Ruth Elizabeth Davisby hannah-gage64 | created - 22 Feb 2014 | updated - 22 Aug 2015 | Public
All the Bette Davis performances I have seen (and my invaluable opinions of them).
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1. The Bad Sister (1931)
Passed | 68 min | Drama
Marianne falls in love with a con artist who has a hidden agenda.
Worth seeing for historical purposes, but not great shakes as a film. There's bonus baby Bogie here, which provides another saving grace to Miss Davis's film debut. You can also see her alongside Slim Summerville, the man with whom Carl Laemmle Jr rather uncharitably compared her charms. It does seem rather a waste to call a film with Bette Davis 'Bad Sister' and then have her play anything other than the title role. Hollywood would learn.
2. Waterloo Bridge (1931)
81 min | Drama, Romance
A prostitute's self-loathing makes her reluctant to marry an idealistic soldier during World War One.
Myra veers into hysteria a little too frequently for my liking - not helped by the writing turning her mood swings and vacillations into a sort of emotional revolving door - and Roy, though attractive, is blandness itself. Miss Davis barely appears, and frequently delivers lines either from out of shot or with her back to the camera, so not a lot to see here on her account. Roy's entire family, including Miss Davis, is a sheer delight, however. One wishes there were an entire movie of their antics. A fun Pre-Code, but nothing unmissable.
3. Way Back Home (1931)
Passed | 81 min | Drama
Seth Parker takes in Robbie Turner and protects him from his cruel father Rube. When the father disappears, Seth intends to raise Robbie as his own son. The vindictive father attacks Mary ... See full summary »
Not exactly a thrill a minute and frequently bogged down in sentiment. It is, at least, an interesting glimpse of a rural New England way of life that no longer exists. Once again, Miss Davis doesn't have too much to do, but she acquits herself well enough. My memories are a little dim, since I had to catch this one at 0430 on TCM, not exactly the most conducive hour for viewing something this slow-paced.
4. Hell's House (1932)
Approved | 72 min | Drama
Jimmy idolizes bootlegger Matt, and when he refuses to implicate his friend, he is sent to reform school. He befriends Shorty, a boy with a heart condition, and escapes to let the world know about the brutal conditions.
This is truly dire, if well-intentioned. Miss Davis gives the best performance in the whole mess, despite being given absolutely nothing of note to do. At least it's relatively short and frequently unintentionally hilarious, particularly with its near-constant, oblivious homoeroticism. There's also a truly jaw-dropping casual use of the n-word toward the beginning of the film. You have to take your entertainment where you can with this one.
5. The Man Who Played God (1932)
TV-G | 80 min | Drama, Romance
After losing his hearing, a musician uses lip-reading to help others.
The beginning of an era: Miss Davis's crucial contract with Warner Bros. And my oh my but there's a lot of ACTING going on here... Yes, all caps ACTING. The film's stage roots are all too apparent, but there is a genuine charm to the story and the sincerity with which it's told. Mr Arliss, alas, looks rather mummified here - I've always found there to be an unsettling physical resemblance to Lon Chaney Sr's interpretation of the Phantom of the Opera, truth be told - and, in common with the majority of the cast, doesn't do particularly subtle work. (I feel obligated to note that I do quite like Mr Arliss in some of the other films in which I've seen him.) Miss Davis is like a jolt of electricity through the otherwise lugubrious production, although, as Mordaunt Hall pointed out in his New York Times review, she does occasionally speak too rapidly for the microphone.
6. So Big! (1932)
Unrated | 81 min | Drama, Romance
Following the death of Selena's father, she's offered a job as a teacher in a small town and a new chapter of her life begins.
The first of Miss Davis's many appearances with George Brent and her only one with Barbara Stanwyck - although saying she appears with Miss Stanwyck is a bit of a stretch as they never occupy the screen at the same time. A good film with several excellent performances, particularly Miss Stanwyck in the lead and Miss Davis (who still speaks a touch too rapidly for that microphone), Dick Winslow and Dorothy Peterson in supporting roles. My primary complaint is that the whole enterprise feels a bit shallow and rushed, as presumably is inevitable when condensing an Edna Ferber epic to a scant 80 minutes of screen-time. Worthwhile nonetheless.
