James Curtis: L.A. Voices — David Lewis, Part 2

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When we were ready to start the script, Casey, his wife Audrey, and I went to the Phoenix Biltmore to get away for a few days and start conferences on the script. But we had only been there three or four days when Casey was called back to Burbank. His current film, The Old Maid, needed some work. Still, we had started to form the script and we knew we had a problem — how to frame the story. We were eliminating the last half of the book — the New England story — but we wanted to give a suggestion of what happened to Henriette after Paris. The book opened on a night boat from England, where Henriette had been governess to a family. Henry Field, the minister from America whom she finally married, is on the boat, and she is very cool to him; she is on her way to her new job with the de Praslin family. Much of her background is then revealed in a scene with her grand- father in Paris. We learn of her illegitimacy and that her grandfather is anti-aristocracy. Indeed, he disowns her when he learns of where she is to become governess. From then on the book is a straight narrative of her adventures and eventual downfall.

By the time we again took up work on All This, and Heaven Too, Casey had come up with a frame: a girls’ school in Boston where Henriette has come to teach. The spoiled girls have caught wind of the old scandal and begin taunting her with it. Henriette wants to quit but is induced to stay and tell her story to her pupils, leaving it for them to decide her fate. The story itself is then told in flashback, returning to the school after her narration. By this time Henry Field has joined the group and one gets a sense of the new life that awaits Henriette. It solved many of the story problems we faced.

Previously by James Curtis:

James Curtis’ interview with Dick Lane Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7

James Curtis’ interview with Jules White, Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

James Curtis interview with David Lewis, Part 1

'All This, and Heaven Too'
David Lewis’ credit as associate producer on “All This, and Heaven Too.”


Meanwhile, Rachel had been able to get an exact transcript of Henriette’s trial. She had not had it when she wrote the book, but we found its authenticity in writing the film a great help.

Hal Wallis had mercifully stopped interfering with my script development. He recognized that my scripts were excellent, though he complained that on actual production I was weak. I think that was because I never haunted sets unless there was a problem, and he had to have something to complain about. He still didn’t much like me; I was still a Warner man. He also knew that my films almost never went over budget. In fact, the only one that had was Dark Victory (by about $30,000), mainly because of Bette’s ”illness.” That didn’t stop him from complaining about my extravagance.

'All This, and Heaven Too'
Casey had come up with a frame: a girls’ school in Boston where Henriette has come to teach. The spoiled girls have caught wind of the old scandal and begin taunting her with it.

 


Anatole Litvak came onto the picture a few weeks before the film was to start. l had worked with him on The Sisters and was frank: ”Tola, your work is ice-cold, and I worry about you on this picture with its fragile relationships.” He was quite upset with this—and rightly so — but it caused him to bend over backward to do a fine job, which eventually he did. He had a good sense of camera and action, and although he quarreled with Bette, both of them being fiery, opinionated people, he staged her beautifully in the long run.

Bette was rather surly during the making of the film. It was the film in which she adopted that precise speech pattern for which she later became famous. Wallis thought it artificial, so I talked to Bette about it. She explained that it was in lieu of a French accent, which she rightly felt beyond her, and that Wallis doesn’t know a goddamn thing about acting. “If you can’t accept it,” she added pleasantly, “I’ll kick your teeth in.” I told her I liked it just fine and that, all things considered, it suited the character. ”Good,” she replied. ”Tell Wallis to go fuck himself.”

Unfortunately, Bette decided to keep that clipped manner of delivery well beyond All This, and Heaven Too, and I think it contributed to the Bette Davis caricature she later became. Still, she was quite right to give a different sense to the French girl she was playing.

'All This, and Heaven Too'

Bette Davis falls to her knees in the courtroom scene when she learns that the Duc de Praslin (Charles Boyer) has taken poison “All This, and Heaven Too.”


There was particular trouble between Bette and Litvak in the courtroom scene. Bette had a moment where she heard the Duc was dying, and she wanted to fall to her knees. Litvak disagreed. There was a real row over this piece of business, and they finally sent for me. I suggested they try it both ways, which they did, and Bette’s way was so obviously the better that I sided with her.

Judith Anderson had been penciled in for the Duchesse, but M-G-M dangled a year’s contract in front of her and Australian cupidity won out. Barbara O’Neil was chosen instead. I worried about Litvak’s conception of the immaculate, beautifully dressed grande dame, and so did she. But he insisted, and, in that instance, prevailed. Yet I thought it hurt her performance.

The cast was carefully chosen and the children hand-picked. It was June Lockhart’s first film appearance, and Virginia Weidler was borrowed from M-G-M to play another daughter. Four-year-old Richard Nichols was a godsend. Bette adored him.

To be continued.

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About lmharnisch

I work at the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in 1940, Books and Authors, Film, Hollywood, James Curtis, L.A. Voices and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to James Curtis: L.A. Voices — David Lewis, Part 2

  1. Always happy to see trig functions in the movies, but there is an “=” sign missing in the third row, just behind Bette Davis. I suppose it’s a bit late to point this out.

  2. I just realized that this gives a second mathematical meaning to her 1972 movie “Madame Sin”!

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