Saturday, October 22, 2016


Rosa Moline is discontented and doesn’t care who knows it. Rosa (Bette Davis) is the bored and restless wife of dull-but-decent general practitioner Lewis Moline (Joseph Cotton), the only doctor in the small town of Loyalton, Wisconsin. Loyalton is a lumbering town, literally and figuratively, whose local sawmill blasts heat and spews sawdust ceaselessly, fueling Rosa’s fevered certainty that she is suffocating and being buried alive.
But if the local sawmill is the arrhythmic heartbeat of Loyalton, the only thing that can get Rosa’s pulse racing is when the train that goes to and from Chicago pulls into the station twice daily. A train whose chugging steam engine beckons (per the film’s portentous narration): “Come, Rosa. Come away before it’s too late. Chicago…Chicago…Chicago….”

Bette Davis as Rosa Moline
Joseph Cotten as Lewis Moline 
David Brian as Neil Latimer
Ruth Roman as Carol Lawson
Minor Watson as Moose Lawson
Dona Drake as Jenny
Fans of the overripe cinema of director King Vidor (Duel in the Sun, The Fountainhead, Ruby Gentry) and Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? will recognize Beyond the Forest as the film whose title George is stumped to recall when Martha mimics Bette Davis and utters the oft-parodied line “What a dump!” But for that bit of theatrical immortality bestowed upon this hotly contested post-war melodrama (plagued by censorship interference, it's a film Davis did only under protest, contributing to the end of her 18 years with Warner Bros), it’s unlikely many others could recall Beyond the Forest, either; a lesser entry in the Bette Davis canon that has nevertheless developed a devoted cult (and camp) following over the years.
"What a dump!"
Brandishing an emery board, that international symbol of the self-absorbed and aloof, Bette Davis utters what The American Film Institute voted #62 in its roster of 100 Most Memorable Movie Quotes

Joining the ranks of the many discontented housewives of great literature: Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler, Flaubert’s Emma Bovary, Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Carol Burnett’s Eunice Higgins…Rosa Moline is a woman who longs for more out of life. Feeling constrained and stifled by marriage and the conventional morality of small-town life, Rosa not only wants more, but also feels she deserves more. Though a Loyalton native, Rosa has always clung to the idea that she is somehow “different” from the other women in town; a grade above the ordinary and therefore meant for better things.
Which is why, rather than simply escaping Loyalton on her own and paving an independent path for herself in the big city—“What as…a telephone girl, a stenographer, waitress?”— Rosa sticks around, thumbing her nose at the low-rent aspirations of the townswomen ("You certainly go in for mass production, don't you?" she remarks to a local mom and her brood) and settling for a life of not-so-quiet desperation as a doctor’s wife in the town’s finest house (said aforementioned dump). 
A life of pitiful attempts at cultivating second-hand class (“I wanted venetian blinds...all the houses in magazines have venetian blinds!”), and of having her middle-class pretensions consistently deflated by the knowing insolence of her Native-American housekeeper. 
Jenny - "Do you want that Chicken a la King business served on toast?"
Rosa - "Well, I showed you the picture in the magazine, didn't I?"
Jenny - "How can I see if there's toast under all that goo?"

But Rosa is a woman with a dream. Well, to be honest, more like a scheme. Not one to content herself with merely the best that Loyalton has to offer, Rosa sets her sights on wealthy Chicago businessman Neil Latimer, the owner of a nearby hunting lodge overseen by family friend Moose Lawson. After carrying on a torrid, year-long love affair with the bachelor industrialist practically under her husband’s saintly, overworked nose, Rosa plans on getting Neil to marry her and whisk her away with him to Chicago. Sure, she's already married, but what’s a minor detail like that when a woman has a destiny to fulfill? And make no mistake, Rosa is a woman who wants the good life, has convinced herself she deserves the good life, and is so determined to acquire the good life for herself; she’s willing to do just about anything and everything to make sure that happens.
When Velma Takes The Stand

Like many a film noir, Beyond the Forest is a tale told in flashback. When we first meet Rosa, she is on trial for shooting a man; the who and why melodramatically divulged once the film proper kicks in and takes us back five months prior. Here, Rosa is revealed to be a crack shot with a lousy disposition (after using her rifle to take out a poor, defenseless porcupine minding its own business, her only explanation is, "I don't like porkies...they irritate me."); the film conveniently supplying three likely targets for her trigger-happy temperament.
There's her goody-goody husband who is too nice to press his clients into paying their bills (those ankle-strap sandals aren't going to pay for themselves, y'know). Next, there's Moose, the town souse, and Lewis' fishing buddy. Moose's only offense is that he, like the character of Leroy in The Bad Seed, is one of the few people in town who sees right through Rosa. Their mutual antipathy (Moose- "You're something for the birds, Rosa. Something for the birds." Rosa - "You're something to make the corn grow tall!") isn't at all helped by the fact that Moose has a well-turned-out daughter (Ruth Roman) who's everything Rosa would like to be.
Lastly, there's rolling-in-dough Neil K. Latimer. Although he and Rosa share a passionate physical attraction and Rosa sees him more as a ticket out of purgatory than the love of her life; the monkey wrench in the works (and probable bullet to the body) is Rosa's nagging fear that he just doesn't think she's good enough for him.
I can't vouch for how 1949 audiences reacted to Beyond the Forest (although we can all agree it wasn't particularly favorable), but I remember getting a huge kick out of watching DavisVampira wigged, low-necklined, lumpy-figured, clomping about in Joan Crawford pumps and spitting out her campy dialogue in her best self-parodying, Bette Davis drag queen impersonationwhile trying to guess which one of these male clay pigeons would irritate her to the point of having to mete out a little "porcupine justice."
"If I don't get out of here, I'll die. If I don't get out of here, I hope I die!"

There’s no getting past the fact that Beyond the Forest’s single main attraction for me is the staggeringly miscast Bette Davis. Looking awkward, uncomfortable, and unable to get even a remotely credible foothold on the type of bad-to-the-bone vexed vixen Gloria Grahame could play in her sleep; Davis (whom director King Vidor seemed intent on molding into a lousy copy of Jennifer Jones' Dueling in the Sun hotpot in a peasant blouse) relies instead on a mannered (read: ludicrous) vamp posturing and broad-as-a-barn emoting.
And while I can fully understand why she campaigned enthusiastically to be replaced by Virginia Mayo in the part"She's good at these sorts of roles!" (which sounds like a generous compliment until you stop to think about it)I'm glad jack Warner held her to it, because Davis, in all her sublime awfulness, is the best thing in the film.
Rosa goes camping (with a capital CAMP)
"The trouble with you, Lew, is you don't get up here often enough."
Rosa - "He doesn't do ANYTHING enough!"