7. The Rich Are Always with Us (1932)
TV-G | 71 min | Comedy, Drama, Romance
A socialite gets a divorce but can't keep out of her ex-husband's life.
I have absolutely no idea what this title means. I have no idea why this movie exists. I do not care even remotely about these characters or their romantic entanglements and disentanglements. But those sets! Those Orry-Kelly gowns! Style over substance is the best possible summary of this film. Miss Davis looks gorgeous and is extremely engaging. If a young, adorable Bette Davis is what you seek, this picture comes recommended. Just let everything else wash over you. Also interesting to note is that George Brent performs the lighting two cigarettes in his mouth and giving one to Ruth Chatterton trick that would become so iconic a decade later - only with Paul Henreid and Bette Davis performing the action in a far more interesting story.
8. The Dark Horse (1932)
Passed | 75 min | Comedy
Jailbird is hired to lead a dimwitted candidate's campaign for governor.
There are moments of genuine hilarity in this political satire - and there is a timelessness to a number of the elements of the electoral process that the film skewers. I always have a bit of a problem with films in which a man's non-payment of alimony is meant to be seen as an endearing character quirk rather than as an irresponsible, sleazy act. No matter how heinous a harpy the ex-wife in question is, that invariably rubs me the wrong way. I also have a bit of an allergy to Frank McHugh. Warren William, Miss Davis, Guy Kibbee and Vivienne Osborne acquit themselves very well; the film isn't consistently funny, but when it hits the mark, it does so admirably.
9. The Cabin in the Cotton (1932)
TV-G | 78 min | Drama
A tenant farmer's son is caught in the middle of owner-tenant disputes when he falls for the plantation owner's seductive daughter.
'I'd like to kiss ya, but I just washed my hair - bye!' Perhaps the first classic Bette Davis performance: a manipulative Southern vixen. She is perhaps the most powerful force pulling Marvin Blake (Richard Barthelmess, flagrantly nowhere near the age his character is meant to be) away from his tenant farmer roots and toward the more glamorous world of the planters. True to its preamble, the film endeavours to present a balanced perspective on the planter vs tenant conflict. This is undermined somewhat by Berton Churchill's abrupt transformation into a pantomime villain toward the end of the picture, but he and Miss Davis come back around just as suddenly at the fade-out. Worth watching for Miss Davis's performance alone, but an interesting film in its own right.
10. Three on a Match (1932)
Passed | 63 min | Crime, Drama, Romance
Although Vivian Revere is seemingly the most successful of a trio of reunited schoolmates, she throws it away by descending into a life of debauchery and drugs.
An insanely entertaining Pre-Code, careening at breakneck speed through Ann Dvorak's transformation from dissatisfied wealthy lawyer's wife to dissolute addict. In the titular trifecta, Miss Dvorak gets all the juicy acting opportunity, the delightful Miss Blondell gets all the wisecracks and Miss Davis... gets to look nice and periodically strip down to lingerie and bathing suits. In short, she gets the short end of the stick here. What the film lacks in Davis content it makes up for in the debut of the 'tough guy' incarnation of Humphrey Bogart. It fills me with ridiculous glee when he responds to a curly-headed moppet's plea not to hurt his mother with a sneering 'Okay - I'll bear that mind.' Tremendous fun, if very Davis-light.
11. 20,000 Years in Sing Sing (1932)
Passed | 78 min | Crime, Drama, Film-Noir
Brash hoodlum Tom Connors enters Sing Sing cocksure of himself and disrespectful toward authority, but his tough but compassionate warden changes him.
The only screen collaboration between acting titans (and birthday buddies) Bette Davis and Spencer Tracy - their superb chemistry, on display both here and in the Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of Dark Victory they did together, makes this a real shame. Tracy and Davis make a truly dynamic duo. The film itself isn't too shabby either, if occasionally straining credulity with its major plot points. Miss Davis is also made to convey being critically injured with the 'aid' of two gauze armlets and a gauze choker, an experience which likely contributed to her taking such matters into her own hands on the set of Marked Woman five years later. An exciting and well-acted prison drama from the studio that specialised in that genre.
