TCM has chosen 1933’s The Working Man as their first offering on Wednesday, August 3 as Summer Under The Stars highlights the career of Bette Davis. The Working Man, airing at 6am5c, marked the second time Davis worked with English actor George Arliss, the first having been 1932’s The Man Who Played God. For their second pairing, Arliss is cast as a wealthy shoe manufacturer who experiences a change of heart when his rival dies leaving two unprepared heirs to take over a less-than-successful business. Arliss goes undercover working for his former rival’s children, played by Davis and Theodore Newton in an effort to help them mature into savvy business owners.
TCM reaches into their own programming vault for Wednesday’s second offering as they present an encore of the TCM biography Stardust: The Bette Davis Story at 7:30am/6:30c. Narrated by Susan Sarandon, the biography, which originally aired on TCM in 2005, offers then-never-before-seen personal photographs, letters and effects from the star’s own archives, thanks to the participation of Davis‘ son, Michael Merrill, who speaks candidly about his mother’s relationship with father, Gary Merrill, to whom Davis was married from 1950 to 1960. More scandal is discussed thanks to the first on-camera interview with Marion Sherry, daughter B.D.’s nanny and later widow of Davis‘ third husband, William Grant Sherry.
On a lighter note, the biography includes interviews about the legendary actress when some of Hollywood’s biggest stars including Jane Fonda, Ellen Burstyn, Gena Rowland and James Woods comment on specific scenes in her now-iconic films.
Then at 9am/8c, it’s back to Bette‘s movies with 1942’s Now Voyager. Bette is cast as dowdy spinster aunt Charlotte Vale, who after suffering a near-nervous breakdown is encouraged by her Dr. (frequent Davis co-star Claude Rains) to go on a cruise and reinvent herself. Davis‘ transformation from spinster to confident woman is more than losing eyeglasses and a new hairstyle. Davis skillfully manipulates everything from her speech pattern to her movement to convey the change convincingly. Like many Davis films, the movie produced one of Hollywood’s most famous quotes. During the closing scene, Davis utters the now-immortal line, “Don’t lets ask for the moon. We have the stars.”
The next two films that follow are some of Davis‘ lesser-known works, but they do feature Davis, so they’re still worth a look. At 11am/10c, it’s Bordertown from 1935. Davis is cast in a supporting role as Marie Roark, the neurotic wife of Mexican border casino owner, Charlie Roark (Eugene Pallette). Also figuring into the mix are Roark‘s casino manager, Johnny Ramirez (Paul Muni) and the object of his affection, socialite Dale Elwell (Margaret Lindsay). Davis is brilliant asMarie when she blatantly flirts with Muni‘s Johnny, despite his obvious distain for her. Fresh off her Oscar-nominated turn in Of Human Bondage, Bordertown is typical Bette as her best, slightly wicked, yet seductively delicious.
Based on the memoirs of a former real-life Sing Sing prison warden, 20,000 Years in Sing Sing from 1932 is next at 12:45pm/11:45c. Co-starring Spencer Tracy, this film centers around Tom Connors (Tracy), a felon who is granted a furlough in order to visit his injured girlfriend (Davis). It’s typical high drama for its time with Davis chewing the scenery as only she can. Louis Calhern is the perfect mob guy whose death figures prominently into the story.
1939’s biopic Juarez once again features Davis with two familiar co-stars, Claude Rains and Paul Muni. This time in political rival roles as Carlotta, wife of incoming Mexican emperor Maximillian (Brian Aherne) and President Benito Juarez (Muni). When Maximillian offers Juarez the position of Prime Minister, he refuses. As she had done in Bordertown, and a few other films before and after, Davis‘ character suffers a mental breakdown, but not before attempting to convince Napoleon (Rains) to reinstate Maximillian‘s army.
Another Bette Davis classic is next at 4:30pm/3:30c, when TCM presents The Letter from 1940. Based on Somerset Maugham‘s story, and directed by William Wyler, The Letter showcases Davis as the shoot first, avoid questions later Leslie Crosbie, who murders a man in cold blood then claims it’s self defense until a letter, written in her own handwriting comes to light proving otherwise.
