All This, and Heaven Too (1940)

All This, and Heaven Too (1940)

Synopsis:

Governess Henriette Deluzy (Bette Davis) is hired by a French aristocrat, the Duke de-Praslin (Charles Boyer, Hold Back the Dawn), to look after his children, but the Duke’s emotionally unstable wife (Barbara O’Neil, Gone with the Wind) develops an irrational hatred for Henriette which leads to tragedy.

Reaction & Thoughts:

“Happiness isn’t a little cake which we can cut up to fill our appetites.”

Think The Sound of Music (1965) in black and white, without songs and laced with sexual tension, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what it’s like to sit through this movie. All This, and Heaven Too is a good but not great period piece that, unfortunately, is a little too cold around the edges to garner any kind of ardent fan following.

It’s hard to believe now, but All This, and Heaven Too was movie mogul Jack L. Warner’s response to David O. Selznick’s 1939 classic Gone with the Wind. Although filmed in austere black and white, the film was every bit as lavishly produced as Selznick’s 1939 masterpiece. Warner even ordered his staff to refer to the movie as ATAHT, an obvious reference to Selznick’s famous GWTW moniker. The stunt didn’t work and while the film was a success, it fell short of its high expectations.

I have to admit that I’m confused by Warner’s desire to sell the movie as an epic. Although the story contains romance and intrigue (All This, and Heaven Too is a recreation of a sensational murder case that shook the very core of King Louis-Phillippe’s regime), this is a rather low-key drama. It’s not the kind of story that lends itself to big melodramatic scenes. You have to read between the lines to get the most out of the story.

Henriette Deluzy was Europe’s Lizzie Borden. Historians still debate whether she was guilty of participating in a murder plot or not, but this movie operates from the premise that Henriette was blameless. In my opinion, the movie would have been much more interesting if Casey Robinson’s (The Corn Is Green) script had allowed viewers to decide whether Henriette was guilty or not of murder.

Taking a much-needed break from mercurial characters, Bette Davis gives an effectively subdued performance as the shy Henriette. Aside from an emotionally-charged courtroom sequence near the end of the movie, Davis is required to be calm for most of the duration of the movie. Perhaps recognizing that the lead character was not all that strong, Davis toyed with the idea of playing the angry wife and asked Warner to hire Greta Garbo (Ninotchka) to play the governess.

Charles Boyer and Barbara O’Neil walk away with the movie — they both give vibrant, heartfelt performances. It’s hard to overshadow the titanic Davis, but at times Boyer and O’Neil manage to do just that — O’Neil received an Oscar nomination for her excellent performance. The great cast also includes Harry Davenport (Meet me in St. Louis), Jeffrey Lynn (The Roaring Twenties) and George Coulouris (Murder on the Orient Express). June Lockhart (TV’s Lost in Space) plays one of the kids.

Anatole Litvak (Sorry Wrong Number) meticulously directed this grand-scale production — promotional material insisted that the film used more sets than Gone with the Wind. Ernest Haller (What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?) is responsible for the glossy and beautifully atmospheric cinematography. The fantastic music score was written by the legendary Max Steiner (Since You Went Away). Orry-Kelly (The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex and Some Like it Hot) designed the fancy costumes.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

All This, and Heaven Too might not be as effective as they intended it to be, but it’s still a very solid production. I didn’t fall in love with it, but I definitely enjoyed its high production values and good performances. While Charles Boyer and the underrated Barbara O’NeilIt clearly steal the show, it was a nice change of pace for Bette Davis, who was rarely asked to play low key roles. B&W, 141 minutes, Not Rated.

4 responses to “All This, and Heaven Too (1940)

  1. Garbo and Davis? Wow, that would have been something to see! I just watched this movie several weeks ago and had an ambivalent reaction. I think you hit on it, though it didn’t occur to me at the time, that it would have been more intriguing if we were unsure of her culpability in the murder.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m with you. I enjoyed this movie, but felt it needed something a little more complex to really bring out the most it had to offer. It was as if they were being too careful not to cross lines.

    Liked by 1 person

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