All about Bette

TIFF highlights Bette Davis gold with The Hard Way: The Films Of Bette Davis

“She’s ferocious and she knows just what It takes to make a pro blush” – lyric from “Bette Davis Eyes” by Kim Carnes

In the opening scene of the unaired 1965 pilot for the TV sitcom The Decorator, its star Bette Davis (cast as interior decorator Liz) flies into her living room with arms jetting out, her white beach muumuu forming a perfect square. She poses a question to her assistant (played by the irrepressible Mary Wickes.)

“Do you think my type is coming back?”

Dear Ms. Davis, all I can say to that is “I wish!”

Sassy Miss. D may have been a glamorous movie star but more importantly she was a great character actor. This still happens today of course, we have great female actors like Meryl, Alfre, Cate and Tilda to enjoy. But Miss. Davis … well, she was something special.

Meryl said it best (on the TCM Davis tribute short she narrates):

“She changed the requirement that actresses in the movies invariably be likeable or attractive, she lifted the veil of appropriate behavior in women, to expose what was scary, unexpected or ugly, in other words to do what was appropriate for the character.”

Launching this month, TIFF Bell Light Box’s The Hard Way: The Films Of Bette Davis will feature 15 films that “trace two time Oscar winner Davis’ four-decade evolution from glamour girl to grande dame to Gothic gargoyle.”

The movies featured include Of Human Bondage (1934), Dangerous (1935), Jezebel (1938), The Letter (1940), The Little Foxes (1941) and my all-time favorite, 1950’s All About Eve.

Respected movie reviewer Pauline Kael called All About Eve “Ersatz art of a very high grade, and one of the most enjoyable movies ever made. A young aspiring actress, Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), intrigues to take the place of an aging star, Margo Channing (Bette Davis), on stage and in bed, and the battle is fought with tooth, claw, and a battery of epigrams.” Of Davis she says, “Bette Davis is at her most instinctive and assured. Her actress-vain, scared, a woman who goes too far in her reactions and emotions-makes the whole thing come alive.”

Yep, if you’re gonna see one Davis film at The Hard Way, go see All About Eve.

Of course, a chance to see the new digital restoration of the 1962 cult classic Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? will be a hard thing to resist. The audience for that screening alone should make it a riot!


Sadly for me, no TV movies are featured. So, no White Mama, Strangers: The Story Of A Mother and Daughter or Scream, Pretty Peggy.

Sissydude sad face.

Anyhow, let’s end this with my personal Top Five Bette Davis things:

5. In 1962, 54 year old Davis placed an ad in Variety under the heading “Situations Wanted – Women Artists” which read, “Mother of three- 10, 11 & 15- divorcee. American. Thirty years experience as an actress in Motion Pictures. Mobile still and more affable than rumor would have it. Wants steady employment in Hollywood (has had Broadway).”

4. Whales Of August (1987) is a guilty pleasure. Libby Strong (Davis) is a silver haired blind and bitter old woman who is looked after by her sweet sister Sarah, played by puppy cute Lillian Gish. This soft, sunny drenched movie moves at a snail’s pace (as do all the three over 70 actors) and you never see a whale! But you do get to see a jolly round Ann Southern walk down a steep hill picking blue berries for what seems like eternity. Vincent Price fishes and eats one blueberry and Davis yells “Saaaaaaaaarrrraaaahhhh” a ton. They don’t so much chew the scenery but hold on to it for dear life.

3. Miss Bette Davis… Sings! This 1976 compilation of eleven Davis recordings is so incredibly awesome! The track “Growing Older, Feeling Younger” is quite beautiful. She feels the lyric like Capitol years Sinatra would. Her speech from “All About Eve” is here and her sleepy singing on “Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte” is a scream.

2. Bette Davis interviewed by Dick Cavett in the late 1960s. In a smart black cap and dress, smoking non-stop and drinking whisky (or is it apple juice?), Davis is utterly fascinating and fun talking to Cavett about sexual repression, kissing scenes, ingratitude and suing Warner Bros. You can watch segments on YouTube or check TCM… they air it frequently.

1. Bette Davis in Patrick Kelly. During the end of her life Davis became a staple on talk shows. She would frequently wear and sing the praises of Paris-based, African-American designer Patrick Kelly. She would look stunning in his bright colored button heart dress, red question mark dress and Jughead-like crown. It was quite magical and inspiring seeing her so happy, smart & young. Working it till the end, that Miss. Davis! (You can watch her in Patrick Kelly on Letterman via YouTube)

To win a pair of tickets to one of the film screenings during the retrospective, visit our Facebook page and comment on you favourite Bette moment!

The Hard Way: The Films of Bette Davis runs Fri, Nov 15 – Sun, Dec 8
TIFF Bell Lightbox, 350 King St W
TIFF The Hard Way website

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TV & Film, Culture, News, Toronto, Arts, Canada

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