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All This and Heaven Too Movie Review

Director: Anatole Litvak

Starring: Bette Davis, Charles Boyer, Barbara O'Neil, June Lockhart, Virginia Weidler, Ann E. Todd, Richard Nichols, Jeffrey Lynn, George Coulouris, Harry Davenport, Janet Beecher, Montagu Love, Helen Westley, Henry Daniell, Walter Hampden, Ann Gillis, Marilyn Knowlden

Oscar Wins: No wins.

Other Nominations: Best Supporting Actress (Barbara O'Neil), Best Cinematography (Black and White), Best Picture

Someone once described this movie as The Sound of Music meets Fatal Attraction. It’s a bold description, albeit and accurate one.

All This and Heaven Too is an old-fashioned melodrama based on the book by Rachel Lyman Field. It tells the real-life story of Field’s great-aunt who became involved in a scandal that shook France to the core.

The “flibbertijibbet” in this story is not a nun, but a governess named Henriette Deluzy-Desportes (Bette Davis). Young and hopeful, Henriette takes a job in Paris working for the household of the Duc de Praslin. The Duc (Charles Boyer) and his wife (Barbara O’Neil) are in a loveless marriage, but stay together for the sake of their four adorable children.

As Henriette grows closer with her charges, she comes to learn that they’ve all been emotionally abused and neglected by their mother, and she becomes hell-bent on establishing an atmosphere of warmth and love that the children have never known.

Even the Duc can’t help but be swept up by Henriette’s charm and a lovely friendship blossoms between them. Complete with serious unresolved sexual tension, their relationship remains firmly friend-zoned, though rumors soon begin to swirl that the Duc has found a new lady-love and is stepping out on his wife.

Meanwhile the Mrs. de Praslin falling into madness. In a performance that’s almost hilariously overacted, the Duchesse becomes insanely jealous of Henriette’s relationship with her family and fires her. She refuses to write Henriette a letter of reference, without which she cannot find a job, and Henriette is forced into poverty. Bitches be cray in 1800s Paris.

When the Duc discovers what his wife has done, he ragefully murders her, causing political turmoil amongst his wealthy peers. Henriette is wrongfully arrested for the crime, but in a final act of chivalry (or cowardice, depending on how you look at it), the Duc helps exonerate her…and Henriette leaves Paris for America, where she takes a job as a French teacher.

Clocking in at 143 minutes, this movie is incredibly long, but never dull. Even with the slow pace, I greatly enjoyed the story and was completely taken with the Praslin children, the youngest of which (Richard Nichols) is a complete joy to watch.

This is only the third Bette Davis movie I’ve seen and, I gotta say, she’s growing on me. Though she wasn’t a bombshell in comparison to some of her other peers, her acting chops and over-expressive eyeballs easily put her at the top of her class – especially when paired here with the debonair Charles Boyer. In each other they find something they’ve both been searching for – companionship – highlighted by Henriette’s words to the Duc: “In your unhappiness you reached out your hand for help and, in my loneliness, I took it.”

All This and Heaven Too was nominated for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress (O’Neil) and Best Cinematography. In the end, it came up empty-handed, but the film is still a wonder to behold – filled with amazing set designs and elegant costumes. It ends as all good melodramas should – with a hint of sadness and a glimmer of hope. Like a forlorn Austen heroine, Henriette may not get the guy but the lesson she learns is far more valuable.


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