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All This And Heaven Too (1940)
All This, and Heaven Too is based on a novel of the same name by Rachel Field. It tells the story of loving governess Henriette Deluzy-Desportes (Bette Davis) in 19th century France who cares for the three children (three girls and a little boy) Duc (Charles Boyer) and Duchesse du Praslin (Barbara O'Neil). It is not long until the suspicious, possessive and insanely jealous hypochondriac Duchesse du Praslin thinks there is something between the governess and her husband (when it is, in fact, purely platonic) which brings up a change of events with some disastrous and fatal consequences.
Bette Davis ... Henriette Deluzy-Desportes
Charles Boyer ... Duc de Praslin
Jeffrey Lynn ... Henry Martyn Field
Barbara O'Neil ... Duchesse de Praslin
Virginia Weidler ... Louise
Helen Westley ... Madame LeMaire
Walter Hampden ... Pasquier
Henry Daniell ... Broussais
Harry Davenport ... Pierre
George Coulouris ... Charpentier
Montagu Love ... Marechal Sebastiani
Janet Beecher ... Miss Haines
June Lockhart ... Isabelle
Ann E. Todd ... Berthe (as Ann Todd)
Richard Nichols ... Reynald
Bette Davis, late in life, told Boze Hadleigh in one of her numerous interviews with him that she could not be accused of repeating herself. She could not have been closer to the truth, because she went from role to role giving powerhouse performances, and even if the movie in itself was less than stellar, she would make sure the viewer remembered her. See-sawing from playing a doomed heroine dying from a brain tumor in DARK VICTORY to playing Elizabeth the Queen in THE PRIVATE LIVES OF ELIZABETH AND ESSEX to playing Queen Carlotta in JUAREZ and then doing a complete about-face to stun audiences with her nasty portrayal of Leslie Crosbie in THE LETTER, she could do it all.
And in ALL THIS AND HEAVEN TOO she does it again. Playing a much more maternal woman that she is noted for, she plays Henriette Deluzy-Desportes, a governess employed by the Duke Theo de Praslin to care for his children (among them a young June Lockhart and restrained Virginia Weidler). She is not welcomed by his wife, the Duchese de Praslin, who would rather have her out on the streets than anyplace in the house. It's never truly explained why her initial disdain for Henriette rapidly escalates into a grotesque display of hatred gone mad. Certainly the Duke doesn't show signs of being a womanizer, but something in the way he and Henriette treat each other may suggest otherwise.
Unrequited love and triumph of the spirit is at the center of this story focused not only on Henriette's experience while working at the Praslin house, but her brave attempts to forge a life where society would have her be the tainted woman for being in the middle of a marital scandal. I was surprised that Davis would have chosen this role -- this would be a showcase for someone like Joan Fontaine, who had a winning streak playing these kind of mousy, noble women, so simperingly noble you want to slap them into reality -- but she makes the role her own. Davis this time, instead of wildly emoting, goes the other way around and conveys so much more in key scenes with her sad eyes and shy body language.
She is well-matched by veteran actor Charles Boyer, and if in later accounts she expressed a vague disdain for him it doesn't show in any of their scenes together. Boyer, most remembered from GASLIGHT, plays a broken man as if her were living the part at that moment. This of course, leads to Barbara O'Neill, a largely forgotten actress most known for playing Vivien Leigh's mother in GONE WITH THE WIND in 1939. Looking strikingly familiar to Ava Gardner, serpentine, her character is the one who walks away with the film and I can certainly see Davis telling O'Neill off-screen to hit her with as much venom as she could, and boy, does she! She not only walks off with the movie, she walks off with the director in tow, the 67 sets, the entire production and the celluloid packed neatly under her arm.
One of the best examples of a "woman's picture" that most actresses at the time were producing with varying degrees of success, ALL THIS AND HEAVEN TOO manages to rise well-above its material, based on a notorious case in the mid-1800's, and of course is one of Davis' prime outings. It only received one Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress for Barbara O'Neill, well-deserved. Anatole Litvak would go to greater films like ANASTASIA, SORRY WRONG NUMBER, and THE SNAKE PIT.
