Bette Davis has worn many hats over her decades-long career, both literally and figuratively. Below are photos of Miss Davis modeling many hats throughout her film career, accompanied with reviews, some of which I don't agree, of those films from critics at the time. I hope you enjoy this fun post, which is part of The Second Annual Bette Davis Blogathon hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. Be sure to check out all of the other posts on this iconic actress!
Bureau of Missing Persons (1933):
The pivotal idea of the picture is concerned with a young woman named Norma Phillips, whose good looks attract the attention of Butch Saunders, a thick-skulled sleuth. It is somewhat of a surprise to him when he is told by Webb that the sweet young thing had escaped from the Chicago police after being arrested for the murder of Therme Roberts. Norma succeeds in eluding Saunders for a while, but subsequently he finds her through a ruse, which is also instrumental in helping her to prove her innocence of the crime and to point to the actual murderer.
Bette Davis does well as Norma and Allen Jenkins makes the most of the role of a gum-chewing detective whose strong point is certainly not grammar.
Fashions of 1934:
Just why and how Bette Davis enters the picture never quite rings true. But there she is and she must be accepted.
Jimmy the Gent (1934):
Bette Davis is attractive and capable as Joan.
Davis' unusual coiffure and smart deportment helps a lot.
Of Human Bondage (1934):
Another enormously effective portrayal is that of Bette Davis as Mildred Rogers, the waitress who continually accepts Carey's generosity and hospitality and reveals herself as a heartless little ingrate. In a climactic episode, which recalls an incident in Kipling's "The Light That Failed," this sorry specimen of humanity slashes Carey's efforts at art, destroys his medical books and furniture and, in the film, even burns his bonds and private papers, leaving the apartment as though it had been struck by a tornado.
At the first showing yesterday of this picture the audience was so wrought up over the conduct of this vixen that when Carey finally expressed his contempt for Mildred's behavior applause was heard from all sides. There was a further outburst of applause when the film came to an end.
Front Page Woman (1935):
It develops early in the picture that Mr. Devlin and Miss Garfield (otherwise George Brent and Bette Davis) would be using a Mr. and Mrs. by-line were it not for Devlin's oft-repeated assertion that women are bum news-paper men.
That Bette Davis has been unable to match the grim standard she set as Mildred in "Of Human Bondage" is not to her discredit. In "Dangerous," the new film at the Rivoli, she tries again. Except for a few sequences where the tension is convincing as well as deadly she fails.
As Joyce Heath (the name inviting inevitable though irrelevant comparison with that of Barnum's fabulous crone), once a "vitally tempestuous creature." Miss Davis portrays an actress toppled by a rather esoteric jinx....During its course the blonde is vicious, coy and excellently almost-hysterical. Best under taut restraint. Miss Davis is least satisfactory when lines lead her to be sputtery and even tearful.
Toward the middle, the dialogue is stripped and biting; and several fine closeups—the photography is by Ernie Haller—help immensely.
Say this for Miss Davis: she seldom lets down.
When you get a bad review even though you were amazing.
It's Love I'm After (1937):
Bette Davis is the understanding woman of the world, wise in her true estimates of the fickleness of men. The role is a distinct departure from the heavier type of things which she usually plays, and she reveals a fine sense of comedy.
This just misses sock proportions. That’s due to an anti-climactic development on the one hand, and a somewhat static character study of the Dixie vixen, on the other.
Against an 1852 New Orleans locale, when the dread yellow jack (yellow fever epidemic) broke out, the astute scriveners have fashioned a rather convincing study of the flower of Southern chivalry, honor and hospitality. Detracting is the fact that Bette Davis’ ‘Jezebel’ suddenly metamorphoses into a figure of noble sacrifice and complete contriteness.
What Bette thinks of Variety's review.
Dark Victory (1939):
Bette Davis won an Academy award last year for her performance in "Jezebel," a spottily effective film. Now it is more than ever apparent that the award was premature. It should have been deferred until her "Dark Victory" came along, as it did yesterday to the Music Hall. Miss Davis is superb. More than that, she is enchanted and enchanting. Admittedly it is a great role—rangy, full-bodied, designed for a virtuosa, almost sure to invite the faint damning of "tour de force." But that must not detract from the eloquence, the tenderness, the eartbreaking sincerity with which she has played it. We do not belittle an actress to remark upon her great opportunity; what matters is that she has made the utmost of it.
Miss Davis, naturally, has dominated—and quite properly—her film.
Otherwise, all is in his [Juarez as played by Paul Muni] favor—the regal manner, lofty intentions honor, courage, tenderness and, of course, husbandship to the tragic Carlota, whose insanity Bette Davis counterfeits so well.
Are you implying that I'm insane?
