Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

ALL THIS AND HEAVEN TOO



ALL THIS AND HEAVEN TOO (1940). Director: Anatol Litvak. NOTE: Important plot details are discussed in this review.

In 19th century France, a young woman, Henriette (Bette Davis) becomes governess to the four children of the Duke Theo (Charles Boyer) and Duchess Frances (Barbara O'Neil) de Praslin. Frances is a neurotic woman who lacks the maternal instincts of Henriette, and her condition is worsened by her deepening suspicion that Henriette is trying to usurp her place in the affections of both children and husband. Henriette and Theo do fall in love, but their relationship never becomes intimate. This does not stop Frances from hating her rival with a passion matched only by Theo's hatred of his wife.

Rachel Field based the novel upon which the film was based on a true story, making Henriette (to whom she was related) completely innocent, which was probably not true in real life. Casey Robinson's screenplay makes both Duke and Duchess so one-dimensional that it's hard to figure out the true reasons for why their marriage went so wrong and how much Theo contributed to his wife's emotional distress. Theo is supposed to be so noble, but is only -- in essence-- a gigolo who married Frances for her father's money. Frances is made almost entirely hateful so that the audience will be on Theo's side when he commits a frightful act late in the picture.

Despite these unsatisfactory aspects, All This and Heaven Too is an entertaining, well-made film for the most part, and moves quickly for nearly two and a half hours. Bette Davis offers one of her loveliest, most subdued portrayals, and wisely doesn't try to compete with an excellent Barbara O'Neil for histrionics. (O'Neil sort of out-Bettes Bette.) Boyer is good, but during his big love scene with Davis he merely seems to be woodenly reciting lines -- where is the passion generated by Davis? Jeffrey Lynn does a nice job as a kind minister who offers Davis salvation -- and romance (and he's younger and better-looking than Boyer, wouldn't you know it? Only in Hollywood!) The movie is drenched in acceptable Max Steiner romantic music, and Ernest Haller's photography is good but not especially striking. There are a host of fine supporting players in the film, and little Richard Nichols nearly steals the show as the adorable youngster, Reynald. If you can watch the scene when the kid lies sick in his bed, near death, without getting a lump in your throat you're way tougher than I am.

Verdict: Interesting version of historical incidents. ***.

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