrowing picture that had a positive impact on both of their careers. A former child star on the vaudeville tour, “Baby” Jane Hudson (Davis) went downhill from there into alcoholism and delusion as she outgrew the act. After Jane’s acting career flopped, her older sister Blanche (Crawford) became a Hollywood star but suffered a terrible car accident that left her unable to work. A nasty and neurotic connection now exists between these two wrecked belles. The wide-eyed ingénue of old has evolved into an eye-rolling monster, and that’s to be expected in a performance like Davis. In any case, it’s a fascinating and weird spectacle, as well as a classic Davis performance.
2. Now, Voyager (1942)
Adapted from Olive Higgins Prouty’s now-forgotten bestseller, this is Davis’s most passionate and impassioned love melodrama. With its massive transformation sequence, it is possibly Davis’ most technically impressive film. Her name is Charlotte, and she begins the film as an introverted spinster whose domineering mother, played by Gladys Cooper, dominates her. Finally, Charlotte is able to escape away to a sanatorium administered by Claude Rains, who is both shrewd and sympathetic. Henreid’s Jerry Durrance (Paul Henreid) is a sensitive, intellectual married man who meets Charlotte on a cruise ship and they fall madly and irrevocably in love. With the help of Jerry’s daughter, Charlotte discovers a new purpose in life and a sense of belonging. Despite its glitz and glamor, Now, Voyager manages to elicit real emotion from the audience, thanks in large part to the outstanding performance by Viola Davis.
1. All About Eve (1950)
There’s going to be a rocky night ahead, so buckle up! Michael Davis’s masterpiece is Joseph Mankiewicz, an edgy black comedy-drama that riffs on the has-been stereotype while making it more unsettling. The cuckoo in the nest evicted the has-been from his position as a still-am. Elisabeth Bergner was the inspiration for Mary Orr’s short story, The Wisdom of Eve, which Mankiewicz adapted into his film.
A dazzling Broadway performer of a certain age, Davis portrays Margo Channing, a romantic lead who may not be around for much longer. She meets Eve (Anne Baxter), who tells her a story about her being a war widow; Margo gets her a job as an assistant, and Eve becomes parasitically indispensable and arranges to become Margo’s understudy; she does this all without Margo’s knowledge. The star soon realizes her protege’s plan to seize control of her profession and personal life. Her cynicism and wariness is made clear by the funny and incisive writing, which includes plenty of drinking, smoking, gown-wearing, and hair-styling. When it comes to Davis’s career, female friendship and female hostility have always been prominent themes, but never so droll and insouciantly depicted (with great supporting turns from George Sanders, Celeste Holm and Marilyn Monroe). Because of her talent for cutting, acidic speech, Davis had been eagerly awaiting this job.