Beyond the Forest treads such familiar noir ground that even upon first viewing, I felt as though I’d seen it before. Indeed, my having already encountered Joseph Cotten as Marilyn Monroe's nice-guy cuckold in Niagara (1953) and David Brian as Joan Crawford's hankered-after symbol of well-heeled respectability in Flamingo Road (1949) contributed to the déjà vu. Beyond the Forest's allusions to adultery, abortion, miscarriage, sexual dissatisfaction, and (gasp!) the lead character’s blatant disdain for all the things postwar women were supposed to want, must have been pretty heady stuff back in the ‘40s, but watching it now only makes me aware of how—outside of a few stylistic touches in the cinematography and use of music—it’s all been done before and to better effect. The sole exception, thus supplying the film’s only spark of energy and interest, is Bette Davis’ completely off-the-rails performance.
Rosa, literally trapped in a domestic cage

As a fan of Patty Duke's Neely O'Hara and Faye Dunaway's Joan Crawford, I obviously have no real problem with unrestrained, bordering-absurd performances. They shine like beacons of inadvertent genius when they enhance (rather than derail) a production. But in accessing the "Carol Burnett Show parody" level of Bette Davis's unsubtle take on the character of Rosa Moline in Beyond the Forest (which bears more than a passing resemblance to a supposed-to-be-awful screen test performance Davis gives in 1953's The Star), it doesn't seem fair to lay all the blame at the actress's ankle-strapped feet.
For example, I'm not sure who came up with Davis' almost "goth girl" appearance here, but you'd have to look to Joan Crawford's garish getup in Strait-Jacket (1964) to find a campier image of toxic sexuality. Another problem is Davis' age. Although only 40, Davis looks at least five years older, the resultant effect being that Rosa's desire to hightail it out of Loyalton comes off as half-hearted at best, at worst, an epic case of foot-dragging.
"Rosa...moving easily, freely, every man's admiring eye upon her."

She's not given much help by a screenplay (adapted from Stuart Engstrand's 1945 novel by Lenore J. Coffee, Warners' only woman screenwriter) which, perhaps in an effort to undercut audience sympathy and identification (who wouldn't want to get out of that hick town?), makes Rosa into an almost misogynist caricature of self-interest and greed. Though one can imagine any number of good reasons why a vital woman would feel stifled by small-town life, the film sees fit to reduce all Rosa's desires to the material and superficial. The only time the movie comes close to granting her recognizably human emotions is when (tellingly) her spirit is broken by a particularly humiliating visit to Chicago. Otherwise, she's depicted as little more than an overage Sadie Thompson spewing forth an unbroken stream of harsh invectives at anyone unfortunate enough to cross her path.
Pregnant, hair restrained, body covered, and (God forbid) wearing flat shoes; Rosa, now convinced of her ordinariness, is at last brought low. Is this return to traditional gender roles what people wanted from women in the postwar years?

I don't find Beyond the Forest particularly persuasive as drama, but it can't be beaten as arch-melodrama. Vidor ratchets up the excess to the point that everything about it feels satirical, even when it's in deadly earnest. However, the natural performances of the rest of the cast, Joseph Cotten especially, grounds the film just enough to provide Davis' over-the-moon emoting with a solid springboard from which to soar.
Case in point: my favorite sequence - Rosa's trip to Chicago. Set up as the film's dramatic centerpiece and given ample buildup by having the 1922 Fred Fisher song "Chicago (That Toddlin' Town)" chime in on the soundtrack every time Rosa gets that faraway look in her eyes; the sequence instead plays out like an early draft of Neil Simon's The Out of Towners.
All Dressed Up With Nowhere To Go
Fantasies vs. Murphy's Law as Rosa's dream of Chicago turns into a nightmare

Rosa's escape to Chicago city is a comedy of errors that really couldn’t go much worse. List of mishaps:
She can’t get through to her lover on the phone.
She's kept waiting in his offices for hours.
He finally calls, but she's so lost in thought ("I'm Rosa Moline!") she misses it.
They meet up, and he greets her with wonderful news: he's getting married!
She gets kicked out of a bar for soliciting.
She gets propositioned by a slob in the middle of a monsoon.
In succession: she's heckled by a madwoman, startled by a drunk, and terrorized by a newsboy.
Has to chase down a cab in her ankle straps.
No one ever had as miserable a time looking for a good time as Rosa Moline

I grew up in a house with four sisters, so I can attest to the fact that the femme fatales of '40s film noir and the sadder-but-wiser fallen women of the '40s "woman's picture" were every bit the vicarious thrill for them as I found them to be in those movies where geeky guys like Tom Ewell and Tommy Noonan wound up with incredible women like Jayne Mansfield and Marilyn Monroe.
These films were the kind of wish-fulfillment fantasies that gave wings to our adolescent ids (in MY fantasies, Monroe & Mansfield were replaced by Frank Converse or Steve McQueen). But unlike the myriad male-centric films devised to reassure unexceptional men that the world actually favored them; the women in the film noirs and women's pictures always had to pay a hefty price for their freedom. 
A woman's desire to exert power over her fate was rarely, if ever, depicted as a healthy drive. On the contrary, it was always associated with pathology or moral lack. The fun we had watching the "bad girls" (who always dressed better, had the best lines, and moved the plot forward) was always undercut by the knowledge that no matter how much havoc was wreaked, before fade-out, the form of gender-role normalcy, would be restored to the universe.
Beyond the Forest is too overwrought for me to take seriously, but if well-crafted camp can be considered a legitimate genre (and since we all know how difficult it is to pull off, it should be), it's one of the best of its kind.
A film that can be enjoyed on many levels (I've read of many Bette Davis fans who actually think it's one of her better performances); what I love about it is the essentially camp drag queen sensibility that makes Davis' Rosa Moline such a hoot of a to watch, is matched scene-for-scene with an unconsciously gay sensibility that makes Rosa's plight relatable and sympathetic.
Rosa, channeling her inner fabulousness
Gay men of my generation traditionally grew up in towns and environments where they felt "different" and out of step with others. Unable to relate to peers who only wanted to get married and start a family, a common reaction and survival tactic was to embrace that which made them not fit in. To take pride and revel in one's uniqueness, and to learn (like Rosa) to express oneself by looking, dressing, and behaving in ways more attuned to how one saw oneself—not with how society said you ought to be.

My partner grew up in a small town and tells me that despite having a very happy childhood devoid of bullying or harassment, he never for one moment entertained the thought of remaining there once he came of age. The town's quiet sameness fostered an appetite for big city life, the unspoken dominance of conformity assuring him that he could never truly be himself there. The parallels to be found in the early lives of many gay men (I hope it's only the early lives) and Rosa Moline's bristling at the life she's supposed to want as a woman in a small town, is, I believe, an intractable part of where Beyond the Forest's gay cult appreciation is rooted.
It's a fact of life that we invariably have to leave one place and relocate to another to find ourselves and discover what we really want. Happily, for most of us, the road to self-actualization doesn't involve firearms.

As many have noted, the readers who leave comments on this blog are so knowledgeable about films they're more like contributors. For example, Blogger Rick Gould brought my attention to the baggy, unflattering suit Rosa wears to Chicago. Since its difficult to imagine seasoned costume designer Edith Head just "happened" to have dropped the ball with Davis's problematic figure, my mind went to the 1988 book King Vidor: American in which authors Raymond Durgnat & Scott Simon suggest that Rosa's ill-fitting handmade suit was perhaps intended to convey Rosa's pathetic attempt to copy the sleeker, more sophisticated suit worn by Moose's daughter Carol.
In the same book, the authors reference another point Rick brings up, the similarity in appearance of Rosa and her maid Jenny. Their take is that characters of Jenny & Carol both possess more freedom than Rosa sees herself as having and that it's telling how she adopts the clothing style of these women in two unsuccessful attempts to escape from her life.

