Tuesday, May 22, 2012

All This and Heaven Too

I mentioned once quite a long time ago that All This, and Heaven Too is one of those films that shows up surprisingly infrequently on TCM. It's got a top-notch cast, stellar production values, and was made at Warner Bros., so TCM should have an easier time with the broadcast rights. But for whatever reason, it doesn't seem to show up quite as often as some of the other prestige films from Warner Bros. That having been said, it's on again tomorrow morning at 9:30 AM, and even though it's got a fairly long running time at 141 minutes, it's worth a watch.

All This, and Heaven Too is actually based on a true story, that of French nobleman Charles de Choiseul-Praslin. Choiseul-Praslin was a duke, played here by Charles Boyer, during the reign of Louis Phillipe in the 1840s. More on the Duke in a bit. The movie actually opens up with Henriette (Bette Davis), playing a teacher at an all girls' school in the US several years after the 1848 revolution that overthrew Louis Phillipe. Her students know that Henriette has a past, and when they ask her about it, she decides to set the record straight....

Flash back to 1840s France. Henriette is the governess to the aforementioned Duc de Choiseul-Praslin. He's married to the Duchesse (Barbara O'Neil) and has four children (obviously, or else there wouldn't be a need for a governess). Although they've got four children, they no longer have a happy marriage. It's a difficult situation for Henriette, but she makes the best of it, treating the children as best she can, and they adore her in return. Unfortunately, this only serves to make the Duchesse angrier and more jealous. Not only does she fear they're loving the governess more than they love her; she fears the same could be said about the Duc. As a result, the Duchesse decides the best course of action would be to fire Henriette, and not give her any letter of recommnedation. The Duc is none too happy about this, and the result is that the Duchesse is killed by his hand. Henriette and the Duc are both accused of complicity in the murder even though Henriette is quite innocent. The real-life Duc poisoned himself, while Henriette made her way to America with the help of Rev. Henry Field (played here by Jeffrey Lynn), whom she wound up marrying. In fact, the original novel All This, and Heaven Too was written by Henriette and Rev. Henry's grandniece.

The movie version is unsurprisingly top-notch, as you would expect from a Warner Bros. period piece made in 1940. The only caveat might be that studio-era period pieces don't have quite the realistic look that more recent period pieces do, but Hollywood couldn't do much about that. Bette Davis is good as usual, and who better to play French than Charles Boyer? I don't know quite how closely the movie follows the actual events, and how much is embellishment just to have a good story. Even with that caveat, any fan of movies form the studio era should love this one. It's gotten a number of DVD releases, too, so you shouldn't have much trouble finding it if you miss it on TCM.

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