At age 27 Bette Davis won an Oscar for playing a burnt-out, drunken, embittered, middle-aged actress, Joyce Heath in this film. She is magnificent as a character so full of nervous energy that even her besotted lover (Franchot Tone) recognizes that she is only bearable if she can work off her neuroses on stage. To her fans, this character is recognizable as Davis' persona, but it's important to note that in 1935 she hadn't done anything like this before. In her must-see performance Davis creates a person who is both self-centered and vulnerable, often within the same sentence.
As glorious as she is, I can't help wishing she'd made this movie in 1948. Young Davis manages to seem world weary enough, but never the frump other characters describe. Shesprings back to youthful perfection too quickly for us to believe she has weather years of hard drinking. Imagine the older Davis in the full flower of her talent inhabiting such a juicy, glorious role. She would have drop-kicked that mofo into eternity. And what if this movie had been made just 18 months earlier, in the pre-code era? Gone would be the insipid, unconvincing ending, in which marital vows are renewed with clockwork precision.
Des,pite these failings, Dangerous is still a great movie. Tone is at his best. I've always liked Franchot Tone. If there were a Tone fan club, I'd probably join it. (And I fully expect to hear of one, as soon as I post this!) Oh, it's true he played all the same sort of wealthy gadabout roles that Roberts Montgomery and Taylor did so well, but Tone brought something unique to them. Perhaps it was that he was a wealthy gadabout in real life. He was, as Mike Connor says of C. K. Dexter Haven, "born to the purple, but still a very nice guy." In Dangerous, he plays an up-and-coming young architect who must choose between his lovely, funny, rich and well-connected fiancee and Davis' washed-up, probably bi-polar, certainly manipulative actress. This seems to be a no-brainer, of course, until Tone glimpses Davis in romantic lighting, wearing his old clothes. She does more for wearing a rope as a belt than even Ellie May Clampit. In this scene Davis has a devilish, nay Satanic, smile that takes half a dozen frames to develop. I've done my best with the screencaps but I fear I've failed. Davis is just one of those stars whom still pictures can never quite capture. Enjoy.
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