20. Death on the Nile (1978)
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There were a number of A-list actors who called in to give Bette Davis a boost in this Agatha Christie play, and she was nearing the end of her run. Peter Ustinov’s Hercule Poirot investigates the murder of a wealthy heiress on a paddle steamer on the Nile; Davis’ Mrs. Van Schuyler, who may have wanted to get her gnarled hands on the victim’s pearl necklace, is a suspect.
19. The Star (1952)
This is one of Davis’s gothic “has-been” characters, which became something of a late-career specialty for her, but it did earn her an Oscar nomination. Maggie Elliot is Maggie Elliot, a former movie star who is now bankrupt, unable to find work, and forced to take a civilian job in a department store because of her lack of success. When she is finally granted a role in a film about a former star who cannot accept the loss of her career, the tale takes an intriguing meta turn.
18. The Scapegoat (1959)
In this version of Daphne du Maurier, Davis stars alongside Alec Guinness and the renowned British director Robert Hamer. Davis plays one of her most bedridden characters, but she pulls off some impressive stair work when she needs to descend to make an entrance in the drawing room. With Davis, Guinness portrays a frightened Englishman who is forced to face his family, particularly the cantankerous Countess who is skeptical of her son’s behavior.
17. Juarez (1939)
There were plenty of opportunities for Davis to show her hauteur, neurosis, and sad sense of entitlement in this “melodrama”-style part. King Maximilian (Brian Aherne) has placed her as Mexico’s ruler, and she is known as Queen Carlota, the wife of the 19th-century Austrian Archduke Maximilian (Brian Aherne) (Claude Rains). When Benito Juaréz, a Mexican populist, is supported by the United States, Napoleon is compelled to withdraw French forces and leave the sad puppet king and queen exposed. A desperate, agitated Carlota travels to Paris to try to change Napoleon’s mind.
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 stars are too similar in their self-consciousness to make a truly great movie romance. To play a governess named Henriette, Davis switches into her mousy, soft, submissive demeanor (quite the opposite of her usual caustic villainous persona). This sweet-natured young woman, whom the Duc de Praslin (Boyer), a man plagued by his miserable marriage, falls in love with. 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)
Adapted from Moss Hart and George Kaufman’s theatrical play, this screwball comedy handed Davis a rare opportunity in the comedy industry. 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 steal Bert away from Maggie, to be cast in the role.
14. Of Human Bondage (1934)
Film adaptation of W Somerset Maugham’s novel, this was Davis’s first big break, however her character was darker, more shrewish, and less empathetic than her later roles. Leslie Howard, a delicate medical student and aspiring artist, is captivated by the blowsy, beautiful blond waitress Mildred, played by Davis in a sharp London accent. He is on the verge of losing his life because of his fascination with this woman who has nothing but scorn 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)
Davis portrays Elizabeth I in a film about Errol Flynn’s Earl of Essex’s complicated political relationship with the Virgin Queen. Despite the fact that these actors were both 31 (which was Essex’s age at this historical moment, albeit Queen Elizabeth was 63, and therefore Davis is laboring under heavy makeup) She is smitten with the gorgeous Essex, who has just defeated the Spanish in her name at the Battle of Cádiz. His desire for Lady Penelope Grey, played by Olivia de Havilland, and her fear of his ambition, betrayal, and fame heighten their sexual attraction. Davis, as is often the case in love comedies, was overshadowed by the more egotistical male lead.
12. Hush … Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964)
Another of Davis’ Miss Havisham-style roles is included in this follow-up to What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? After 30 years of being plagued by the murder of her husband, Miss Charlotte, an aging and lonely southern beauty, has arrived. Now when the local government wants to demolish Charlotte’s land to make room for a new motorway, she turns to a young cousin with family links for assistance. In this case, the legal action brings Miriam (Olivia de Havilland) face to face with a slew of old demons. Davis delivers a satisfying gothic performance, but she really needed a legend like Joan Crawford to play off of.
11. Mr Skeffington (1944)
This antisemitism-themed big melodrama features additional spectacular stair scenes with Davis in her most toweringly unsympathetic form. As the conceited, spoiled, and shallow Fanny, she adores her equally spoiled brother Trippy if she cares about anyone at all. In order to get her beloved Trippy out of jail, Fanny must seduce and marry Mr Skeffington (Claude Rains), his Jewish boss, who has accused him of stealing from him. To begin their marital life together, Mr. Skeffington is well aware of how bigots perceive him, but his coquettish bride shows no sign of giving a damn about it or anything else. Davis gets to play a role that is both deliciously evil and ultimately redeeming.
