Monday, March 3, 2008

Tastes great, less filling

Every Tuesday night in March, TCM is looking at psychiatry in the movies. One of this week's selections is Now, Voyager, at 1:45 AM ET on March 5. (That's 10:45 PM March 4 on the west coast; don't get me started on TCM's days beginning not at midnight, but at 6:00 AM.) This movie is generally considered a classic, so you probably know the story already: Bette Davis plays an old maid who suffers a nervous breakdown at the hands of a domineering mother; she's saved by psychiatrist Claude Rains who sends her on a cruise to South America where she meets and falls in love with divorcé Paul Henried.

I'd like to dwell on that nervous breakdown for a minute. "God, talk to me!" wails Davis, after being prodeed by Bonita Granville. "You people like making fun of me, don't you?" Well, yes. We like making fun of your over-the-top scenery chewing. It's always good for a laugh. Indeed, I find one of the best things about watching Bette Davis' movies is waiting for those scenes when she goes off and starts overacting. A few of my favorites:

In 1934's Of Human Bondage, there is the famous scene of Davis telling off poor Leslie Howard. "And when I kissed you, I used to wipe my mouth," she tells him, and then, making an exaggerated gesture of wiping her mouth on her sleeve, repeats, "wipe -- my -- mouth!" It's supposed to be one of the key dramatic moments of the movie, but I can't help but laugh at it. "I want the truth," says Howard. "You can't handle the truth!" replies Davis. (Er, no; that's a different movie, but the sentiment is the same.)

Davis spends much of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? over the top as she torments poor Joan Crawford, although in fairness to her, most of the time, the script calls for it. Bette would repeat this in Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte, but again here, it's due in large part to the typecasting she had gotten as Baby Jane.

My favorite Davis rant, however, is probably in In This Our Lives. Bette Davis has just run down a pedestrian, and blamed it on a young black man, although it looks like her attempt to frame him is doomed to failure. Davis looks to her rich uncle (played by the lovable Charles Coburn) for consolation, but he's just discovered he's terminally ill and only has months to live. When he tells Davis he's going to die, compassionate Bette responds, "You've lived your life! What about mine? Mine's only just begun!"

What's your favorite Bette Davis rant?

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