Hard as it is to believe, Bette Davis doesn't give Beyond The Forest's worst performance. That dubious honor goes to actress Dona Drake. Admittedly it can't be easy doing anything under that dreadful fright wig and three pounds of Max Factor's Dark Egyptian #5, but as Rosa's just-not-into-it maid, Drake gives (to quote The New York Times): "A fine high-school performance."
Drake's offscreen acting must have been considerably more convincing, for the lovely African-American actress/singer/dancer/bandleader spent her entire career passing as Mexican-American. Going by several different names, among them Rita Rio and Rita Novello, Drake was wed to famed costume designer William Travilla (Valley of the Dolls, Marilyn Monroe) in what is rumored to be an arranged marriage (the studio guarding her ethnicity, his bi/homosexuality). She appeared in many films, usually as an "exotic."
You can read more about Drake's life and history:
Travilla's Legacy
Little Known Black History
The Lady Dances
Dona Drake as Rita Rio in the 1936 Eddie Cantor feature Strike Me Pink
She's rather adorable in this musical number which fans of Yellow Submarine (1968) will recognize as having segments rotoscoped for "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds."
Watch it on YouTube HERE

Copyright © Ken Anderson 2009 - 2016


  1. Ken, great job once again offering perceptive film commentary mixed with your own (and partner's) personal backstory!

    My quick two cents as I have to hit the road, shortly:

    Is the reason this film is not on DVD because it's fallen into public domain or a copyright issue? By all rights it should be on DVD and TCM never shows it anymore...

    First off, you beat me to the punch with the Bette/Joan "Beyond the Strait-Jacket" comparison! The million dollar question: I've never read if this film was offered to Joan. Sure, Joan was at least the same age (probably older) than Bette...but as we JC fans know, she always played younger. Bette, much more sensible, and not as well preserved as Joan, was mortified to be playing the sex kitten at 40.

    One hilarious bit in "Beyond" is when Bette is introduced, popping up from the bottom of the frame like a bobble head, protesting her innocence!

    Also, love that bit where a carload of guys wolf whistle at Rosa, and Bette gives them her patented hip swivel, pop-eyed stink eyes--her peasant blouse looking like a sack of potatoes!

    And that scene, after she leaves her lover's office, Rosa on the loose in Chicago. When she's asked to leave a bar, on the street, with the windy city also looking comically RAINY, plays like a WB Looney Tunes cartoon. I love it when the newspaper guy yowls, "Newspaper, LADY?!"

    BTW, Edith Head, who was supposed to be a great designer...WTH? I know Bette was broad in the beam here, but that big city get up Bette wears to the office engulfs her! It looks like one of my sister's old 4-H projects!

    And isn't it strange that Bette's moody maid Jenny is the mirror image of her, minus the Lena Horne makeup?

    This is one of my all-time favorite bananas movie bonanzas...thanks again, Ken!

    1. Hi Rick
      I really have no idea why this film is so unavailable on DVD. It was up on YouTube for a while, so perhaps you’re correct in speculating that copyrights in some way play into it. It’s a pity. It’s a good/bad movie, one that I’m certain plays better now than when released.

      I’m not sure what constituted “sexy” in the late 40s, but that Betty Page jet black hair look may have been like today’s dyed and fried peroxide porn queens. Davis’ look SO reminds me of Crawford in STRAIT-JACKET, but like you, I have no knowledge of whether Crawford was ever considered for the role.

      I laughed at your description of Davis popping into frame at the film’s opening! It has the same effect on me – it gets things off to a hilarious start that doesn’t allow me to take Bette or her character too seriously. By the way, I don’t know how well you remember the movie (sounds like you have it down pretty well), but don’t you love the way she mocks/imitates her own courtroom testimony later in the film? Bette Davis always did the best Bette Davis impersonations!

      And that melodramatic Chicago sequence! I can only hope that Vidor was trying to stylistically depict Chicago as Rosa sees it through her anxiety. You nail it in saying it comes off EXACLY like a Warner Bros cartoon. There’s specifically a Porky Pig cartoon that comes to mind in which an orphaned dog describes the tensions of city life that looks SO much like the scene in this movie.

      In reference to Davis’ sack of doorknobs figure, I know they had industrial strength support garments in those days. Rosa wouldn’t look so much to me like a comic figure if some effort was made to make her figure look less comic. Much like with Crawford’s garish and blowsy idea of a small-town vixen in STRAIT-JACKET, I’m never sure if we’re supposed to find Rosa’s look to be a misguided attempt at being sexy.

      Rick you brought up two excellent points when you mention Rosa’s baggy Chicago suit and her physical resemblance to her maid Jenny. Both are such sharp observations I reference your comments in an appended entry in the Bonus Material section above.
      Thanks so much for the keen (and fun) observations!

  2. Oh, Ken, I love this movie for all the reasons you mention. I saw it as a misfit teenager in a small town and identified with Rosa immediately. Being g relatively naive,I didn't immediately see the camp in this movie. I knew Bette was miscast, yet somehow I was attracted to her just like the men in the film. For a time I patterned my look after her, thinking, I guess, that it was the epitome of sexy. The ankle strap shoes, long flowing wavy hair (mine was blonde, not black!) And the peasant blouse. Combined with my braces and acne, you can just imagine how that look went over.

    I truly believe that Bette's performance was a deliberate F you to Warner's. And maybe even to Vidor. Her Duel in the Sun Jennifer Jones Ruby on steroids is almost too good - I use that word loosely - to have been accidental. She was in on the joke, and I think that's why we don't pity her, as we do with Joan Crawford's earnest attempts to play the sexy vixen when she was older.

    One more thing. I too was fantasizing about marrying Frank Converse as a teen. I was so infatuated, I watched every episode of the truly awful 70s TV show he briefly starred in, Movin' On. He was dreamy even with his porn star moustache.

    1. Hello Roberta
      Although I haven’t met that many people who know this film well enough to think one way about it or another, of those I’ve known,reactions seem to fall into two categories: gay men love it for the camp, the women respond to it on an almost feminist level. The camp stuff can’t be ignored, but so many women seem to reiterate your identification with Rosa.
      Truth be told, her look here is very much favored by the Silverlake crowd here in LA (a gentrified hipster enclave of man-buns [not the good kind] and indie women) and it’s hard, no matter who you are, not to relate to feeling so stifled by an environment you’re fairly burning up.
      What a sharp kind you were to wantto appropriate Batte Davis’ looks rather than Marsha Brady or Susan Dey! If you ever dig up a photo of yourself during those times, you MUST post it on your blog!

      You make a good point in noting that Davis’ Rosa doesn’t engender pity. That’s true. There’s a single-mindedness to her pursuits that actually made me feel more frustrated with her lousy timing and even worse luck (you want to tell Moose to mind his own damn business), but you never feel sorry for her. Strangely enough, I don’t know that I like her very much, but I do find myself rooting for her to get away.

      And kudos to you for having the good taste and sense to have a crush on Frank Converse! I had a crush on him since his “Coronet Blue” day (although I didn’t actually admit it to myself) and that “Movin’ On” TV show was the worst, but Converse was sure worth it.
      Thanks, Roberta!

