Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Bette Davis Week: Where Love Has Gone (1964)

Good lord is this movie awful. You never really know what you're going to get with these later-period Bette Davis performances; sometimes she's lively and entertaining, and just as often she's stumbling through hacky crap for the sake of a paycheck. Where Love Has Gone is definitely the latter; Davis has a decent-size supporting role as the rich and humorless Mrs. Hayden, mother to neurotic/slutty sculptor/heiress (quite a combo, that) Valerie Hayden, played by Susan Hayward. Mrs. Hayden is pretty much an evil hag, manipulating everyone in her life to her own selfish ends without a shred of remorse, and Davis brings a little bit of life to the role, but it's not on the level of her great camp-nasty performances of the '60s. She shows up every so often to fuck up the lives of the main characters, not that they really need her help.

Right, the main characters: Hayward's Valerie gets married to war hero Maj. Luke Miller (Michael Connors, best known as the title character from Mannix), who turns into a self-pitying drunk after Mrs. Hayden ruins his chances to start his own home-building business. Valerie responds to Luke's drinking by sleeping with every man she meets, and eventually they get a divorce orchestrated by, yep, Mrs. Hayden herself. Luke moves away, and Valerie gets custody of their daughter. All of this is laid out in a flashback that takes up more than a third of the movie; the story is really about the now-teenage daughter Dani (Joey Heatherton), who's locked up for murdering Valerie's latest lover in a fit of rage.

The whole thing is absurdly soap-operatic, inspired loosely by the case of Lana Turner's daughter's having killed Turner's boyfriend in 1958. There's no social relevance here, though -- it's all played for maximum histrionics, and Hayward and Heatherton make up for any overacting that Davis neglects to deliver. There's an annoying tension between the obviously seedy sexual exploits the characters are meant to have engaged in (which are probably more explicitly laid out in the Harold Robbins novel) and the semi-veiled way the movie has to portray them in order to fit mainstream standards of the time. Connors is square-jawed and boring, and the characters are so irritating and reprehensible that I kind of wanted them all to share one particular character's fate and stab themselves to death. They could also have stabbed crooner Jack Jones of "Theme From The Love Boat" fame for singing the terrible, terrible title song (which was nominated for an Oscar!). Just a really, really bad movie.

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