One of the true giants of the golden age of Hollywood Bette Davis’s career spanned forty years, her biggest years being from the late thirties through to the early fifties.
Davis had started out in second string roles in the early thirties in films such as Three on a Match and 20,000 Years in Sing Sing before becoming Warner’s most important actress more than able to hold her own against her male counterparts including the likes of Humphrey Bogart and Errol Flynn.
Davis felt that Warners kept her down and throughout much of her career was at loggerheads with them, nevertheless they did put together some fantastic projects for us, movies that have stood the test of time and are classics today. Here are our pick of five of the best of them.
Take Jezabel in which Bette plays a self-involved southern belle whose neurotic attempts to mould her fiancé (Henry Fonda) to her own designs eventually bring about her tragic downfall. Made in 1938 and directed by William Wyler the movie was seen as something of a pre-empter of Gone With The Wind, here Davis is at her scheming and sensual best.
Marked Woman is more of a minor movie from 1937, still in Warner’s gangsters vein, which they were undisputed kings of, and sees Davis co-starring with Humphrey Bogart and playing a nightclub hostess who has to testify against her mobster boss, again it’s a very intense performance from Davis.
The Man Who Came To Dinner is a piece of 24 carrot gold with a brilliant performance from Monty Woolley as author Sheridan Whiteside who finds himself confined to a suburban home after an accident and is soon creating chaos, Davis here is second fiddle to Woolly as his unflappable secretary but the movie is a piece of pure joy.
Old Acquaintance (remade years later as Rich and Famous) is a classic chick flick with Davis playing author Kit Marlowe whose best friend is fellow writer Millie (Miriam Hopkins). Millie has everything that Kit wants – including her husband, the story spans 20 years as Marlowe’s life starts to unravel. It’s high quality drama that should be compulsory viewing for today’s rom-com style film-makers.
Whatever Happened To Baby Jane is the classic 60’s gothic horror that teamed Davis with fellow screen legend Joan Crawford for a very creepy story about an ageing former child star who lives with her invalid sister – before too long murder is in the air. Both stars are fantastic and the movie did much to revitalise their careers allowing Davis to find something of a niche late in her career.