The Old Maid (1939):
As the old maid, Miss Davis has given a poignant and wise performance, hard and austere of surface, yet communicating through it the deep tenderness, the hidden anguish of the heart-broken mother.
All This, and Heaven Too (1940):
Alert to the opportunity, Miss Davis and Mr. Boyer put all the "soul" they possess into the playing of the principal roles. Under the slow-paced direction of Anatole Litvak, they carry through mainly on one somber key—Miss Davis with her large eyes filled with sadness and her mouth drooping heavily with woe, Mr. Boyer with his face a rigid mask, out of which his dark eyes signal pain.
The Bride Came C.O.D. (1941):
As word had passed along the grapevine, this was the picture in which Bette Davis, the Duse of Warners, had let her back hair down and given vent to the animal spirits repressed in a long line of lead-heavy roles. And the answer is that as the comic sparring partner of James Cagney, no slouch himself, Miss Davis has taken the bit in her teeth and flung her breathless way through a rough-and-tumble comedy with no gags barred.
So furiously has she joined the fray that comically speaking she has "o'er-leaped the horse," landing, as luck would have it, on a cactus bed where it does the least harm. But after the bleak tragedies of the past, who can hold the pendulum back—or would care to? Let a lady have some fun.
As we were intimating, "The Bride Came C. O. D." is neither the funniest comedy in history nor the shortest distance between two points. But for the most part it is a serviceable romp in which Mr. Cagney, as usual, gives better than he takes, George Tobias steals a scene or two and Miss Davis can learn her comic ABC's. Next time we hope she'll relax a little and not take her fun quite so strenuously.
In handing Davis a comedy assignment, Warners go all out in also making her the victim of continual physical and mental violence. She’s dirtied up in a mine; acquires three doses of cacti needles in periodic falls; and even exposes her posterior as target for well-directed shots from Cagney’s improvised slingshot.
Davis clicks strongly as the oil heiress, displaying a flair for comedy.
The Little Foxes (1941):
Miss Davis's performance in the role which Talluluh Bankhead played so brassily on the stage is abundant with color and mood. True, she does occasionally drop an unmistakable imitation of her predecessor; she performs queer contortions with her arms like a nautch-dancer in a Hindu temple, and generally she comports herself as though she were balancing an Academy "Oscar" on her high-coiffed head. But the role calls for heavy theatrics; it is just a cut above ten-twent'-thirt'. Miss Davis is all right.
The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942):
One palm should be handed Bette Davis for accepting the secondary role of the secretary, and another palm should be handed her for playing it so moderately and well.
In This Our Life (1942):
Apparently the Warners were afraid that Bette Davis's role in "The Man Who Came to Dinner" would inspire for their mordant Duse a bit too much public sympathy. Miss Davis was far too agreeable as Sheridan Whiteside's patient secretary. So the Burbank Brothers have quickly cast the young lady back into one of her familiar characterizations of an out-and-out trouble-making shrew. And that is what she plays, as poisonously as only she can.
But Miss Davis, by whom the whole thing pretty much stands or falls, is much too obviously mannered for this spectator's taste. "I'd rather do anything than keep still," she bitterly complains at one point. And that's the truth; she is forever squirming and pacing and grabbing the back of her neck. It is likewise very hard to see her as the sort of sultry dame that good men can't resist. In short, her evil is so theatrical and so completely inexplicable that her eventual demise in an auto accident is the happiest moment in the film.
Now, Voyager (1942):
Although it carries a professional bedside manner, "Now, Voyager," Bette Davis's latest tribulation at the Hollywood, contains not a little quackery. For two hours of heartache and repeated renunciation, Miss Davis lays bare the morbidities of a repressed ugly duckling who finally finds herself as a complete woman.
Miss Davis plays the young woman, high-lighting her progress to emotional maturity with the decision and accuracy of an assured actress.
I wonder if anyone ever set their veils on fire...
Old Acquaintance (1943):
The Warners were out to give Miss Davis another workout over an emotional obstacle course—and they have done so in a film paralleling, as closely as possible, her and Miss Hopkins' "The Old Maid." Only the obstacles erected in this one are pointless and contrived, and the emotion generated is as phony as a spray-gun sweat.
Under the circumstances, Miss Davis' acting, in her customary style, is fluid and full of contrivance—but it doesn't mean a thing. Only when she dresses up expensively, as a forty-ish woman of the world, with a curiously lacquered complexion and a streak of gray in her hair, does character coincide with performance. Both are artificial then.
Mr. Skeffington (1944):
Never, in our recollection, has Miss Davis devoted so much work to a character of so little importance as the one she plays in this film. And never has make-up borne so plainly the dramatic responsibilities of a show...There is little or nothing to the character which Miss Davis vigorously plays.
