On the year that marks the 60th anniversary of Bette Davis’ movie debut, MGM/UA has released a low-priced collection of four lesser-known Davis movies previously unavailable on video. (Beyond the Forest and The Catered Affair are the best of the four. The others are the smoothly amusing Satan Met a Lady, 1936; and The Bride Came C.O.D., 1941, a mild comedy costarring James Cagney.)
Beyond the Forest is the one to buy for repeated viewing. In King Vidor’s dark and campy morality tale, Davis stars as Rosa Moline, a woman with big ambitions whose style is cramped by her small hometown. Everything about Loyalton hems her in: her husband (Joseph Cotten), a good-hearted doctor; the factory that belches flames all day and all night; the sight of so many middle-class women and their multiplying families. So she haunts the train station and then the weekend retreat of a Chicago financier. Davis is at once cold-blooded and hot, playing the sort of conniving, prideful character she always did superbly, here with a bit of the vamp.
Later in her career, Davis took on an uncharacteristic role in The Catered Affair — an Irish Catholic mother of the bride. The Paddy Chayefsky teleplay, adapted by Gore Vidal and directed for the screen by Richard Brooks, is a somewhat pat story of how the small nuptial event envisioned by the couple assumes a life of its own. The occasion becomes the catalyst for a bittersweet reflection on a life’s regrets, and an attempt to recoup some of its losses. Though it’s a bit strained on these counts, the film is notable mainly for Davis’ ability (she makes great use of her eyes) to give real meaning to much that otherwise would be sentimental. Beyond the Forest: A- The Catered Affair: B