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

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


PAYMENT ON DEMAND (1951). Director: Curtis Bernhardt.

"When a woman starts getting old, time can be an avalanche, and loneliness a disaster."

Released after All About Eve, but made just before that film was shot, Payment on Demand has long been considered the "lost" Bette Davis film, although it has been shown on TCM (albeit not recently). Joyce Ramsey (Bette Davis) thinks she runs the perfect household for her husband David (Barry Sullivan) and two daughters, but one day David tells her they've been out of love for years and he wants a divorce. Flashbacks then show how they met, courted, fell in love, and the gradual reasons for their marital disintegration. When the film first begins, Davis' acting is so broad and affected, her line readings so bizarre, that initially you think this is going to be another of her terrible latter-day performances, but there's method to her madness. Davis is fine in the flashbacks when she's playing a much younger woman. Her affected acting in the modern scenes is to give the audience a clue as to why David fell out of love with her. She's become something he can't stand, a callous snob, and her weird delivery of lines in the opening scene makes it clear that she's also so self-absorbed that she really isn't listening to anything anyone says to her -- hence her listless, if arch, replies. One of the best scenes has the now-divorced Joyce encountering an old friend Emily (Jane Cowl), who's taken up with a much-younger gigolo and delivers the line highlighted above. At one point David says "Loneliness is a general feeling of not being part of everything that exists." One of the problems with the marriage is that Joyce feels absolutely no real guilt for sort of stabbing David's business partner Robert (Kent Taylor, whom I didn't recognize without his mustache) in the back. Since this hasn't changed by the end of the film, one can't realistically imagine that she's changed enough for David to want to take her back. Natalie Schafer, Otto Kruger, Peggie Castle, Frances Dee, Richard Anderson and Betty Lynn are also in the cast.

Verdict: A bit dated but often quite arresting. ***.

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