Watch with Me

By Barb Pert Templeton

Bored with the “Boob Tube?”

Have all the laugh out loud sitcoms morphed into reruns? No more Wednesday night trifectas of police, fire and medical shows from Chicago welcoming you to the couch?

Summer may be all about sunshine, swimming and outdoor concerts but it also puts out the lights on all our prime-time TV favorites. So, if it’s a hot muggy night after a long day at work time to chill indoors but what to watch?

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My plan? Leaving the 21st century behind and clicking my remote to Netlflix, Amazon Prime or simply popping in a DVD to see my favorite classic movies.

Being raised in a household where viewing “old movies” was the norm seeing Humphry Bogart, James Stewart and even the Bowery Boys on screen regularly built a fondness for classic film. Of course, my favorite was anything with Bette Davis.

Didn’t matter if she was the brassy harsh talking villainess or the softer picked-on heroine I loved to see where she’d take the character and viewers.

For most “Jezebel” and “All About Eve” are what come to mind when considering Davis’ best films in a career that included more than five dozen movies. Yet some of my favorites from the temperamental bug-eyed Warner Brothers starlet fall to this trio: “All This and Heaven Too,” “Mr. Skeffington” and “Pocket Full of Miracles.”

All This and Heaven Too – 1940 – Directed by Anatole Litvak for Warner Brothers

Storyline: An uncharacteristically shy and subdued Davis plays a governess to actor Charles Boyer’s four children in France in 1846. Spoiler alert, the twosome falls madly in love. Of course, never acting on their desires she tends to the children while he fends off his spouse’s continued insults and suspicions. Set in France the costumes and sets are great and the ending brings a very unexpected twist.

Behind the scenes:

  • Unlike his image on screen Charles Boyer was short, round and had a disappearing hairline so when Davis first saw him out of costume, she didn’t recognize him and tried to have him removed from the set.
  • Bette Davis’ 37 costumes cost $1,000 each.

My take on it: At 2 hours and 20 minutes this one was trying to fall into the sweeping epic sagas of the time, ala box office blockbuster ‘Gone with the Wind.’ It falls short but is still entertaining enough to tune and you can see actress June Lockhart, just 15, playing the duke’s eldest daughter.

Mr. Skeffington – 1944 – Directed by Vincent Sherman for Warner Brothers

Bette Davis featured in 1944 movie Mr. Skeffington

Storyline: Set in 1914, Davis plays socialite Fanny who spends her days welcoming suitors to her parlor for flirtatious rendezvous thinking she’s definitely ‘all that.’ A family scandal has her marrying the wealthy Job Skeffington (actor Claude Raines) in haste and although he’s devoted to her, she simply sees dollar signs. The couple eventually divorce and Franny, though rapidly aging. continue her quest to capture the attention of all eligible males in town. Who will she end up with at last?

Behind the scenes:

  • In 1944 all Warner Brothers features had a 30-day shooting schedule but Mr. Skeffington took 110 days. When studio big wigs asked why the picture was behind schedule, the reply they received was: “Bette Davis is a slow director.”
  • Davis was going through personal trauma during the filming, her husband had suddenly died of a heart attack. Her state-of-mind was reflected in her treatment of co-stars on set

with frequent personal attacks. Even Davis was later quoted as saying “Only a mother could have loved me at this point in my life.”

My take on it: This tale was definitely worth the 145 minutes spent watching Davis turning from a self-centered queen of her own reflection in the mirror to an almost sympathetic character you begin to root for in the end. 

Pocket full of Miracles: -1961- Directed by Frank Capra for United Artists

Storyline: Davis’ portrays street beggar ‘Apple Annie’ who schtick is providing a large fresh red apple to gangster ‘Dave the Dude’ played by Glenn Ford who’s convinced the fruit brings him luck. When she discovers her daughter, who she sent to live in Spain as a child, will return to town engaged to the son of a Count, all the stops are pulled to turn Annie into a regal lady.

Behind the scenes:

  • Frank Sinatra was originally cast as Dave the Dude, but left due to creative differences with director Frank Capra.
  • Davis was not thrilled to have to play an old hag but she was persuaded by the $100,000 payday. She hadn’t had a lead role since 1956. 

My take on it: I love this movie. Far from the classic Bette Davis role yet seeing her play a gritty vulnerable older character makes cheering for her seem right. Having Hope Lange, Ann Margaret and yes, even Peter Falk in the cast also make these 137 minutes of viewing time a must see for me at least twice a year.

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