1936’s The Petrified Forest is next at 6:30pm/5:30c. Having performed in the Broadway stage version, Davis is cast in the film adaptation along with two of the play’s other original actors, Leslie Howard and Humphrey Bogart. For Bogart, taking on the film role he had honed on Broadway meant solidifying him as a bona-fide Hollywood star. Bogart‘s character Duke Manatee was a thinly veiled fictionalized John Dillinger, who takes a diner full of people hostage. Davis plays a waitress, while Howard plays an uncharacteristic drunk. Legend has it that Bogart, despite having created the role on Broadway, was not director Archie Mayo‘s first choice for the role of Duke, but atHoward‘s insistence, he was given the role. A gesture that Bogart never forgot. Years later, he named his daughter with Lauren Bacall, Leslie in his honor.
At 8pm/7c, Davis stars alongside Miriam Hopkins and George Brent in yet another now-classic, The Old Maid. Based on Zoe Akins‘ 1935 Pulitzer Prize-winning play, which was conceived from Edith Wharton‘s 1924 novella The Old Maid: the fifties, Davis shines as Charlotte Lovell, a Civil War-era woman who becomes involved with her cousin’s (Hopkins) former beau (Brent) when he returns on the day his former love is to marry. To further complicate matters, Charlotte becomes pregnant, moves west to give birth, then gives her child to her sister to raise. Time heals all wounds and by movie’s end, Charlotte has reunited with both her child and her sister.
By 10pm/9c, TCM viewers just might figure out that the classic movie network could likely have featured Bette Davis films during the entire month of Summer Under The Stars when they air Jezebel, Davis‘ 1938 masterpiece. When Davis wasn’t cast in Gone With The Wind, Warner Bros. gave her her own Civil War epic as Julie Marston in Jezebel. With Henry Fonda‘s Preston Dillard a worthy substitute for Clark Gable‘s Rhett, Davis exudes the perfect combination of southern charm/fortitude while dealing with lost love, questioned honor and yellow fever. Years ago whenTed Turner was colorizing so many films, I have to admit, I secretly wished he’d tinted the pivotal ballroom scene in which Davis boldly shows up at a 1852 cotillion wearing a red gown. Best line of the film comes whenJulie decides to wear the red dress to the Olympus Ball. When warned by Aunt Belle not to wear it, Julie responds, “This is 1852 dumplin’ 1852. Not the Dark Ages. Girls don’t have to simp around in white just because they’re not married!”
A more mature Bette is seen in 1945’sThe Corn Is Green at 12am/11pmc. Based on Emlyn Williams‘ autobiography, Davis plays Miss Moffatt, a character based on Williams‘ own boyhood schoolteacher, Miss Cooke. Moffatt starts a school in a small Welsh mining town, much to the displeasure of the local squire (Nigel Bruce). After much resistance, she considers closing the school, but thanks to one promising young student (John Dall), she continues her good work with renewed fervor. When the student receives an scholarship to Oxford, a blackmailing girlfriend and an unplanned child cause new problems. Eager for her young student to make something of himself, Miss Moffatt steps in and offers a solution that will benefit everyone in the long run.
Not yet 50, Davis once again plays slightly older at 2:00am/1c in 1956’s The Catered Affair. AsAgnes Hurley, a Bronx housewife toErnest Borgnine‘s cab-driving Tom Hurley, Davis plans their daughter’s (Debbie Reynolds) wedding day,. Despite their station in life, or more pointedly, because of it, Agnes is determined to have a big wedding. Tempers flair as Davis and Borgnine nearly come to blows with each other and everyone around them, but in the end Davis has a revelation that it’s a marriage, not the wedding that’s important. Directed by Richard Brooks, the film was written by Gore Vidal and based on a television play by Paddy Chayefsky.
TCM‘s final Bette Davis film during Wednesday’s Summer Under The Stars presentation is the historical drama, John Paul Jones from 1959. Davis, in a small role, plays Catherine the Great, who, according to this fictionalize epic was romantically linked to John Paul Jones (Robert Stack). Directed by John Farrow, the film became somewhat of a family affair as his daughter,Mia appeared in an uncredited role in the film. While Mia and Davis didn’t share any scenes in John Paul Jones, the two would appear together some 20 years later in Agatha Christie‘s Death On The Nile. Other notable stars includePeter Cushing as Captain Pearson, Charles Coburn as Benjamin Franklin, and of special interest to longtime Days of Our Lives fans like myself, Macdonald Carey (the late DAYS patriarch,Tom Horton) as Patrick Henry.
TCM‘s Summer Under The Stars continues Thursday, August 4 with 24-hours of the films of Ronald Colman.
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