Miss Davis' performance is impressive: you have to give it that. She plays a siren with all the stops out and in thirty years of styles of women's clothes. Unfortunately, the style of her lady doesn't change perceptibly—particularly the voice, which is probably the most monotonously affected one you'll ever hear.
A Stolen Life (1946):
The understandable ambition that every actress must feel to play dual roles in a movie, thus multiplying her presence by two, has been ratified by Bette Davis on her own histrionic behalf in her first self-produced Warner picture, "A Stolen Life," which came to the Hollywood yesterday. But a friend of Miss Davis who has generally found her thoroughly sufficient in single roles must observe that she has proved no advantage by playing her dramatic vis-à-vis.
But then it appears that the writers and director were not too much concerned with logic so long as they provided a tandem vehicle for Miss Davis' show. And a show she does give, beyond question. As the Snow White sister she is bland, wistful, introverted—the sort of character she usually plays when put upon. As Rose Red, she swaggers, talks boldly and generally behaves toward herself the way Miriam Hopkins has been noted to behave toward her—or she to ward others—in the past. Indeed, the direct juxtaposition of Miss Davis' two familiar types of roles, with herself—expertly photographed, incidentally—playing both of them, inclines to disconcert. The trick is too patent to be illusory, the situation too theatrically contrived.
Me at weddings.
Bette Davis is a competent actress, or so we've been led to believe, but they'd better start giving her good stories—or soon we'll be led to forget.
That... is all "Deception" is intended to do— give Miss Davis an opportunity to act a harassed and love-tortured dame. That she does, with such coiling of her body and rotating of her eyes as has become entirely familiar in the more unrestrained things that she plays. But the outcome of her performance still leaves her entirely unrevealed.
June Bride (1948):
It has been to long since Bette Davis or Robert Montgomery has played straight comedy that the pleasure of seeing them both in "June Bride," playing it gaily, may be just a matter of change. But we wouldn't say so—not entirely. Rather we're inclined to suspect that they have a delightful vehicle in this little comedy-romance at the Strand. Though it isn't precisely a chef-d'oeuvre of humorous invention on the screen, it makes for refreshing entertainment, as they play it, and it will do till a chef-d'oeuvre comes along.
Maybe we owe Miss Davis and Mr. Montgomery our special gratitude for playing a couple of smart worldlings with a lovely talent for the comic touch, for timing a line or a gesture to the micrometric dot.
Beyond the Forest (1949):
Of all the no-good women that Bette Davis has portrayed in her numerous elaborate demonstrations of the deadliness of the female sex, she has never done any more unpleasant nor more grotesque than the creature she plays in the Warners' "Beyond the Forest," which came to the Strand yesterday. This time she's not only a mean one: she's a callous and calculated fiend whose flamboyant selfishness and cruelties are on a virtually extra-human plane. As a matter of fact, she is so monstrous—so ghoulishly picturesque—that her representation often slips off into laughable caricature.
We cannot imagine that King Vidor, her director, desired this last to be, but we strongly suspect that he was working to make her look just as vicious as he could. For not only has he accepted a thoroughly denigrating script, but he has harshened and uglified Miss Davis so that she's as repulsive as a witch in a cartoon.
Not to be coy about it, we can see no "Oscars" in the offing for this film.
The Catered Affair (1956):
The performance of Miss Davis as the mother who discombobulates the lives of her daughter, her husband and her brother just to gratify her vanity and whims is uncomfortably complicated and alien to the lowly locale. Though made up to look a middle-aged slattern, Miss Davis gives the role the air of a gentlelady who has come down a little in the world and deliberately uses had grammar, with some effort and considerable shame. Underneath her rolls of fat and dowdy dresses beats the heart of a peevish granddame.
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962):
Joan Crawford and Bette Davis make a couple of formidable freaks in the new Robert Aldrich melodrama, "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"
As the mobile one [Davis] who is slowly torturing to death the helpless sister whose fame as a movie actress eclipsed her own as a child vaudeville star, she shrieks and shrills in brazen fashion, bats her huge mascaraed eyes with evil glee, snarls at the charitable neighbors and acts like a maniac. Indeed, it is only as a maniac that her character can be credited here—a sadly demented creature who is simply working out an ancient spite.
Dead Ringer (1964):
Well, Bette Davis is back—all over town, in fact...Her mammoth creation of a pair of murderous twin sisters...is great fun to watch.
Miss Davis does not let them down. She puffs, pants, pouts and pops her eyes with all the professional relish she can muster. It is sheer cinematic personality on the rampage, in a performance that, while hardly disscreet, is certainly arresting. Deadly as her films may be, Bette Davis, the star, is very much alive.
And now, a few more hats:
Marked Woman (1937)
Bette Davis, Queen of hats.