Welcome to another Film Friday! Today we’re continuing our series on films released in 1935, the first full year in which Hollywood studios were forced to adhere to the Production Code, which became official in the summer of 1934. The pictures we’ll be looking at are not connected by performers, but rather by their common bond to the censoring of creativity. Last week we covered the little known The Goose And The Gander. Today we’re looking at Dangerous.
A young fan tries to rehabilitate an alcoholic actress he’s fallen in love with.
Starring Bette Davis, Franchot Tone, Margaret Lindsay, Alison Skipworth, and John Eldredge. Written by Laird Doyle. Directed by Alfred E. Green.
Bette Davis won an Academy Award for her performance in this melodramatic tale of a washed up actress who seems to “jinx” every person — specifically the men — with whom she comes in contact. One of the volatile actress’s lesser known pictures, Davis always felt her 1935 award was a consolation prize after being overlooked in 1934 for Of Human Bondage. (That was the year that It Happened One Night notoriously swept and shocked the Academy.) An enjoyable — but unexceptional — film, Davis is, not surprisingly, the main draw.
Don Bellows (Franchot Tone), a prominent New York architect, is engaged to the beautiful and wealthy Gail Armitage (Margaret Lindsay) , when he meets down-and-out Joyce Heath, who was once the most promising young actress on Broadway. Don feels deeply indebted to Joyce because her performance as Juliet inspired him to become an architect. While rehabilitating her, Don falls in love with the tempestuous actress. Joyce warns him that she is a jinx, convinced that she destroys anything and anyone she touches. Compelled to save her, Don breaks his engagement to Gail and risks his fortune to back the actress in a Broadway show. Before opening night, he insists that they marry, but Joyce resists his proposal, hiding the fact that she is still married to Gordon Heath (John Eldredge), an ineffectual but devoted man who was financially ruined by their marriage.
Joyce goes to Gordon and begs him for a divorce. When he refuses, she causes an automobile accident that cripples him for life. Her own injuries keep her from opening the show, which fails. Don is ruined, and when he learns that Joyce has deceived him, he accuses her of being a completely selfish woman, her only true jinx. Joyce briefly considers suicide, but eventually sees the truth in Don’s accusation. She re-opens the show and, although she truly loves Don, sends him away to marry Gail. The show is a success, and Joyce, now dedicated to a responsible life, goes to visit Gordon and salvage her marriage. (This summary brought to you courtesy of TCM.)
Okay. So the first plot point that audiences must navigate around is the whole “jinx” thing. The script decidedly hammers and hammers and hammers this in, to the point that, although it would be dramatically satisfying to see them narrowly escape destruction, the film makes it appear that destruction is the ONLY possible outcome. Furthermore, while Davis’s actions seem motivated, Tone’s are sloppy — especially when he does exactly what she told him not to do. Okay, we get it: he loves her. But the scripting makes the whole beat almost comical.
Evidence of Dangerous being a Post-Code film is entirely too clear. In addition to an absence of sexuality in the dialogue, the outcomes for all of the main characters are very telling. While the script points toward inevitable destruction, the expectation is that both Davis and Tone will suffer. Instead, Tone gets a happy ending and returns to his pretty, but bland, fiance. (The one scripting thing I liked was the parallel between Tone leaving both Davis and Lindsay and their mutual insistence that he’d return.) As the hero — the good guy — the one who tries to reform the bad girl — it makes Post-Code sense that he’d wind up happily. Additionally, it makes Post-Code sense that the sinful Davis (who is not only a jinx, but selfish to boot) must pay for her transgressions. Okay, so the film doesn’t call them sins; instead she’s “paying her debts.” But it’s tantamount to suffering. And Davis plays it wonderfully to the hilt. In a Pre-Code film, either Tone and Davis would get their happy ending after the hubby’s death, or both would end up suffering together. But we’re a year too late for that.
Davis, like the greatest of stars, has such a strong presence that it’s difficult to fully be objective about her work and her films. But she does a very solid job here, even if it isn’t one of the WOW performances she’d regularly turn in after coming into her own with Jezebel in 1938. The only hammy misstep is her drunk bit in the beginning of the picture. It’s a little self-conscious and overplayed. (Rest assured that she’d have this down pat by 1950’s All About Eve.) Tone is given a boring role — as usual — but he and Davis surprisingly have good chemistry. Incidentally, it was around this time that Tone became engaged to Crawford, and if the legends are to be believed, part of the animosity between Davis and Crawford arose because they were both interested in Tone.
There are some really nice cinematic moments here, and Davis and Tone give most of their scenes appropriate focus and tension. Meanwhile, Skipworth is on hand to bring in some levity, but the script isn’t funny, so the result isn’t humor — just lightheartedness. (Which is nevertheless welcome!) So I’d certainly recommend this film to Davis fans — it’s an essential. For regular classic movie buffs, this isn’t a treasure. It shows its shortcomings a little too blatantly. But it is not without its strengths. And Davis is the main attraction.
Come back next Friday for another 1935 film! And tune in on Monday for the start of a whole new week on That’s Entertainment!