This excellent period drama is based on a popular novel of 1939 by Rachel Field. It told a version of the story of the murder, in Paris in 1847, of Fanny Sebastiani Choiseul-Praslin, Duchesse and wife of Theobald, Duc de Choiseul-Praslin. Fanny was the daughter of Marachal Horace Sebastiani, one of the leading political and social figures in the July Monarchy or Orleans Monarchy of France, under King Louis Phillippe (1830 - 1848). This was a middle-class supported monarchy, and was far more liberal than it's predecessor monarchy under King Louis's cousins the Bourbons. But by 1847 it had grown corrupt, and it was suffering a series a serious scandals. The murder of Duchesse Fanny by her husband was the last real blow. Supposedly the marriage had collapsed due to the growing relationship between Theobald and the children's governess, Mlle. Helene Deluzy-Desportes. The actual relationship between the governess and the Duc remains questioned, although most believe she was his lover. Rachel Field, a descendant of Fanny and her later husband, Rev. Martyn Field, presented the governess as the victim of circumstances (working in a household that was falling apart). Finally, whatever the cause, Theobald beat Fanny to death, and tried to make it look like a burglar did it. Instead the Surete was not fooled, and Theobald was arrested. But while under arrest he took poison, and he died denying his guilt and denying the involvement of the governess. Fanny came to America, where she taught school and married into the Field family (her brother-in-law Cyrus was a financier who laid the Atlantic Cable, and her brother-in-law Stephen was an Associate Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court). As for the French, they blamed the government for allowing the Duc to escape justice, and within a year the July Monarchy was overthrown. Marachel Sebastiani (Montague Love in the film) died prematurely in 1851 - the last victim of the crime.
The film, except for the pro-Deluzy-Desportes slant, is excellent with a fine, restrained performance by Davis, an intense one by Boyer (who finally explodes in one scene where he shows his thorough hatred for his wife), and a marvelous performance by Barbara O'Neill as Fanny. I would thoroughly recommend this one for movie fans - a fine example of the best of Warner's historical films.
Anatole Litvak certainly loved France.He made films in that country during the previous decade ,some of which were remarkable .He ended his career in Victor Hugo's land but his latter efforts were not really exciting.Even when he was in Hollywood ,he never forgot it as this "all this and Heaven too" ,"Act of love" and parts of "decision at dawn" bear witness.
France is currently rediscovering Litvak who was brought down ,like so many great American directors (Zinnemann ,Wyler,Stevens),by the notorious critics of the Nouvelle Vague and their fusty Cahiers du Cinéma.But now their diktats are over and thanks to many contemporary historians of the French cinema (Bertrand Tavernier,Patrick Brion),he is given in the country which was another homeland to him the place he had always deserved.
"All this and Heaven too" might be my favorite Litvak movie,although his American career is as rich as that of any director .In spite of a historical gaffe ("that woman overthrew Louis Philippe "is as laughable as Marie Antoinette's sentence (which she never said) "let them eat cake".
La Restoration and Louis -Philippe: After the 1789 French Revolution ,the nobles emigrated and Napoleon ,who was eager for a Court,made a new nobility.His officers ,who were of common birth,were conferred a title :"Baron d'Empire" for instance;that was Henriette's grandfather's case.
Henriette is of that kind an old noble such as la Duchesse de Praslin can only treat like dirt;those nobles were impostors!With Henriette,it was hate at first sight,even before she became dear to the duke and the children.
That old nobleness,epitomized by the duchess ,was all bigotry,religion ,but they were socialites first.In the XIX th century ,those chic ladies did not care about their children they left to their governess .The Duchess was not alone: Balzac,Maupassant,Flaubert (Madame Bovary did not really like her daughter) and even a writer for children such la Comtesse de Segur painted a picture of the "bad" mother .The story happens in 1846-1847,and Louis -Philippe's days as a king are numbered.The writers are asking for Republic:Lamartine who is mentioned in the film,and Victor Hugo -who wrote the article about Henriette in la Conciergerie- were not the least ;the latter was forced to exile himself after the fall of the short-lived Second Republic (1948-1952).
Had he lived half a century before,the duke would have been part of the daring nobles such as La Fayette who fought for the Revolution.Even if we are not told so,his union was probably a marriage of convenience.The Duchess is egoistic,neurotic,hateful ,incapable of love and affection her children long for.A "pious " woman ,but a woman who uses a priest to keep a close watch on her husband.Note the presence of the priest in the bedroom of a dying child.
Litvak's directing is mind-boggling.He perfectly recreates the atmosphere of the desirable Hotel Particulier where the duke lives.His style is refined : the ball which we see on reflection on the mirrors is a scene Max Ophuls would have died for;the brief moment of happiness on Hallows Eve ;the snow ,symbol of purity:the duke is as virtuous and as loyal as Henriette.The performance in the THeatre Royal which the king attends and which finally backfires on the two heroes:Racine's "Phedre" -Rachel who is mentioned was the thespian of the era,her portrayal of the Greek heroine (whose situation is not unlike the chaste lovers') was praised to the sky then-.
The prologue and the epilogue are excellent: the long flashback is introduced in a very original way.Davis ,in front of the blackboard full of trigonometric formulas ,begins to tell her tale. One of her lines in the epilogue is the most moving in the whole film :"Now,you write the ending of my story" she tells her students .
An absorbing screenplay,where even a fairytale (do you want to be happy when you are young or later when you get older?/I'd rather be happy later:if I've got everything now,what can I expect from life afterward?) plays a prominent part.
French Charles Boyer and Bette Davis give superlative performances and the supporting cast(Barbara O'Neil almost steals the show from Davis sometimes) including the four children (special mention for little Reynald) is up to scratch.This is the Creme de la Creme of the melodrama genre.