ALL THIS, AND HEAVEN TOO (Anatole Litvak, 1940)

Bette Davis would have been Oscar-nominated for her magnificent, deeply moving performance as young French governess Henriette Deluzy-Desportes had William Wyler’s The Letter, in which Davis acts even more brilliantly, not come out the same year and closer to year’s end. Based on an actual scandal involving rumored adultery, a woman’s violent death and her husband’s suicide, and with dire political consequences (the end to King Louis-Philippe’s rule in 1847), All This, And Heaven Too, directed prosaically by Anatole Litvak, is a handsome, lavish, absorbing production that peters out towards the end. It is also saddled with a preposterous, heavy-handed narrative frame involving nasty pupils at a New York girls’ school who torment Henriette into telling her story on her first day of instruction in a new country in the new world. By irritating contrast, the French children in the film, all of them portrayed by American actors, are adorable and well-behaved.
     Charles Boyer moderately well plays Duc de Praslin, whose children become Henriette’s charges, and who falls in love with Henriette, as she does with him. What first attracts the Duke is Henriette’s warm, tender manner with his children—a far cry from how his neurotic wife, Duchesse de Praslin, treats them, herself and everyone else. Of course, the Duchess has a lot to be neurotic about since her spouse makes continually clear in what low regard he holds her.
     The film’s worst aspect is Barbara O’Neil’s bug-eyed acting as the Duchess—something that was Oscar-nominated because O’Neil’s peers supported this normally restrained actress who was required to play her scenes thrice, each time more hatefully and stridently, to ensure sympathy for the scandalous, class-mismatched couple and sidestep moralistic objections from the vicious Hays Office that implemented the Hollywood production code.

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