  3. Supposedly Jack Warner insisted on Bette taking this role because her box office was falling (her last few previous films weren't hits) and the studio was trying to force her out by having her appear in a stinker. Stinker or not, she's memorable, even though I have to agree that it's not one of her great performances. But that was Bette's amazing quality; it seemed the worse the film or casting fit, the harder she pushed to make an impact. And those ankle-strapped shoes she wears (she wore the same kind of shoe in Baby Jane--a sarcastic hommage to this film, perhaps?) brings to mind a quote attributed to Bette regarding Joan Crawford, as being all shoulder-pads and fuck-me shoes. It's tempting to think that Bette may have been channeling Joan here, particularly, as you note, Joan had made Flamingo Road (wearing similar shoes!) at Warners the year before with David Brian (who seems to have been this all-purpose leaning board for Warners' top actresses, he comes across as so stiff and flat in his films). I have to admit, as bad an experience as it may have been for Bette, this is the kind of camp film I'm glad exists!

    1. Hello GOM
      Ha! I hadn't thought of it, but YES those are Baby Jane's ankle-straps! It is true that Bette Davis "bad" performances could never be considered lazy or uninteresting. personally, I only find her performance to be so bad here because it's all done in capital letters. But whether I like it or not, without her energy the film as is would just lie there, inert.
      It certainly seemed like ti was a common practice for studio heads to punish their stars by forcing them into films they didn't want to do, and I wouldn't put it past Jack Warner for pulling a similar stunt with Bette. Once she stopped making money for him, I'm sure he felt she was a headache not worth the trouble.

      And I feel the same way about David Brian (I can't tell you how easy I find that name to forget. I kept having to re-look it up), for all the times he was paired with heavy-hitters like Crawford and Davis, he registers so little for me beyond being a serviceable contract player.
      When I think of Bette Davis' career, it's like I'm thinking of two different actresses. My Favorite performances by Bette #1 are The Little Foxes, The Letter, and All About Eve. Beyond the Forest is one of my favorite films of Bette Davis number two; the self-parody Bette Davis of Baby Jane, Hush, Hush...Charlotte, and The Anniversary.
      Thanks for reading this post and for your always-informative comments!

  4. Ken... genius. From the Crawford parallels to the brilliant suggestion of Gloria Grahame as Rosa (first time I've EVER heard that one) to, as mentioned above, the personal reflections and the insights into women's roles post-WWII (reminiscent of Elizabeth Kendall's eulogy to the Depression romantic comedy heroine in "The Runaway Bride"). "No one ever had as miserable a time looking for a good time as Rosa Moline" also got as big a laugh from me as Charles Pierce's "Bette" describing the role: "I was a twelve o'clock girl in a nine-o'clock town... waiting for two a.m. - with five o'clock shadow."

    P.S. I am also listed in the membership of the I Was Married to Frank Converse Society.

    1. Hi Mst
      I'm so pleased you enjoyed this post! Your comments and compliments are very gratifying in that I always write from such a subjective place, I'm never quite sure if anyone will "get" my perspective.
      I'm unfamiliar with the book "The Runaway Bride," but after Goggling it I'm so glad you referenced it. It really sounds fascinating and perhaps other readers will be drawn to the subject matter as well.
      My partner and I really got a good laugh out of the Charles Pierce line! Love it! And it's one I hadn't heard before.
      Most gratifying of all is learning that TWO people actually remember Frank Converse and had crushes. Who knew? Outstanding! So enjoyed your reading your comments and I thank you.

  5. "Rosa Moline's bristling at the life she's supposed to want as a woman in a small town, is, I believe, an intractable part of where Beyond the Forest's gay cult appreciation is rooted."

    Wow, big fan of this here, and I was never really conscious of this but how true, how true. Never once did I ever consider building a life in my tiny Ohio hometown. I always wondered even as a tot, what I'd be doing elsewhere when I grew up. I was just a kid when I first saw this on Rita Bell's Prize Movie (a glamorous local fixture on local TV) and I was mesmerized. It wasn't until I saw it in later years that I started laughing.

    Also, after seeing Vidor's Ruby Gentry, it's not hard to imagine Jennifer Jones as Rosa Moline. She did a lot of crawling.

    I've read many reports, and heard from Davis herself on a talk show (Merv Griffin? Dick Cavett?) that the big role she wanted to do that got away was Martha in Virginia Woolf (and counting on James Mason as George). I can't imagine she was even considered. Either they rewrite the entire opening, or watch Davis play Martha parodying herself playing Rosa. That's crazy talk!

    Thanks Ken!

    1. Hello Max (I've said this before, but I honestly can never write those two words without hearing Barbara Feldon's purr)

      Thank you for sharing you own small town backstory memories of "Beyond the Forest." I especially love the reference to Rita Bell's Prize Movie! It takes me back to the days when it was common to watch a film with loooong interminable breaks in them devoted to phone calls and giving away money. A local Bay Area prize movie program (with Pippa!) cut into the movie so often, a single 90 minute film had to be shown over the course of two days.
      The whole longing to get out of a small town thing is such a common theme in films, although with men its usually attributed with growing a pair, with women it's too often portrayed as "what's wrong with you? Isn't a family and a man who loves you enough?"

      Laughed at the Jennifer Jones crawling remark. LORD! Is that ending to "Duel in the Sun" drawn out or not?

      I've read that Davis had her eye on Martha in Albee's "Woolf." While I can well see James Mason, as you say, I can't imagine a serious playwright would ever set his work up to be such an obvious camp fest as having Bette Davis literally impersonating herself during the first few minutes of a film. The audience would never take a minute of the film seriously. Indeed, that's crazy talk! Thanks very much for commenting, Max!

  6. Dear Ken: Hi! Can you believe it? With all the pre-1960s movies I've seen, this is one I've never gotten around to! But it's not easy to see in recent years. As you and Rick Gould speculate, I believe this is one of those movies that has been withdrawn from circulation due to "right's problems"; i.e. thanks to the 1990s revision of copyright laws, the film's owner no longer has rights to the novel it was based on, so the film can't be shown.

    Anyway, having seen a number of King Vidor's other late 1940s over-heated melodramas (what got into him during that stage of his career, anyway?), maybe I wouldn't be such a big fan of "Forest." I couldn't get into "Duel in the Sun," even though I love Jennifer Jones. For beginners, there's the whole racist slant to her character (mixed racial heritage = hot-to-trot). But the movie's so over the top, too. I will immediately be surrendering my gay card by admitting this, but I'm not big on seeing movies strictly for their camp appeal. (My husband can, but I can't.) I have to genuinely like something about the movie--a performance, or the music, or the sets, or something. Maybe I just don't have the right sense of humor! :)

    I recently read somewhere on the web the information you link to about Dona Drake's life. (I looked her up after seeing "Strike Me Pink"--I got the Eddie Cantor musical four-pack that came out last year for Christmas!) But I've also seen her in "Girl from Jones Beach," "Star-Spangled Rhythm," etc. Maybe she wasn't much of an actor, but she really goes to town singing and dancing the title song from "Louisiana Purchase" (this isn't the greatest copy, but it's on youtube here: She has real camera presence--too bad she didn't get to be a bigger star.