10. Dangerous (1935)
For a portrayal that in some ways echoes her breakout performance in Of Human Bondage, Davis won one of her two Academy Awards, for a significantly more empathetic and approachable performance. As Joyce, a struggling actor, she’s come to believe that anyone who gets too close to her will be cursed. In Don (Franchot Tone), an architect who falls in love with Joyce despite being engaged, she meets Don (Franchot Tone). 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 true scandal and another Somerset Maugham adaption, delivered Davis one of her greatest movie “entrances.”. While indigenous labourers sleep or play cards at a colonial rubber plantation in Malaya, the film’s narrative begins. A guy stumbles from the main home, and Davis calmly pursues him, shooting him as the camera zooms in for a close-up of her stunningly uncaring beauty. While she claims that this man tried to rape her, there is evidence that shows she arranged up an assignation in private. Davis is the wife of the plantation manager. Leslie, despite her claims that she was protecting herself from an attempted rape, must now find a way to obtain this letter back. An edgy and forceful performance.
8. Dead Ringer (1964)
Actor Paul Henreid directed this suspense thriller starring Davis as twins. Both Margaret’s widowed sister, Edith, and her ex-boyfriend, the affluent man Margaret married after fooling him into believing she was pregnant, are played by the same actress. 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. His squeamish fiancee earns the title of “Jezebel” by refusing to wear the traditional white gown expected of unmarried females at the elite Olympus gala. Julie’s brokenhearted vengeance culminates to disaster when Pres marries someone else, making her feel betrayed and humiliated. It’s a fine example of Davis’s aristocratic acting in the United States of America.
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 murder thriller. In any case, she was pleased with this one, starring Humphrey Bogart in the role of a campaigning district attorney who is working to bring down a legendary racketeer who is running a string of nightclub hostesses, whose purpose is to entice clients into drinking and gambling. 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, based on a Lillian Hellman play, Davis produced a stunning performance in which she was on the verge of changing from a manipulating, kittenish figure into the haughty and contemptuous but secretly disturbed older woman. Again, she portrays a southern belle (Davis was actually from Lowell, Massachusetts). Regina Giddens is a married woman who is angry that her brothers, the legal heirs to their father’s riches, are better off. This leads to an explosive confrontation with her exhausted hubby, who finally sees how much she despises him and probably herself as well when she demands a larger stake in the brothers’ planned new cotton mill in exchange for financing it. Fear and dismay are written all over Davis’s face.
4. Dark Victory (1939)
For her second Oscar nomination, Davis was paired with the actor she called “Little Ronnie Reagan” in this passionate melodrama that sweeps you along. Davis plays Judith Traherne, a carefree socialite who enjoys parties, smoking, and drinking. She is outrageously stunning and wide-eyed, as if amazed at her own beauty. Diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor after experiencing dizziness and memory loss, George Brent’s Dr.Steele tells her that she has just a few months to live and that her death will be preceded by a brief period of blindness. Judith is persuaded to see him. When Dr. Steele falls in love with Judith, he promises to keep the seriousness of her illness a secret from her until the end, a promise he keeps to this day.
3. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
For decades, Davis was able to maintain her relevance in Hollywood by lampooning not only her own image, but also modern American society’s obsession with the cult of youth; this was accomplished by satirizing not just her own character, but also modern America’s preoccupation with youth. 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 stage who fell into drunkenness and delusion once she outgrew her role, Davis portrays “Baby” Jane Hudson. Blanche (Crawford), Jane’s older sister who became a Hollywood star after Jane’s career flopped, pays for her to live in a run-down home that her sister inherited when she was seriously injured in a car accident. These two wrecked young ladies now share an intimate, terrible relationship. 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)
This is Davis’s most intense and impassioned love melodrama, adapted from Olive Higgins Prouty’s long forgotten bestseller. With a large-scale transformation scene, it’s one of the most technically proficient films by Davis to date. She plays Charlotte, a mousy, repressed spinster (a favorite Davis character) whose life is dictated by her overbearing mother, played by Gladys Cooper in the film. At long last, Charlotte can relax in a sanatorium run by Claude Rains, a cunning but caring doctor. Jerry Durrance (Paul Henreid) is a sensitive, intellectual, married man who takes a trip with Charlotte and falls passionately, fatefully in love with her. As a result of her connection and mentorship with Jerry’s little daughter, Charlotte is able to come to terms with her past. Despite its gaudiness and ostentation, Now, Voyager manages to be deeply emotional because to Davis’s outstanding performance.
1. All About Eve (1950)
Put your safety belts on, this is going to be a rocky ride. Michael Davis’s masterpiece is Joseph Mankiewicz, an edgy black comedy-drama that riffs on the has-been stereotype while making it more unsettling. In the nest, a cuckoo displaced the has-been from his position as a still-existing person. Elisabeth Bergner was the inspiration for Mary Orr’s short story, The Wisdom of Eve, which Mankiewicz adapted into his film.
A brilliant Broadway actress of a certain age, Margo Channing, is played by Davis, who may not be able to continue playing romantic leads for too much longer. For Margo’s kindheartedness, she hires Eve (Anne Baxter) as an assistant and Eve makes herself a parasite by making herself Margo’s understudy without Margo’s awareness despite her claims that she was a war widow. The star soon realizes her protege’s plan to seize control of her profession and personal life. The snappy and hilarious script explains Davis’ cynicism and mistrust while she indulges in a lot of drinking, smoking, gown-wearing, and hair-tossing. 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). Davis had been hoping for a job like this for a long time, thanks to her knack for biting one-liners.