Ever since I heard how awfully wonderful 1949 BEYOND THE FOREST was I made my life mission to track it down. But alas the journey to there has been far from easy since the DVD version of the film is MIA in North America; something to do with rights or some legal crap. Anyway, to make a long story shorter, after years of coming up short I finally got my hands on a copy. How? I will never tell. ‘Cause if I do, I’d have to kill you. And I would have none of that. You guys mean too much to me. But let just say that the find was unexpected and so worth it.
The film stars the great Bette Davis. In it she plays a restless aging small town doctor’s wife who sports not only a Morticia Adams black wig but has an Alexis Carrington bitchiness about her that makes you smile a lot. Chewing the scenery whenever she can, she struts her tush aplenty, uttering kitschy lines like the infamous “what a dump” (regarding her modest house) to her amorous but impoverished hubby Joseph Cotton who mostly ignores her antics. And just like Alexis, she uses her charms and cunning ways to get what she wants, most noticeably when hooking up with city-based business man Neil Latimer who promises her the world. But when he doesn’t hold his end of the bargain Davis is humiliated and forced to settle back to a life she hates.
When she is expecting a child from her husband later on and on the verge of accepting her fate as a small-town citizen, Latimer reappears and announces that he wants her after all. Enthusiastic to say the least, Davis plans an escape route that involves the murder of her hubby’s BFF who wants to throw her under the bus; a quick trial; a self-imposed miscarriage by jumping over an embankment; and a trudge toward an awaiting train that ends up being one of the longest scenes in movie history. In between you get an overall keen eye from director King Vidor, a wonderful score from famed composer Max Steiner (GONE WITH THE WIND), a definitive film noir look from Hitchcock’s fave cinematographer Robert Burks, and plenty of over the top moments from la Bette.
Rumor has it that Davis was contractedly forced to make BEYOND THE FOREST and that she was less than a happy trooper. Fights with the director and producers led to an unhappy set. Still despite her overblown performance she manages to be quite effective as a long in the tooth crazed vixen. The novel on which the film is based depicts the character to be much younger, but Davis makes it her own and gives the film an interesting twist. There are times when you can almost feel her desperation. Far from being perfect, BEYOND THE FOREST is certainly enjoyable. This portrait of a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown will leave no one unfazed—whether you like your films campy or not.
Until next post—Martin