MY TOP 5 BETTE DAVIS FILMS
During a career spanning sixty years, American actress, Bette Davis, made some of the greatest films of all time. She had an infinitely wide range, working in almost every genre, including drama, comedy and even horror. She began her career at nineteen and she went on to star in a string of wonderful films in a career that never hit a low point until the day she died. Looking back on Davis’ work, over 100 years since she was born, it is safe to say that she is one of the greatest actresses – or even THE greatest – to ever grace the silver screen. With an upcoming retrospective, entitled The Hard Way: The Films of Bette Davis, starting today at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, Black Sheep takes a look back at our five favourite Bette Davis films, starting with the best of them all.
1. WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? (1962)
One of the most quotable films ever made (“But cha are Blanche! Cha are in that chair!” “You know we’ve got rats in the cellar?”), WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? is sad, funny, outrageous, and unlike anything Davis had done before it. In the film, Davis plays Baby Jane Hudson, a reclusive ex-child star who lives alone with her wheelchair bound sister, Blanche (Joan Crawford). Blanche had been an extremely successful screen actress before a car accident, possibly caused by Baby Jane, crippled her. Years later, living in a decaying mansion, Blanche is terrorized by her cruel sister. Much hype surrounded the film’s release, as it was the first film Davis did with Crawford, who she had a lifelong rivalry with, a rivalry that would become even stronger when Davis was recognized by the Academy for this film instead of Crawford. The two are perfect as the duelling sisters, each splashed with ridiculous amounts of horrifying makeup. In Baby Jane, it is sometimes difficult to tell whether Davis’ performance is brilliant or ridiculous, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
2. All About Eve (1950)
A very close second, ALL ABOUT EVE is largely recognized as one of the greatest films ever made, winning six Oscars, beating SUNSET BOULEVARD for Best Picture. (Davis was nominated for Best Actress, but lost to Judy Holliday in BORN YESTERDAY). Davis stars as Margo Channing, one of the world’s most respected stage actors. In an industry that refuses to acknowledge Margo’s increasing age, she is constantly starring in roles that are far too young for her. When introduced to Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), a girl who claims to be her biggest fan, Margo takes pity on the girl and allows her to act as her assistant. Later in the film, Margo learns that Eve’s intentions may not be as harmless as she thought.
3. Jezebel (1938)
Winning Davis her second and final Oscar (her first was for the 1935 film, DANGEROUS), JEZEBEL is a truly wonderful film. Davis stars as Julie Marsden, a headstrong young woman whose arrogance causes her fiancé, Pres (Henry Ford), to leave her. A year later, Pres returns. A regretful Julie begs for his forgiveness and confesses that she still loves him, only to be shattered when Pres introduces her to his wife. As arrogant as the day he left her, Julie schemes to try and get the love of her life back. Julie Marsden is such great character. Unfortunately, one year after JEZEBEL was released, GONE WITH THE WIND came along and Scarlett O’Hara, an equally arrogant character, caused many to forget Davis’ wonderful performance as Julie.
4. Dark Victory (1939)
Just one year after winning an Oscar for JEZEBEL, Davis took on one of her heaviest roles in the film, DARK VICTORY. Davis plays Judith Traherne, a young, carefree socialite. Judith ignores her many headaches and spells of dizziness until one day, she is seen by a doctor after falling off a horse. The doctor informs her that she has an inoperable brain tumor, causing Judith to decide how she plans to live the rest of her short life. Davis’ performance is exceptional in the film. Initially, it appears that Davis is playing a role she has already played many times before, but this drastically changes after her diagnosis. Davis was nominated for Best Actress for this film, but lost to Vivien Leigh in GONE WITH THE WIND.
5. Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964)
Davis’ second collaboration with director, Robert Aldich (WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?), was also supposed to star Joan Crawford. Crawford worked on the film for a few days, before dropping out due to “illness”. She was replaced by Oscar nominee, Olivia de Havilland (GONE WITH THE WIND). In the film, Davis plays Charlotte Hollis, an elderly woman feared by her town for allegedly killing her lover. When the government plans to knock down her mansion to make room for a new highway, Charlotte calls on her cousin Miriam (de Havilland) for help. Charlotte’s cry for help turns out to be a terrible, terrible choice. The film opened to generally positive reviews, and though an amazing film, it has never been able to eclipse its predecessor, BABY JANE.
The Hard Way: The Films of Bette Davis runs at TIFF Bell Lightbox from Friday, November 15, through Sunday, December 8. For more information and tickets, visit tiff.net.