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Beyond the Forest (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on June 30, 2012

The wild saga of Rosa Moline (Bette Davis), trapped in the one-horse burg of Loyalton, Wisconsin, with her boring husband (Joseph Cotten), the town’s kindly and beloved doctor.  Rosa watches the trains come and go, longing to jump on one and head for the big city of Chicago.  She has desires and aspirations this sleepy town can’t provide, but she sees hope in one of its former residents, a millionaire executive (David Brian).  She’ll get out of there, or she’ll die trying.

I loved this movie even more the second time around.  Davis makes for the most deliriously delightful (or delightfully delirious) femme fatale, and fire and venom and vinegar, spitting out those wonderfully nasty lines with glee.  “You finally have the guts to hate me!” is just one of several gems in the script.  Screenwriter Lenore J. Coffee penned at least one other fantastic noir — Sudden Fear — and I’ve got a couple more on my watchlist.  Davis’s performance is gloriously hammy, campy, over the top.  Cotten does a fine job as her entirely too tolerant hubby, and Dona Drake is a hoot as their petulant maid, but it’s really Bette’s show through and through.  And boy, does she make the most of it.  As devious and wicked as she is, I really do feel for Rosa.  As a city dweller myself, I would hate to be stuck in some podunk town where the hottest thing going is a square dance.  And you can’t help feeling sorry for her after that disastrous trip to Chicago, when she starts to realize the true limitations of her world.  Moralizing preambles aside, surely Vidor meant for his audience to understand Rosa’s turmoil at least somewhat. 

But this isn’t a pity piece, and sooner or later her behavior is so extremely nasty we can’t feel sorry for her… though secretly (or not so secretly), we still root for her.  With an appropriately melodramatic score by Max Steiner and gorgeous noir stylings by cinematographer Robert Burks (who would go on to shoot 12 Hitchcock pictures, including many of his most iconic), the film madly careens towards its maniacal climax, with Davis doing the most delusional descent down a staircase this side of Sunset Boulevard.  A great ending to a great film.  Rating: Masterpiece


One Response to “Beyond the Forest (rewatch)”

  1. […] 24. Beyond the Forest (1949, King Vidor) […]

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