Exceptionally well-produced ‘Women’s Weepie’ for Bette Davis in her prime lets her play saintly, wronged-against governess to a gaggle of troubled children as she fights a natural attraction to unhappy papa Charles Boyer and unearned antipathy from pathological maman Barbara O’Neill (Scarlet O’Hara’s mom in GWTW). Long, but consistently involving, with spectacular chemistry (or repulsion) from the leads, and unusual attention given in support from Helen Westley, Walter Hampden, Henry Daniell, Harry Davenport, George Coulouris & Montagu Love. (Warners, positively spendthrift with character actors.) And if eight decades have left the film with a fair share of sticky moments*, the fact-inspired story helps ground the melodrama in something like heightened reality as Boyer’s domestic crisis mirrors (and perhaps precipitates) the fading fortunes of the restored Bourbon monarchy he’s a part of, and the rise of The French Commune of 1848. (Read between the lines and there’s enough repressed sex & politics for a less romanticized/uncensored remake as a cable mini-series.) Anatole Litvak, who made his international rep directing Boyer in the doomed royal romance of MAYERLING/’36, returns to that film’s Max Ophüls-worthy opulence & fluid staging, now with extra Hollywood gloss.
ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: *That’s some peachy Georgia accent on the cuddly tyke Davis nurses back to health. Of course, he’s really speaking French, so maybe he’s from Southern France.
DOUBLE-BILL: If MAYERLING and HEAVEN carried the torch for Ophüls, Litvak & Boyer show a Lubitsch like touch in TOVARICH/’37. And good luck finding a decent DVD.