In some of the circles I travel, there are two different types of people — Bette Davis people and Joan Crawford people.
Members of the one camp (and I do mean “camp”) tend to not play nice with members of the other. And don’t even try to get the two in the same room whenever What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? is playing without first nailing down all table lamps and flower vases.
I happen to be a Bette Davis person, and I thank the good folks at Trylon Microcinema for sharing the love with Hollywood’s ultimate romantic anti-heroine this February.
At one point in Mommie Dearest, Faye Dunaway’s Joan Crawford begs to retain her contract at MGM by beseeching Louis B. Mayer, “You’ve always given me my share of bad scripts because you knew I’d make them work!”
Well, Bette Davis was capable of not just making bad scripts “work,” but making them seem like good scripts. And she made good scripts seem like masterpieces. (Though, by my count, she had about as few movies that were “externally” masterpieces — meaning they stood up as masterpieces outside of her own contributions — as just about any silver screen star.)
Davis wielded her sarcasm, her fizzy contempt for the world around like a cat o’ nine tails. She could reduce any leading man into a shriveled husk with one glare. Her tobacco-tarred kazoo of a voice found the humor in each and every line she ever uttered.
Many cherish Davis for her post-Baby Jane efforts, a seemingly neverending series of “psycho-biddie” shocker cheapies that were hardly chivalrous but at least gave Davis, Crawford and a number of other over-the-hill legends a few new fans throughout the ’60s.
Blessedly, though, the Trylon is focusing on the uncontestable Golden Age of Bette, beginning with her jawdropping comeback performance as Margo Channing in Joseph Mankiewicz’s All About Eve this weekend and working back to three of her other Oscar-nominated greats.
There are simply few things more pleasurable in all cinema than watching Davis tear into the role of Margo, and knowing that the movie’s depiction of an actress pushing 40 and at the end of her rope is life imitating art to the nth degree. Margo (and Bette) hold nothing back, and screenwriter Mankiewicz supplies Davis with an unparalleled Whitman’s sampler box of bon mots that just. doesn’t. quit.
The other three movies aren’t exactly wanting for drama, either. My personal favorite, of the three, may be Dark Victory. Why? Here’s why.
Here are the showtimes for Trylon’s “No One Tells Bette Davis What To Do” series:
All About Eve
(1950, dir. Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 35mm)
Feb. 04 & 05: 7:00, 9:35
Feb. 06: 4:25, 7:00
(1942, dir. Irving Rapper, 35mm)
Feb. 11 & 12: 7:00, 9:15
Feb. 13: 4:45, 7:00
(1939, dir. Edmund Goulding, 35mm)
Feb. 18: 5:00, 7:00, 9:00
(1940, dir. William Wyler, 35mm)
Feb. 25 & 26: 7:00, 8:50
Feb. 27: 5:10, 7:00