    Even though I haven't seen "Forest," I have read about its following, particularly among feminist film scholars. Jeanine Basinger devotes quite a bit of space to the film in Basinger's fine book "A Woman's View" and asserts that Rosa is a heroine because at least she WANTS something and works her head off to get it!

    1. Hi David
      Thanks for explaining a bit of the confounding changes in copyright laws. The layperson can never quite figure out why some films just seem to disappear and become rare as hen's teeth.
      This one has such a reputation, I sense that should it ever resurface on restored DVD, it will be hailed as an underappreciated classic. It's not, in my eyes, but real old-school star quality is virtually dead, so Bette Davis' play-to-the--balcony histrionics might come across as positively transcendent to those raised on the over-hyped blandness of Jennifer Lawrence or Bradley Cooper.
      I haven't seen many of King Vidor's films, but perhaps someone could direct me to one that ISN'T all sweaty and overheated. From "The Fountainhead" to "Ruby Gentry," the women are all running several degrees high.

      Thanks a heap for that clip of Dona Drake. Boy! She has personality to spare as a musical star. I never considered people like Cyd Charisse or Esther Williams to be particularly good actresses, leaving me to think she was so poorly served by movies because of Hollywood's tendency not to know what to do with ethnics if they can't turn them into cartoons (Carmen Miranda). Looking at the clips of her on YouTube, she really seems to have the stuff to have been a bigger star.

      You're the second person to mention "Beyond the Forest"s feminist reputation. I hadn't known this, but I can well see it, precisely for the reason you site. The 50s certainly signaled the beginning of the supportive "wife" and "girlfriend" boom in women's roles. In light of how inconsequential roles for women grew, it is fun to view Rosa through the prism of a woman who moves the plot along and has drives and desires of her own.
      And you certainly don't lose your gay card for not responding to camp for camp sake. Lord knows that field is filled to overcrowding. Just consider yourself a discerning cardholder. Thanks for your thoughtful comments, David!

  7. Ken, thank you for your kind shout out!
    And here's a little thank you gift for your readers. I searched high and low for "Beyond the Forest" last year and found it here:

    A few more observations on "Beyond the Bette!"
    You could play a drinking game--and get sloshed--by tipping one back every time Davis exclaims, "I'm Rosa Moline!"

    Have you ever seen Bette "In This Our Life?" Made at the peak of her Warner career, Davis goes off the rails as a small town heartbreaker who steals her sister's husband and kills a man, sound familiar? Davis was again cast in a much younger, overtly sexy role, and overcompensates hilariously. And like Rosa, Davis' voice as Stanley--yes Stanley--is curiously high-pitched, making her staccato delivery even more mannered!

    I know the woodsy "Wisconsin" locations were filmed around Lake Arrowhead in CA. But however they achieved the look of a dingy, working-class town looks authentic...I grew up next door in Upper MI and it rings true.

    I love that scene where Rosa whams the punching bag, saying she wished it was Loyalton. I bet Bette wished it was Jack Warner!

    Finally, I love a movie about sin and femme fatales that begin with not only a sanctimonious scrolling prologue, but a folksy introductory narration by... who?!!

    I'm sure someday whoever has rights to "Forest" will get this goddamn Warner Brothers epic on Blu ray DVD. But until then, check out this copy...


    1. Hi Rick
      Wow! Thanks a heap for digging up an online copy of the film and sharing the link with us!

      I too find it hilarious that she keeps reminding herself of who she is. Especially when that fragile-but-pushy self-image takes such a beating in Chicago.

      And yes, I've seen "In This Our Life." I caught it by mistake on TCM and was just enthralled. Especially surprising was the racial angle that had Bette willing to frame a young black man for a murder she committed.

      What I find interesting about that moralistic scroll at the film's opening is that without it, I'll bet some viewers would be hard pressed to be all that certain that Rosa was "evil." her plight, minus her double-barreled solution, is a common one.
      Thanks again for the follow up points that gave me a few more chuckles, and especially the link to the movie. A real treat for those who've never seen it. Much appreciated, Rick!

  8. Hello Ken, thanks for reviewing this film! I got hold of it because I've read that it's considered to be such a bad film and the nadir of Bette Davis' career. But having seen the film I didn't think it was so bad. I found it quite captivating and full of noirish atmosphere. I love the bad girl Rosa and understand her desire to leave the small Town and its smallmindishness. As you wrote, is that such a bad thing to want a different life somewhere else? In 1949 it was and people like her had to be punished. I'm glad that Warner Brothers did it in such an entertaining way!

    Yes, Bette seems to be a bit past the femme fatale role but I feel for her as Rosa becuase she seems to be a misunderstood loser in a town full of normal boring people! A film about goody goody Carol would not have been as fun.

    It was a pleasure to read your very interesting article about the film. I must watch it again soon!

    1. Hi Wille
      Should this film ever get the kind of wide exposure a DVD release affords, I have a feeling that a great many people would echo your thoughts on this film. I think one's response to Davis' performance is a matter of taste and entertainment. A lot of fans of classic cinema are good at not projecting contemporary standards of acting on older films. What may have seemed screamingly inappropriate and overdone in 1949 looks like the stylized type of overemoting we sometimes associate with older films.

      When coming to gene films like film noir, fans often make allowances for a certain level of melodrama unsuitable for another type of film. With all that taken into account, I can well imagine how someone might just find the whole film enjoyable and not the disaster its reputation would have you believe.

      Whatever one thinks of the quality of Davis' performance, I too think that the character of Rosa Moline is compelling. Certainly a unique kind of screen villain. So many film noir femme fatales convince with their looks. Noir conditions us to simultaneously distrust and feel sympathetic to beauty (Lana Turner & Gene Tierney come to mind) perhaps Bette Davis oversells a bit because we're not going to be seduced by her appearance; she has to rely on personality and forcefulness alone.

      I'm glad you've seen the film and number yourself amongst those who don't see it as Davis' camp career low point (like me), I think there's a good chance your perspective is where the film will ultimately land.
      Thanks for sharing your comments with us, Wille!

    2. Hi Ken, I starteed to watch the film again yesterday and I was struck by Bette Davis voice! It has such a strange pitch, as if she was distancing herself from the film and the role. So now I can see that both she and the audience at the time thought that this was a career low point. Bette's acting seems approriate for the part but the voice is very unsexy for a femme fatale. Perhaps she wasn't feeling so hot as Rosa?

      Another thing reminded me when you mentioned Gene Tierney. Bette is seen at the start of the film in canoe on a lake wearing sunglasses, not unlike Gene in "Leave Her to Heaven"! That film was a big hit a few years before and may have been the inspiration for "Beyond the Forest".

      It was strange seeing Bette out in the real wilderness and not in a fake studio background "forest". The films at the time were trying to be neorealistic by using real locations instead of studios and it helps the film to see Bette out in the woods, I think.

    3. Willie, that high-pitched voice was an acting trick Bette liked to use when she was playing a sexy or girlish character, check it out in: In this Our Life and Mr. Skeffington, and even when she acts childish as Baby Jane. It makes her already distinctive voice sound umm, different!

    4. Rick, thanks for the primer on Davis' vocal modulations. Between that and those curious places where she chooses to place a pause, no wonder she was such a favorite of impressionists.
      Wille, sometimes when I look at movies from this period, I actually have to remind myself some were filmed on location. Those studio cinematographers had a talent for making real places look like sets!