12. Just Around the Corner (1933)
Approved | 18 min | Short, Drama
Promotional short produced by General Electric for release through Warner Bros. to advertise GE's home appliances.
It's more fun than it should be to watch the top stars at Warner Bros. shill for General Electric. Miss Davis gives impassioned endorsements of products from electric dishwashers to doorbells, although there are a few (hilarious) moments in which her annoyance at having her barely-tapped talents wasted on a glorified advertisement for household appliances bubbles to the surface. It's short and painlessly entertaining.
13. Parachute Jumper (1933)
Passed | 72 min | Drama
To share expenses unemployed Alabama move in with also unemployed Bill and Toodles. Bill is hired by a gangster's mistress and ultimately becomes the gangster's bodyguard. Alabama ... See full summary »
My severe allergy to Frank McHugh rears its ugly head again. This is a fun little romp, if by no means a masterpiece. Mr Fairbanks makes a thoroughly entertaining hero and there are far more action-packed aerial sequences here than in any other Bette Davis film (which, admittedly, isn't saying much). Miss Davis is adorable and trots out her Southern accent again, although she doesn't have an awful lot to do. Watch out for a Pre Code instance of 'flipping the bird'!
14. The Working Man (1933)
Passed | 78 min | Comedy, Drama, Romance
Successful wealthy shoe manufacturer John Reeves takes a vacation, leaving his business in the hands of his nephew. While on vacation Reeves runs into his rival's heirs, who are living it ... See full summary »
I have a soft spot for this film. Not only is Mr Arliss looking significantly less cadaverous than in The Man Who Played God (although I could easily have muddled my way through life without catching a glimpse of his bare feet), he's an unqualified delight, as is Miss Davis. Nothing earth-shattering here, but there are certainly far worse ways to spend 78 minutes.
15. Ex-Lady (1933)
Unrated | 67 min | Comedy, Drama
Although free spirit Helen Bauer does not believe in marriage, she consents to marry Don, but his infidelities cause her to also take on a lover.
The good: Miss Davis looks divine and occasionally gets to issue proto-feminist statements. The bad: pretty much everything else. Literally none of the male characters are even remotely likeable. Gene Raymond oscillates between being excruciatingly bland and treating Miss Davis's character rather abominably. His appeal is a complete mystery. Monroe Owsley is sleazy and refuses to take Miss Davis's repeated 'no's for an answer. Frank McHugh is... Frank McHugh. The film also can't seem to decide what, if any, stance it's going to take on the story's major theme - whether long-term, intimate relationships without benefit of clergy are practical or advisable.
16. Bureau of Missing Persons (1933)
Passed | 73 min | Comedy, Crime, Drama
Butch Saunders has been transferred to Missing Persons because he was too brutal in other police work. He regards the assignment as "kindergarten" work. When a young woman asks him to help ... See full summary »
A mishmash of adventures in the titular Bureau, with Judge Hardy (aka Lewis Stone) leading his detectives wisely in their endeavours to restore missing persons to their loved ones - or whoever else is looking for them. Miss Davis, the top-billed performer, doesn't show up until half an hour into the 72 minute film, which should give you some idea of the scattered focus and wide scope of the plot. Likewise, it careens tonally from a semi-realistic procedural to wacky police comedy to... whatever a sequence in which carrier pigeons being tracked by plane is presented as a logical solution to a problem can be called. Wildly uneven, and Pat O'Brien's character, Butch, is often dangerously close to being merely an unlikeable, physically abusive jerk.
18. Fashions of 1934 (1934)
78 min | Comedy, Drama, Musical
When the Manhattan investment firm of Sherwood Nash goes broke, he joins forces with his partner Snap and fashion designer Lynn Mason to provide discount shops with cheap copies of Paris couture dresses.
19. Jimmy the Gent (1934)
Passed | 67 min | Comedy, Crime, Drama
An unpolished racketeer, whose racket is finding heirs for unclaimed fortunes, affects ethics and tea-drinking manners to win back the sweetheart who now works for his seemingly upright competitor.
