Thursday, May 2, 2024

Dangerous (1935): A Review (Review #1810)



In 1934, a scandal broke out among the Hollywood set when Bette Davis was not nominated for her performance in Of Human Bondage. The response to this snub was so ferocious that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences allowed for write-in voting to let the non-nominee Davis into the race. She ultimately lost to Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night, though where exactly she ultimately placed in the overall voting is an unsolved mystery. Come the next year, Davis was going to win the Oscar come hell or high water. That hell or high water mark was Dangerous, a win which even Davis felt was a consolation prize for the Of Human Bondage snub. Dangerous, if remembered at all, is for Davis' Oscar win. While the film is a little dated and creaky, it is passable.

Joyce Heath (Davis) once ruled the Great White Way. However, a series of personal and professional tragedies led her to think she was a jinx to both people and Broadway shows. One person intrigued by Joyce is Don Bellows (Franchot Tone), who was inspired by her turn in Romeo and Juliet that he gave up a safe career and follow his dreams to be an architect.

A chance encounter with Joyce has him bringing her to his country retreat so she could dry out and pull herself together. At first, she is fine with being a lush but soon starts recovering and hopes for a comeback. She also falls for Don, who likewise is drawn to this tempestuous star despite being engaged to wealthy society debutante Gale Armitage (Margaret Lindsey). He, reluctantly, breaks off with Gale and soon mounts her comeback production of Forever Ends at Dawn

He proposes marriage, but she declines. Why? It is because Joyce has a terrible secret that makes marriage to Don or to anyone impossible. Will Joyce continue being an "evil star" and bring misery to all who cross paths with her? Will Don and Joyce find happiness?

Dangerous might be the first time an actor would win an Oscar for reasons outside the nominated performance, though this certainly would not be the last time such a thing happened. Oscars have been won by people for "the wrong movie" or because they were "overdue" or as a de facto Lifetime Achievement Award. Ask everyone from Joan Fontaine to Leonardo DiCaprio to Jamie Lee Curtis. I think even Davis would say that, if not for her Oscar win, no one would remember Dangerous, let alone bother to see it. 

As a film, Dangerous is not terrible. It does have a somewhat awkward manner of early sound films where you think people are being placed in relation to where the microphone is. It is also a bit of a stretch to believe that Don would take Joyce to his country retreat or that Joyce, in her early condition, would stay.

However, you do have a good performance from Davis as this troubled woman. In the middle of the film, she reads to Don a play, But to Die, from his library. It is not until the end that he realizes that she was making the whole thing up as she went along. That she was able to fool people showcased a committed actress to a part. Davis at times did appear a bit theatrical, such as when she drunkenly recites Shakespeare when Don first finds her. I put that down to her still developing as a film actress. Throughout Dangerous, we see an actress giving the part her all. Davis made good work out of Joyce Heath. She did not come across as some drunken harpy or pathetic lush but as an angry, bitter but terrified woman.

Davis even has a bit of comedy when dealing with Don's housekeeper, Mrs. Williams (Alison Skipworth). Surprised to find herself in strange surroundings and with an unknown woman, Joyce is naturally startled. Informed about her host's artistic abilities, Joyce snaps at the woman, "I suppose you're Mrs. Bellows, or are you just one of his sketches?". Davis does veer close to over-the-top when searching for more alcohol shortly afterwards, but I can forgive the somewhat overblown manner to things. 

I cannot say much for the supporting cast. Tone had a curiously breezy manner for most of Dangerous, as if he was not taking this seriously. It works well in the early moments when he is a young, mostly carefree lad, but even when things are meant to be serious, Tone still seems a bit too jolly. Lindsey had a nothing role, so I won't belabor her dull manner. Skipworth was better, though underused. Late in Dangerous, we are introduced to Gordon (John Eldredge), who holds the key as to why Joyce and Don cannot get married. He too had little to do and is a bit of a bore.

Dangerous came at the start of the Code era, meaning that a tacked on happyish ending was made. I was not convinced things would work out the way they did. That, however, was more the constraints Laird Doyle had on his screenplay than on the actors or director Alfred E. Green. 

Dangerous is a film that has possibilities and might be worth a remake. I doubt, however, that whoever takes the female leading role will replicate Davis in winning a Best Actress Oscar. Sadly, Dangerous does not make the case that Davis should have won for this role. 


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