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Bette Davis TIFF Retrospective

It’s a difficult task to reflect upon the prolific and ever-changing career of the legendary Bette Davis (the 700 or so words here will hardly do justice either). That is however just what TIFF will set out to do across the next few weeks with their latest in a continuing line of film retrospectives.

Beginning on November 15 and running through to December 8, TIFF Cinematheque will showcase The Hard Way: The Films of Bette Davis, with 15 of Davis’s more memorable movies and roles. The series will include some of her earliest works from the 1930’s, including Three on a Match, which tells the dramatic story of three friends who play with luck and fate

Dangerous and Of Human Bondage are also some of her earlier works, as she slowly rose to great fame, as the retrospective carries on through the next few decades, concluding with two of her works from 1964, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte.

The iconic actress adored attention, determined and driven, with tumultuous relationships off screen, and success on. Entangled in the Hollywood Machine of the time, Davis seemed to embrace playing less than pure and proper characters, and was not willing to settle for just a supporting role.

Davis died in 1989 at the age of 81, still working up to her death, and accruing over 100 film credits to the good. She was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress numerous times, winning twice, and both those performances, in 1935’s Dangerous and 1938’s Jezebel, are included in the series.

While the experts at TIFF selected 15 of Davis’ finest, and it’s hard to go wrong with any of the selections, let’s take a look here at four in particularly that are noteworthy.

The Letter Saturday, November 16, 4:30 PM

The titular epistle in this taut and tension-filled drama is powerful piece of incriminating evidence sought after by the devious Leslie Crosbie (Davis). She committed murder, cool and calm both during and after the act, scenes which still unnerve. Davis’ Crosbie is beautiful yes, but too calculative and steely, a female figure not only independent and cunning, but also criminal.

Released in 1940, the film impressively stands the test of time with camerawork, pacing, and mystery that is completely engrossing. A simple and detailed story is bookended by a pair of memorable scenes, and Davis is wonderful to watch crafting and conniving.


All About Eve Sunday, November 17, 1:00 PM

A most famous film with one of the most memorable pieces of dialogue, All About Eve is a timeless classic worth experiencing over and over again. This Best Picture winner from 1950 features Davis as Margo Channing, a Broadway star who is getting on in years and all too aware of the power and charm of rising starlets – in this case, it’s Eve Harrington.

Witty, sharp, fast-paced, and likely very familiar to many, All About Eve is a lengthy and well-executed tale that filled with clever barbs and potent drama.


Dark Victory Thursday, November 21, 6:30 PM

Another of Davis’ earlier works, Dark Victory may be the most tragic of them all. Renowned for turning audiences to tears, Dark Victory stars Davis as Judith Traherne, a thrill-seeking socialite whose life is suddenly uprooted and drastically altered when she is diagnosed with a fatal disease. Forced to confront her own mortality, Judith’s exciting life slows, and where once she was carefree, she now faces the certainty of death. While physically sick, her heart too longs, as she becomes enamoured with a doctor who can save her. It’s not necessarily about the ending, but how one arrives there; for the audience, it’s an emotional journey.


Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? Saturday, December 7, 4:00 PM

Digitally restored and still as powerful as ever, this iconic 1962 films tells the story of two aging and once famous sister still trying to hold on to fame while ever-feuding. Davis goes toe-to-toe with Joan Crawford, a pair who were real-life rivals, as death and decay seems to hang over the film is every scene. Davis is Baby Jane, a former child star and now infirmed alcoholic, to Crawford’s wheelchair-confined Blanche. Dark and disturbing, maniacal musings turn to action as the terrible descent of both woman goes deeper and deeper in this unforgettable film.


The complete schedule can be found at Tiff.net

Photos courtesy of PHOTOFEST (212) 633-6330


Anthony Marcusa

A pop-culture consumer, Anthony seeks out what is important in entertainment and mocks what is not. Inspired by history, Anthony writes with the hope that someone, somewhere, might be affected.