Bette Davis who had emerged to stardom in 1934’s Of Human Bondage, in which she received an Oscar nomination was now ready to immortalize herself after her Academy Award winning performance in Dangerous ( 1935 )
Immortalizing herself was exactly what she did, and for the rest of her life Bette Davis would hold a prominent reign over Hollywood and the movie industry worldwide, but to reach that high stature that Davis had attained took many years of hard work, energy as well as a myriad of unnoticeable film roles that didn’t allow Davis the time to fully establish herself as an actress.
Bette Davis was unlike any other actress who graced the silver screen. In 1930’s Hollywood where reputation was always a promising asset, many stars feared taking on roles of characters that were villainous or unsympathetic, but Davis who enjoyed stepping out of the boundaries was more than willing to metamorphose herself into a criminal or a person that inhabits a shady secret to prove that she had the potential making of a versatile actress.
These indelible traits that Bette had possessed sure did take her on a memorable journey to a world of success and victory, something that Davis would never have imagined years earlier, but now in 1935, Davis didn’t need to worry as she had just received her first Academy Award, and at the young age of twenty seven, Bette Davis had Hollywood at her fingertips.
Following her groundbreaking performance in Of Human Bondage, Bette Davis spent the next twelve months appearing in low budget pictures that did nothing to embellish her position at Warner Brothers. It was a year later that Davis would finally be given a challenging role that she could sink her teeth into. The title of the film being offered was Dangerous, a solid drama that revolves around the story of alcoholism and the damaging effects it has on an actress who was once a glorious star and loved by the whole world.
Bette Davis however was less enthusiastic when she read the script for Dangerous. She seen it as another cheap and untactful film which were largely dominant on her resume at this point, but once the studio production chief, Hal B. Wallis convinced her that he could turn the character of Joyce Heath into something special, Davis began to realize that a lot of imagination could go into this character that partly resembled her idol, Jeanne Eagels.
“You with your fat little soul and your smug face – picking your way so cautiously through a pastel existence.”
Like Joyce Heath, Jeanne Eagels was a successful Broadway actress whose career was ascending, but despite of her current achievements and towering fame, Eagels started abusing drugs and alcohol which sent her down a deadly path that would lead to her premature death at the age of thirty nine.
Bette Davis had always greatly admired Jeanne Eagels, and when she discovered that her role was loosely based on her idol she immediately signed for the part. Not only was she determined to do Jeanne Eagels justice, she was adamant about perfecting all the ingredients of a washed-up actress with a formidable existence, so she implored Orry Kelly to design costumes that would be ideal for a past stage personality living off the bottle and residing on the wrong side of the tracks.
Franchot Tone who was fresh out of his Academy Award nominated performance in Mutiny On The Bounty was assigned the role of Davis’ love interest in the film while Margaret Lindsay was cast as Gail Armitage, who is engaged to Tone’s character, Don Bellows. Directorial duties went to Alfred E. Green, who had been prolific in the directing field since the silent era and Laird Doyle provided the screenplay for the film.
On-screen Bette Davis and Franchot Tone were enamored by each other and developed a magnetic chemistry, but off-screen their relationship was different. Franchot Tone was engaged to Joan Crawford who was cognizant about his liaison with Davis but didn’t step in until she whisked Franchot Tone off to marry him when filming had wrapped. This incident is believed to be the stemming point of the alleged feud between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford.
The film chronicles the story of Joyce Heath ( Bette Davis ) a washed-up former Broadway star who was once at the zenith of her career. After a few altercations that led her to believe that she’s a jinx, Heath abandoned the stage and took to alcohol which sent her on a downward spiral that she is unable to elude.
Late one night Joyce Heath is sitting in a daze in a city bar in a drunken stupor when she is encountered by the architect, Don Bellows ( Franchot Tone ) who is thankful to Joyce for inspiring him to launch his career in architecture. After finding himself in the presence of his idol, Bellows sets out to help Joyce Heath escape from her current state of dipsomania and is determined to resurrect her theatrical career.
Dangerous is an impressive film that garnered Bette Davis her first Academy Award for her powerful performance as Joyce Heath. Although the Oscar was well deserved, Davis later stated that it was a consolation prize for not winning for Of Human Bondage.
Prior to Dangerous, Bette Davis had appeared in twenty nine films since making her Hollywood debut in 1931 when she cast in The Bad Sister, but after progressing through Davis’ early filmography Dangerous and Of Human Bondage are the only films that mark an ounce of distinction out of all her productions from this period of her career.
Bette Davis was one of the most versatile actresses, and Dangerous proves why. As Joyce Heath, Davis captures all the emotions of a consummate Broadway star who has fallen from the height of her career and landed into the walls of intoxication, a situation that she can’t elude without the help of Don Bellows who still witnesses potential in Joyce and goes as far as breaking off his engagement with Gail Armitage, so he can assist Joyce in restoring her career while falling in love with her in the process.
“Oh, you cheap, petty bookkeeper, you! Every time I think of those soft, sticky hands of yours even touch me it makes me sick. Sick, do you hear? You’re everything that’s repulsive to me. Your wife! I’ve never been a wife to you, you poor simpering fool. If you had any pride, if you were a man instead of a drooling milk stop, you’d throw me out and be ashamed you admitted you ever married me.”
On it’s release, Dangerous opened to mix reviews. The New York times stated “That Bette Davis has been unable to match the grim standard she set as Mildred in Of Human Bondage is not to her discredit. In Dangerous, she tries again. Except for a few sequences where the tension is convincing as well as deadly she fails . . . Say this for Miss Davis: she seldom lets down.” Variety released a statement that read, “”Laird’s dialog is adult, intelligent and has a rhythmic beat. Davis’ performance is fine on the whole, despite a few imperfect moments. When called upon to reach an intense dramatic pitch without hysterics, Davis is capable of turning the trick. Yet there are moments in Dangerous when a lighter acting mood would be opportune.”
Eighty one years since it’s release, Dangerous remains a stepping stone to Bette Davis’ triumphant success as an actress that she would attain years later in films that have since eclipsed Davis’ favorable outcome in the predecessor.
Though Bette Davis was very proud of the Oscar she won for this film, she didn’t think she deserved it that year – in her opinion, Katharine Hepburn should have won for Alice Adams (1935). Davis always thought she won as compensation for not even being nominated for her star-making performance in Of Human Bondage (1934) the previous year.
Bette Davis: Born Ruth Elizabeth Davis on April 5th, 1908 in Lowell, Massachusetts. Died: October 6th, 1989 in Neuilly, Sur Seine, France. Aged 81. Cause of death: Breast Cancer.
Franchot Tone: Born Stanislaus Pascal Franchot Tone on February 27th, 1905 in Niagara Falls, New York. Died: September 18th, 1968 in New York. Aged 63. Cause of death: Lung Cancer.