Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Bette Davis Month Bonus: It's Love I'm After (1937)

The third time is the charm with the random Bette Davis movies I've been recording from TCM. After a couple of duds, this goofy comedy is a welcome change. It's certainly not a great movie or one of Davis' best performances, but it's entertaining and light, and it zips along at a brisk pace. Davis is good, and she's well-matched by Leslie Howard (the actual lead) and Olivia de Havilland, who is always an appealing collaborator for Davis (I enjoyed their work together in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, In This Our Life and Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte; this was their first movie together). The screwball antics are pretty predictable, and some of the running gags get old. But mostly It's Love I'm After is fun to watch, especially since the actors all give such lively performances.

Howard is egotistical stage star Basil Underwood, who's in a tumultuous relationship with fellow, slightly less famous thespian Joyce Arden (Davis). When infatuated fan Marcia West (de Havilland) crashes his dressing room, he agrees to a proposal by her fiance to spend a weekend at her house behaving reprehensibly in order to disabuse her of her crush. Naturally, disaster occurs: Marcia refuses to budge in her love for Basil, he starts to feel that maybe he's with the wrong woman, and Joyce shows up to throw a wrench in the whole thing. There's a lot of door-slamming and storming off, but it all seems pretty inconsequential. The pleasure is in seeing Howard as the preening egotist with a misguided sense of bettering himself, or Davis as the almost equally egotistical woman who can't resist a man as self-involved as she is. De Havilland's Marcia is more innocent, but she too ends up being plenty manipulative, and has a naughty twinkle to her performance behind the wide-eyed naivete.

There's also Eric Blore as Basil's absurdly put-upon assistant, who is clearly in love with his boss and will do anything for him. The running gag of the assistant packing and unpacking Basil's bags runs out of steam long before the end of the movie, and Blore is a little hammy where the main stars are more restrained. But it's still a fun little touch and a credit to the movie that it doesn't just let the big stars do all the work. The funniest, most effective scene, though, is probably the very beginning, in which Basil and Joyce play out the final scene of Romeo and Juliet, undercutting the romantic tragedy with snarky asides to each other. Howard and Davis play the transition between grandiose Acting and narcissistic sniping perfectly, possibly because they were adept at both in real life.

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