Doubling down on her no-holds-barred perf in R.K.O.’s OF HUMAN BONDAGE/’34, Warner Bros. gave Bette Davis plenty to chew on, swallow and spit right back at you in every reel of this trashy tale. She’s a jinxed actress, down on her luck when society architect Franchot Tone takes her on as a charity project. Naturally, they capitulate, screw up his engagement with unexciting Margaret Lindsay and nearly destroy each other. Real-life doomed actress Jeanne Eagles (prominently mentioned in the storyline*) was the likely inspiration for these melodramatic doings, but there’s little resemblance to anything real under Alfred E. Green’s mechanical megging. (Second-unit man Russell Saunders is likely responsible for the famous third-act smash-up.) It still remains intensely watchable, in spite of some unintended giggles, thanks to lots of chemistry between Tone & Davis, plus a few lifelike moments, as when Davis tells off housekeeper Alison Skipworth. Yikes! Few actress worried less about playing the sympathy card, compare with Kate Hepburn’s actress in MORNING GLORY/’33, yet they each got Oscar’d for them.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Davis always claimed to have dubbed the nameless Academy Award statue ‘Oscar’ after she brought the award home and noted a resemblance to her then-husband’s (Harmon Oscar Nelson) backside. Hmm.
DOUBLE-BILL: *The astonishing Jeanne Eagles survives in one film, a stage-bound, but utterly fascinating early Talkie adaptation of Somerset Maugham’s THE LETTER/’29, handsomely remade by Davis with William Wyler directing in 1940.