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"What a Dump!"


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The first sounds of the film is from the highly dramatic musical score of Max Steiner that instantly tells the viewer that what they are about to see is Melodrama.







That opening title music is followed by a forward written across the screen:







This is the story of evil. Evil is headstrong - is puffed up. For our soul's sake, it is salutary for us to view it in all its naked ugliness once in a while. Thus may we know how those who deliver themselves over to it, end up like the Scorpion, in a mad fury stinging themselves to eternal death.







. . . end up like the Scorpion, in a mad fury stinging themselves to eternal death! Who writes like that? But I love it! And the viewer can't say that he or she hasn't been warned.







I finally caught up with an old video tape copy of Beyond the Forest, the infamous 1949 Warner Brothers melo often hailed as a camp classic, the film that ended Bette Davis' 17 year career with the studio. The actress herself took great pleasure in forever deriding the picture whenever she talked about it afterward.







Those three words serving as this thread's subject title, used by countless Davis imitators, drag queen acts and Liz Taylor in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolfe, has very much become a part of the Davis legend, probably the most famous line of dialogue of her career, along with All About Eve's "Fasten your seat belts. It's going to be a bumpy night."







But the truth is that when Davis, looking a little old and a bit ridiculous in a long haired black wig, finally utters the line, while contemptuously glancing around her house, she gives it a throwaway delivery. It has none of the emphasis that the Davis imitators have given it over the years.







However, I found this melodramatic film noirish brew which, unfortunately, seems to be currently tied up in litigation making its accessibility difficult, if not impossible, today, to be quite entertaining. I'm not saying it's a good film exactly, but Davis, playing a restless woman strutting around town, looking a tad too old to be wearing that wig, is fun to watch. Well, Warners was right when they came up with the promotional tag line for this film: Nobody's as good as Bette when she's bad!







Playing Rosa Moline, a small town doctor's wife who is bored . . .Bored . . .BORED!!! with the place and her husband, seeking, no, make that lusting, for the excitement and glamour that Chicago and David Brian's character represent, Davis is a character with few, if any, redeeming virtues. She operates on a self-absorbed level way beyond that of the average teen. This is a woman willing to do just about anything (Melodrama with a capital M here) to get her way. (And, yes, by the way, this lady knows how to use a gun).







I can fully understand why some might call this film's subject matter trashy. However I have to tell you that the climactic ending, bleak as it is, is dramatically staged by director King Vidor, as well as edited and photographed and played, of course, for all its worth by Davis. I think it takes great courage for any actor or actress to totally commit themself to playing a sequence for all the high charged drama they can muster. Davis has that courage is this film, as she did in many others.







No one else in this film has much of a chance beside the star. Joseph Cotten, playing her saintly doctor husband, does manage bring a contrasting sense of decency to his role. A young Ruth Roman gets fourth billing in a totally forgettable part. However, Dona Drake, while having little to do, does bring a certain tired insolence to her role as Davis' gum chewing Indian maid. (That, of course, prompts a less than politically correct reaction from Davis at one point: "You get out of this house. No Red Indian is going to talk to me like that in my own house!"







I hope for Davis and even non Davis fans that Beyond the Forest becomes available again. Many will tune in ready to laugh but I found this noirish drama to be something of a guilty pleasure. And Davis, when she plays it bad, is definitely fun to watch.







For all of the melodrama that Beyond the Forest provides, it also has a quiet, oddly contemplative scene in which Davis and Cotten are lying on a hillside beside a collection of tall trees. Davis watches as lumberjacks come along and take a couple of swings with their axes at the trees marked to come down.







Davis is very still, reflectively sad in this scene, commenting how the trees stand so tall and strong until someone comes along and marks them for death. She then asks her husband, "See any mark on me?"







Cotten dismisses the question, laughing it off.







"I always thought you were a rotten doctor," Davis says.







It's a moment of self awareness on Davis' part. She knows she is doomed . . . like the scorpion.








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Tom, I saw *Beyond the Forest* only once, years ago. I've never forgotten it, and I've always wanted to see it again.

I get so tired of these stupid "rights" battles, especially when I think that the majority of the films frozen in litigation and therefore inaccesible for classic movie fans to view would almost certainly not make much money for anyone, so what's all the fuss about?


Anyway, your as-usual beautifully written critique of the film was both informative and fun to read.

thanks !


(ps...even after all this time, I still enjoy doing a Bette Davis imitation of her standing in disgust and discontent in the middle of her very nicely furnished living room, one hand on her hip (I think) , proclaiming, "WHAT A DUMP !" )


Edited by: misswonderly on Jul 5, 2013 9:52 AM


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MissW, I guess we're an increasingly endangered species, those who have actually seen Beyond the Forest.


Davis imitators have turned the "What a dump!" line into a favourite camp classic, to which you yourself can attest with your pleasure at occasionally using it.


But Warners was a studio that did melodrama like no other and even when the proceedings threaten to go a little over-the-top it only adds to the fascination of watching it, as far as I'm concerned.


Beyond the Forest deserves to be seen again so viewers can have the opportunity to make their own appraisal of the film, yea or nay. With a film whose reputation has been slammed so much over the years, I was never in a hurry to see it. Now that I have, I'm glad I did and must say I had a good time watching Bette Davis in classic self-centred b***h mode.



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Yes, I don't understand why *Beyond the Forest* has been so denigrated by critics.


I have a dual relationship with what is regarded as melodrama that veers into camp: If the film is good, if it has redeeming qualities (which it usually does, certainly in the case of *Beyond the Forest*, and also Douglas Sirk's work) I similtaneously take the movie seriously, and enjoy the campy aspect of it.


Anyway, Bette is always fun to imitate - she was made for that ! I love saying, especially before a party or major social event (not that I go to many, social butterfly that I'm not), "Fasten your seatbelts; it's going to be a bumpy night !

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I remember seeing this thing years ago. It is a hoot and a half. And I

must say Bette looked pretty sexy with the wig and all, a very delectable

****, especially considering she was in her early 40s. I thought the

cutting down of the trees symbolized something totally different, but

to each person their own Freud. It has been on TCM in the long ago

past, because one of the short clips on YT has the old TCM logo. While

it may not be available on TV, it is available on DVD and VHS if one wants

to look for it. Until the rights issue are resolved, if ever, there is always

In This Our Life for a little kinky over the top melodrama.

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