    5. I finished watching "Beyond the Forsest" for the second time. (I've got it on a spansih dvd. There's a market for classic Hollywood films in Spain!) The first time I saw the film I liked it. Now I love it!! It's very entertaining. The script's quite good with lots of great lines for Bette.

      This is a new favourite of mine for many of the reasons that you write about in your review: the drag queeny style of Rosa's rotten attitude toward's everything that isn't Neil and the "gay sensibility that makes Rosa's plight relatable and sympathetic". Many people can relate to dreaming of a more accepting and exciting big city life (even though, like for Rosa, there is no garantee of finding happiness there).

      Bette's performance gets better after the beginning of the film when I was startled by her strange voice. She's sounds more like her usual self after a while. She's miscast but gives a fine performance, I think. She seems to know what it's like to not be considered pretty and stylish. She makes Rosa someone I can sympathise with.

      Making her a murderess was a way to depict misfits like Rosa as bad and untrustworthy people. The moral of the film is not to reach for something that's out of your league and that it's better to be saintly like the good people of the small town.
      Thanks for reminding me of this film! -Wille

    6. Hi Wille
      It IS a very watchable film, isn't it? As you noted, Rosa is oddly relatable. Until she gets around to murder, she behaves very much like a small-town teenager: rolling her eyes at everything sincere or corny, and generally displaying that rotten attitude typical of adolescent restlessness.
      Similar to Patty Duke in Valley of the Dolls, I think there are certain types of "bad" performances that have so much energy and conviction (and a kind of reckless lack of control that veers to camp) that are actually rather "good" in their way.
      your growing fondness for this movie makes me think you feel similarly. The 1940's mandated a judgmental morality imposed upon Rosa, but we've all felt like she does at one time or another. Her campy look and theatrical way of acting (drag queeny is about right) just seals the deal.
      Your enthusiasm for this film is contagious and enjoyable to read about. Thanks for coming back to share with us!

  9. Hi Ken,

    It’s been years since I saw this deep fried disaster that temporarily scuttled Bette’s career so my memories of it are somewhat fuzzy. But your fun piece on it did bring back some of the more florid aspects.

    Bette’s script sense could desert her at times, that can be the only possible explanation for her choosing to make Winter Meeting a huge bomb that accelerated her descent at Warners that started with her poor decision to appear in The Corn is Green (a good property but she was too young for her part and the film is starchy), but she knew that Beyond the Forest was trash and completely wrong for her with the potential to wreck the havoc it did on her reputation. Seeing the writing on the wall and realizing during filming that the movie was going to be even worse than she had thought she waited until they had shot past the point of no return when they could not finish without her, she then walked into Jack Warner’s office and demanded to be released from her contract or she would walk off the picture. Warner caved even though she had quite a bit of time left on her contract.

    She did campaign for Virginia Mayo to be cast but she also fought against having Joseph Cotton cast as her husband feeling that it wouldn’t make any sense for Rosa to be so desperate to escape from someone like him. She suggested Eugene Pallette, though he had entered his crazy mountain hermit period by that time, but Sydney Greenstreet or Lloyd Corrigan would have served the story better. I love your suggestion of Gloria Grahame who could have rescued the film through sheer force of personality but in lieu of her or Mayo the film already contained someone in the cast who should have been playing Rosa instead of Davis-my beloved Ruth Roman. Her fierce, sometimes blistering screen presence was a perfect match for the sort of restless longing Rosa is supposed to project not the overripe boom chicka boom vaudeville turn Bette throws at us.

    I can’t really blame Bette for hitting high C constantly throughout her Goth act considering the fright wig, garish makeup and peasant blouse, Anne Baxter must have borrowed when she was so ludicrously miscast in Walk on the Wild Side, that the wardrobe department slapped her into.

    1. Hi Joel
      Thnak for putting so much of Davis' career at this time in perspective! Boy, the days of studio contracts really placed a lot of stars in precarious positions. If they tried to please the fans, they ran the risk of being over-typed. If they ventured into new territory, they stood to alienate their fan base or (as is the case for me with Davis here) be made to appear ridiculous.
      I'm not familiar enough with a lot of Davis' early work to know how the public liked to see her, but I'll wager that small-town hotbox was low on the list.

      Ruth Roman as Rosa is a fascinating idea. A role I can thoroughly see her playing. Davis to me can be a good time gal (maybe 'broad would be a better description)-and I imagine that's how she came off onstage in "Night of the Iguana"; but in spite of the internal passion she supplies so well, there seems something about her that makes it hard for me to buy as someone like Rosa.
      I enjoy her a great deal here, and really don't think I'd enjoy the film half as much without her, but it's precisely the ill-fit is what makes it for me.
      And YES, that peasant blouse and Ann Baxter...peasant blouses must have been shorthand for easy virtue!

  10. I saw you questioned in one of the comments if Vidor made any films that weren’t sweaty and overheated. He did seem to specialize in that subgenre starting with Duel in the Sun, directly after Beyond the Forest he made the desert set Lightning Strikes Twice with an eventually unhinged Mercedes McCambridge (and a level headed Ruth Roman) which also fits into that definition but before Duel his films were often quite subdued and temperate-Stella Dallas, The Citadel, H.M. Pulham, Esq. (which contains what is probably Hedy Lamarr’s best performance) and many more though he did guide the original Bird of Paradise with a barely clothed Joel McCrea and Dolores del Rio.

    As to her classic line and Virginia Woolf Davis was considered for Martha in the early planning stages being resurgent at the time on the strength of Baby Jane and James Mason was mentioned as George which would have been a combustible combination though the campiness of Davis quoting Davis might have diminished it somewhat. There were a lot of interesting parings proposed, Ingrid Bergman & Cary Grant, Grant & Rosalind Russell, Henry Fonda & Patricia Neal before settling on Burton & Taylor but of all of those Davis & Mason seem the most suited to those roles aside from Liz and Dick.

    But back to Beyond the Forest, it is puzzling how even if Bette was slipping Warners could ever think it was advisable to put her into such claptrap for which she was so obviously wrong. They did seem to be searching for a new formula for her since prior to this they had tried her out in a light comedy, June Bride, in a role that Rosalind Russell or Myrna Loy would have been much more comfortable playing. The movie is charming and unlike in BTF she looks sensational in her New Look wardrobe and a much more flattering hairstyle but it wasn’t really a proper fit for her either. She was right to cut her losses and head for the door.

    1. Hi again Joel
      it's nice to know Vidor had a calm phase before he became the thinking man's Russ Meyer.
      It's interesting to contemplate the various qualities different pairings would have brought to George & Martha. I often wondered if the bickering pairing of James Mason and Sylvia Miles in "Evil under the Sun" was someone having fun with the 'Virginia Woolf" couple by reimagining them in a different era. Certainly Miles' reworking of Albee's line "I swear...if you existed I'd divorce you." (Miles: "If you were a man, I'd divorce you.") is a definite nod in that direction.
      Thanks, Joel for mentioning "June Bride." It's a film I'm unfamiliar with, but you make it sound worth checking out. So appreciate your very knowledgeable comments and contributions to this "Beyond the Forest" dialogue here. Always appreciated!

