The Bette Davis Project: Dangerous (1935)

Dangerous (1935)Synopsis:

Former stage star, Joyce Heath (Bette Davis), has become a penniless alcoholic. Wealthy New York architect, Dan Bellows (Franchot Tone, Mutiny on the Bounty), finds Joyce drunk at a restaurant and takes her to his Connecticut home so she can sober up. Being a huge fan of the actress, Dan decides to rehabilitate Joyce. They, of course, fall in love.

Reaction & Thoughts:

Dangerous, written by Laird Doyle, and directed by Alfred E. Green, is one of the many films that Davis turned from coal into gold by sheer force of will. Loosely based on Jeanne Eagles, the famous Broadway actress who died of a drug overdosed, the film is, unfortunately, drowned in clichés and soapy, silly melodramatics. There’s really nothing special about the movie. It was business-as-usual for Warners — one of many programmers they produced at their “factory”. Except that Davis grabbed the script and treated it like a Shakespearean text.

I’ve always believed that the difference between great actors and a good actors is the ability to rise above the ordinary. It’s easy to be great when you are working with top quality material, but it is nearly impossible to excel with crappola. Despite the fact that she’s up to her knees in B-movie suds, Davis magically makes everything work and won an Oscar in the process.

Critic E. Arnot Robertson (Picture Post) wrote of Davis’s performance, “I think Bette Davis would probably have been burned as a witch if she had lived two or three hundred years ago. She gives the curious feeling of being charged with power which can find no ordinary outlet.” That pretty much summarizes how I feel about Davis’s performance. She often said that the Oscar was a consolation for not winning anything for Of Human Bondage (1934), and perhaps she’s right. But Davis’s Joyce still remains one of the actor’s best early performances.

Tone was an interesting choice for the leading male character. I’m glad that Warner Bros. resisted the temptation of casting George Brent (The Rich Are Always with Us), who was the studio’s number one generic male companion to leading ladies. From the first moment Tone appears, you know that he is no token female escort. The character he plays is hopelessly underdeveloped, but Tone is able to suggest intelligence and class. That gives Davis something she can bounce herself against, and the sparks start flying almost immediately.

Davis allegedly had an affair with Tone, who was dating, yes, Joan Crawford. Some film scholars claim that this is the source of the legendary Davis-Crawford feud. Other scholars swear that the animosity between the two movie stars began a few years earlier when newcomer Davis was inadvertently upstaged by Crawford at a movie preview. Who knows?

There are two more good performances in the film. Margaret Lindsay (Jezebel) is lovely as Tone’s fiance. Alison Skipworth (The Girl from 10th Avenue) plays Tone’s no-nonsense housekeeper. With Douglas Wood, Dick Foran, and John Eldredge.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Dangerous is worth seeing for Davis’s performance alone. Shot by Ernest Haller (Gone with the Wind). B&W, 79 minutes, Not Rated.

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