20. Fog Over Frisco (1934)
Approved | 68 min | Crime, Mystery, Thriller
The lifestyles of Arlene and Valkyr Bradford, half-sisters from a respected San Francisco family, diverge markedly as Arlene takes up with criminals.
22. Housewife (1934)
Passed | 69 min | Drama
Nan Reynolds encourages her copywriter husband Bill to open his own agency. Nearly out of business, he finally gets a client. Former girlfriend Patricia Berkeley writes a very successful ... See full summary »
23. Bordertown (1935)
Approved | 90 min | Crime, Drama
Embittered when prejudice cuts short his nascent law career, once-idealistic Johnny Ramirez leaves his home in Los Angeles and ends up in Mexico. He quickly becomes the invaluable ... See full summary »
24. The Girl from 10th Avenue (1935)
Approved | 69 min | Drama
When his fiancée Valentine dumps him, prominent lawyer Geoffrey Sherwood goes on a bender and winds up married to a stranger, Miriam Brady. They decide to give their marriage a chance. ... See full summary »
26. Special Agent (1935)
Approved | 76 min | Crime, Drama
Newspaperman Bill Bradford becomes a special agent for the tax service trying to end the career of racketeer Alexander Carston. Julie Gardner is Carston's bookkeeper. Bradford enters ... See full summary »
29. The Golden Arrow (1936)
Approved | 68 min | Comedy, Family
It's the Florida party season for heiresses, with both Oklahoma oil heiress Hortense Burke-Meyers and New York face cream heiress Daisy Appleby in the state. And where the single American ... See full summary »
30. Satan Met a Lady (1936)
Approved | 74 min | Comedy, Crime, Mystery
In this spoof of the story The Maltese Falcon (1941) is based on, a double-crossing woman, the two-timing P.I. she hired, the corpulent "empress of crime", and a gentleman thief are all after a legendary priceless eighth-century ram's horn.
31. Marked Woman (1937)
Approved | 96 min | Crime, Film-Noir, Thriller
A crusading DA persuades a clip joint "party girl" to testify against her mobster boss after her innocent sister is accidentally murdered during one of his unsavory "parties".
33. That Certain Woman (1937)
Approved | 93 min | Drama, Romance
Mary Donnell, a young legal secretary with a past, elopes with a client's son, but his father has the marriage annulled without knowing she's pregnant.
34. It's Love I'm After (1937)
Approved | 90 min | Comedy
An actor of the stage finds himself pursued by a lovestruck fan while trying to patch up a tempestuous relationship with his actress lover.
37. Dark Victory (1939)
Approved | 104 min | Drama, Romance
A young socialite is diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, and must decide whether or not she'll meet her final days with dignity.
38. Juarez (1939)
Approved | 125 min | Biography, Drama, History
Louis Napoleon III takes advantage of the American Civil War to circumvent the Monroe Doctrine and expand his power by helping Emperor Maximillian Hapsburg to add Mexico to his empire. of Mexico.
40. The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939)
Approved | 106 min | Biography, Drama, History
A depiction of the love/hate relationship between Queen Elizabeth I and Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex.
42. All This, and Heaven Too (1940)
Approved | 141 min | Drama, Romance
A duchess' irrational behavior toward the governess of her children triggers tragic events that will change her family's lives forever.
43. The Letter (1940)
Not Rated | 95 min | Crime, Drama, Film-Noir
The wife of a rubber plantation administrator shoots a man to death and claims it was self-defense, but a letter in her own hand may prove her undoing.
45. Shining Victory (1941)
Approved | 80 min | Drama
In a Scottish sanitarium, a brilliant research psychiatrist works on a treatment for dementia precox. He falls for his altruistic female lab assistant and they begin a passionate tragic relationship.
46. The Bride Came C.O.D. (1941)
Approved | 92 min | Comedy, Romance
A financially-strapped charter pilot hires himself to an oil tycoon to kidnap his madcap daughter and prevent her from marrying a vapid band leader.
48. The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942)
G | 112 min | Comedy, Romance
When acerbic critic Sheridan Whiteside slips on the front steps of a provincial Ohio businessman's home and breaks his hip, he and his entourage take over the house indefinitely.