    2. I never bought that Warner was seriously considering Bette or Mason for Virginia Woolf. I think that Albee was putting out his dream team and Warner told him what he wanted to hear. Warner, after all, cast Audrey Hepburn the year before in "My Fair Lady." Warner, with his eye always on the box office, even wanted Cary Grant or Peter O' Toole as Henry Higgins!

      And Bette jumped on the "I should have been Martha" bandwagon, of course, since Davis also perpetuated the fiction that she was a serious contender for Scarlett in "Gone With The Wind."

    3. Ken you must see June Bride! Beside Bette in her New Look sharpness the cast includes Fay Bainter and Mary Wickes as her assistants (she's a magazine editor working on a June bride story in Indiana in the winter) a very funny Tom Tully as father of the bride and a scene stealing Betty Lynn as Boo Brinker-scheming sister of the bride. Also towards the end if you keep a sharp eye out you see Debbie Reynolds in her wordless screen debut.

      Bette's leading man is Robert Montgomery and while he's as sly and unctuous as ever they DID NOT get along behind the scenes. The ending is sort of a betrayal of all that's gone before it but the movie is still a breezy delight.

    4. I'll keep an eye out for it, you make it sound like it's worth a look!

    5. Ken, Speaking of Vidor's fever phase, "Ruby Gentry" with your gal Jennifer Jones, is definitely a cousin to "Beyond's" Rosa Moline. Except Ruby succeeds in making lemonade out of small town life...for a while!

    6. After seeing "Duel in the Sun," "Ruby Gentry"is one I've always wanted to see. It doesn't seem to pop up on cable very often. Your saying it's a cousin to Davis' Rosa certainly makes me want to bump up my search efforts!

  11. Hi Ken,
    I usually compare Beyond The Forest and the character of Rosa Moline to Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary or as I call Bette/Rosa a Milltown Emma Bovary.
    My favorite line in the film is when Bette goes to the Post Office meets two friends with their children and have an exchange of dialogue Bette leaves and one friend says to other, "It must hard on Rosa to live in this small town" then other woman says to her friend very sarcastically, "No, its hard on the town." With dialogue like you can't go wrong. About Bette Davis' figure problems you see Bette Davis did not like to wear a bra because Davis said, "it would inhibit her acting." the only times that Davis did wear a bra was when she thought that the character she was playing would wear one like for example in June Bride (1948) She plays a fashion editor and so that's why she wore a bra but in Beyond The Forest she does not. The problem was Bette Davis breasts would hang unfashionably low and give her a dumpy look, when Orry-Kelly was designing her clothes He would create these elaborate neck designs to draw the eye away from Bette's dumpy figure. The tag line for this film was "She was a 9 o'clock girl in 5 o'clock town.

    1. Hello Marc
      So fitting that you compare Davis' character with Flaubert's, for in the source novel the author disparagingly describes Rosa as "a Wisconsin Bovary."

      And you're right, the film has quite a lot of good, bitchy dialogue, the sample you gave being one of my favorites too (especially as it's preceded by "Now there goes a sweet-smelling geranium!")
      And that is some really eye-opening info about Davis' famously bumpy body! I never knew any of that. I was just always amazed that she seemed to have a difficult figure to rein in.
      Also, I didn't know the hilarious Charles Pierce line quoted in a earlier comment was a take on the film's actual tagline! Thanks for reading this post and for your enjoyable, well-informed comments!

    2. That famously bumpy body was even harder to rein in 15 years later in "Dead Ringer!"

  12. It's also been said that hardball mogul Jack Warner deliberately forced Davis to go "Beyond the Forest," to goad her into wanting to quit WB. By the end of the '40s, the studios were letting go of their older and pricier stars right and left. Plus, Warner was fed up with fighting with Davis. Some thought it was a real poker player move to get Bette to threaten to leave, and then called her bluff!

    1. Sometimes I think Ann Miller was the only one who ever had anything good to say about the studio system. Such skullduggery!

  13. Ken, your post on "Beyond the Forest" inspired me to write this blog post about Bette's memorable over-the-top performance, as Baby Jane Hudson. Except this one won Bette accolades, not brickbats! Happy Halloween! Rick

    1. Hi Rick
      I beat you to it! I read your post when I saw it listed on Google Plus. I loved it of course, what with all the behind the scenes stuff, and that great pic (which I'd never seen before) of Bette and Joan rehearsing!
      That film's a favorite of mine, one I haven't watched in a while. Thanks for sparking a few fond memories!

  14. In 1973, Town Hall offered a series of interviews of female film stars under the collective title "Legendary Ladies." Bette Davis was first. The evening started with a retrospective of clips from the star's films. The guest star was then introduced and was interviewed by John Springer, a film publicist who dreamt it all up. The last segment of the evening was audience questions. An easy and lucrative gig, if ever there was one, for a star of a certain stature and certain age.

    Bette Davis and John Springer toured the evening and even came for one night (only!) to my backward midwestern home town. And you know I was there. Oh, yes! The film retrospective began with... Elizabeth Taylor eating a chicken leg and declaring, "What a dump! Hey, what's that from?...." It was a wonderfully funny and canny way to start the evening, getting it all out of the way at once. The film clips were marvelous, the interview was what you would expect. We've all seen her interviewed before. But it was the audience questions where I had MY moment to shine.

    When they turned up the lights and brought out a microphone, like a moth to the flame, I ran. 16 year old Drama Club dweeb, me, HAD TO ask Bette Davis if it was true that there was going to be a film version of FOLLIES, that it was going to be set in a Hollywood sound studio, and that she was going to sing "Broadway Baby." There had been some noise in the press about this project but how does a 16 year old in a provincial capital find out FOR SURE? Ask Bette Davis, of course.

    She kindly told me that it was still too early to say for sure, but if it happened, she was going to do exactly that. I must have been queening out full throttle right there in front of a thousand people, as she laughed and gave me this news almost in a reassuring way, as if she knew I could not have survived if she told me it was not true. (She was also mentioned for Madame Armfeldt in the film version of A Little Night Music, but she must have known. She must have known. And "Liaisons" would not have suited her strengths. Not that it mattered in the end, but enough about that.)

    One often hears rumors that a film version of FOLLIES was, at least to some degree, in development, but the details are few. But Bette Davis told me it was true and I believe her. And tell the truth, wouldn't you LOVE to hear Bette Davis spit out, "At... my tiny flat... there's just a cat... a bed... and a chair. Still... I'll stick it till...." She would have been terrific with it.

    1. I remember seeing ads for those series of "Legendary Ladies" evenings on the back pages of After Dark magazine. I always imagined they would be great fun, as celebrity Q & A's weren't as common then as they are now.
      I love the description of the Davis event (starting with "Woolf" was inspired, and how thrilling that you actually got to see it, let alone ask her a "Follies"-related question. Thing is, I recall when there was talk of adapting it into a film. Too bad it never happened.A really terrific, one-of-a-kind Bette Davis anecdote, thanks very much for sharing it here!

    2. An audio recording of Joan Crawford's interview is on YouTube.

      I have heard that Hal Prince was all over Hollywood talking up his idea of doing FOLLIES on a movie set and made the mistake of talking to Jack Haley, Jr. He wanted to intercut film of his leading actors that was created when they were young. Haley liked the idea well enough that he took it and made "That's Entertainment!" After that, FOLLIES became unnecessary. Doris Day was supposed to be playing Sally. But not to be.

    3. Thanks for the link!
      And WOW is that some interesting info re: the missed opportunity of a "Follies" film. Makes total sense, too. Reminds me of something I read in a Michael Bennett bio recounting his thoughts upon seeing Bob Fosse's opening sequence to "All That Jazz" and experiencing the sinking feeling that the long-gestating film version of "A Chorus Line" had already been done: in all of 7 minutes!

      (Doris Day would have made a fascinating Sally in FOLLIES!)

  15. Hi Ken,

    I was thrilled to see you had written about "Forest," and I enjoyed reading not only your comments about it but my fellow readers' as well.

    It's really too bad that the mjovie is not more readily available. I'm always annoyed when I read that something has been held of because of "rights." It seems so dog in the manger-y to me.

    I think it was you that described Bette's performance in this as being in all capital letters. Not only did I find that an apt description, but I see that the title credits match it as well. In fact, I like that a title that is not only vague but seemingly so unconnected with the plot and themes of the movie would proclaim itself so grandiosely. "Look at me: I'm "BEYOND THE FOREST"!!!!," it seems to crow.

    About King Vidor, he also directed the black and white scenes of "The Wizard of Oz," which of course included the enchanting Judy Garland singing the enchanting "Over the Rainbow."

    Thanks. Sincerely, Allen (Gumm)

    1. Hi Allen
      First off, I have to tell you had to Google the "dog in the manger" idiom. How I missed that fable all these years I'll never know, but what an ideal description of so many of our copyright laws. It's especially wearisome when it comes to films like "Beyond the Forest" which a lot of people would enjoy discovering.
      I think someone else made the capital letters remark about Davis' performance, and I too think it's very apt.
      I laughed at your referencing how little the title has to do with anything in the film, but it certainly does "work" in a melodramatic way.
      I don't know that I knew Vidor was responsible for the black and white segment of "The Wizard of Oz", so thanks for bringing it up. It gives me more of a sense that overheated drama was not his only strong suit.
      Thanks for reading the post and commenting, Allen. Good to hear from you !

    2. Hi Ken,

      And thanks for your reply.

      Actually, the "dog in the manger" expression may no longer be "au courant," but it does seem to apply here, doesn't it? A couple of other items that were locked up for years in "rights" struggles were Mary Martin's "Peter Pan" and the Marx Bros. "The Cocoanuts." They finally got released, so hopefully "Forest" will be someday, too.

      And true that though the title has little to do with the story, it does suit it in a melodramatic way.

      RE: King Vidor, I've got to add "Ruby Gentry" to my watching list. It's one of my favorite kinds of movies in that, while I *have* seen it and remember enjoying it, I remember precious little else about it, the stage therefore being set for me to enjoy it all over again. :)

      I will write again about "Bonjour Tristesse."

      All the best,


    3. I keep waiting for the US rights battles to allow an American release of "Who Killed Teddy bear" and "Puzzle of a Downfall Child" - both films available on DVD in Europe. But maybe it's just a matter of time. But it's been ages I've been waiting for a release of "Looking for Mr. Goodbar" DVD wish list could go on and on.
      As for "Ruby Gentry", it's sometimes a real treat to revisit a film you know you'e enjoyed before but retain little recollection of it.
      I'm going to look at "The Trip to Bountiful" tonight, I saw it when released and can't recall a thing about it now.
      Take care and good to hear from you, Allen!

  16. This movie notwithstanding, I've always felt that Bette Davis's worst performances throughout her career are pretty much unwatchable, while Joan Crawford's worst are still a lot of fun. Why is that? I think it's because Davis's contempt for bad material shows in her acting, while Crawford seems to approach every role with some kind of sincere attempt to make it better.

    1. Hi Kip
      That's a very interesting observation. One that feels very true to how I see the two actresses. Davis has always been the "Actress" while Crawford labeled the "Star." Just because an actress is talented doesn't mean she is incapable of leaning on her "tricks" when she's given an uninteresting role or a director unable to keep her in check. Davis can be pretty awful when she's not engaged.
      But part of being a STAR is being on, and I think you're matter how crappy the material, Crawford does remain watchable because she's never lazy. She's invested in earnest. She may be awful, but she's never dull to watch.
      Davis here is in Crawford territory. Magnificently terrible.

  17. Having finally gotten to see Beyond the Forest, a film that has escaped me forever until I snagged a Greek DVD of it, I have to say for the sheer camp factor it's become one of my favorites even if Bette hated it.

    I loved my husband's initial reaction to seeing Bette in this. Total shock at her appearance! Oh and how loath some she was as well. It wasn't until I reminded him of the parallels of growing up gay in a small town that we almost started to sympathize with her. Yes I'm sure that's not the intent but wow what an eye opener when you think about it. I couldn't wait to get out of the small town in Maine I grew up in. Couldn't wait for the sights and sounds of big city life. Couldn't wait to escape the closet either small town life forces on you. So it's no wonder this film was popular with gay men.

    I think it's really interesting that Bette's and Joan's careers were both on a kind of downward spiral at Warners at this time. While I like a Stolen Life, I think Bette's best picture around the 40s was Mr Skeffington. Deception like Joan's Humoresque are both slogs to get through even if glamorous. I mean Joan is beautiful in Humoresque but both the scripts seem off to me. Bette then gets saddled with 2 films that are mostly snooze fests with Winter Meeting and June Bride. Joan lucks out and gets Possessed (my 2nd favorite Crawford Film) and Daisy Kenyon before sliding down into the Warners trap of terrible scripts with just ok films Flamingo Road and The Damned Don't Cry. I'm telling you miscasting from Warners gets Bette Beyond the Forest and for Joan, it's Goodbye My Fancy (to me a complete and utter borefest!!!)

    Luckily after they both get out they are rescued by two hits with All About Eve and Sudden Fear.

    It's just interesting to see that Warners didn't really know what to do with them after some highs and then a few lows. A sad way to end their contract careers.

    1. Hello, Dave
      It sounds as though you felt much like I did when, after years of only hearing about BEYOND THE FOREST, I finally got to see it. It’s fabulous! Such an overripe performance from Davis, and the melodrama is irresistibly overheated.

      I love that the parallel made about Rosa Moline’s itching for a better, more exciting life outside of a small provincial town resonated with you and your partner. It’s such a relatable aspect of the adolescent gay experience. For those raised in small towns, especially, but emotionally, not much different, even for kids like me who grew up in big cities.
      It is the ideal route of viewer identification through which Rosa and her quest become humanized and recognizable. And indeed, gay audiences have been attracted to these sort of “There’s gotta be somethin’ better than this!” stories …camp and all, for ages (Valley of the Dolls comes to mind).

      And your knowledgeable rundown of the mid-career Warners output of Bette and Joan hits the mark. As much as I like both actresses, I feel the same about many of the tiles you listed. The films are professionally competent, and the women often look lovely, but the movies are unremarkable to downright dull.
      I’ll take an over-the-top masterpiece of mess like BEYOND THE FOREST any day.
      Thank you very much, Dave, for sharing your thoughts on this film with us. Your taking the time to read my post and contribute so enjoyably is appreciated!