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USA 1949
Directed by
King Vidor
96 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

Beyond The Forest

Bette Davis plays Rosa Moline, the wife of a Wisconsin country doctor, Louis (Joseph Cotton). Hating the small town in which she was born and grew up she will stop at nothing to start a new life with Chicago businessman Neil Latimer (David Brian) in King Vidor's florid melodrama.

Told largely in an single extended flashback, the main attraction of the film is Davis who plays with characteristic gusto a bitter woman with apparently no redeeming features, something which combined with the fact that she looks like an older version of Morticia from The Addams Family makes the idea of her as a) married to a good-natured country M.D.; and b) the object of desire for a wealthy businessman qualities which are difficult to swallow. 

Which is not to say that there are any lesser attractions to be had in a film which Davis herself scorned and which was critically derided in its day (it was the last she made for Warners). 

Although Davis has some nicely acerbic lines and Vidor piles on the heavy-handed symbolism like the constantly roaring sawmill furnace visible from the Moline home, a surreal nightmare section after Rosa is rejected by her lover in Chicago, and a throbbing locomotive engine panting to take to her to Chicago, these are actually the best parts of the film.

Not only is composer Max Steiner’s contribution limited to rolling out reiterations of Fred Fisher’s classic 1922 song ‘Chicago’, the plot is shoddy, particularly towards the end, and the film fails to deliver on its opening promise to tell a story about someone who gave herself up to evil (behaviour which presumably explains Rosa’s otherwise inexplicable expiration). Davis comes across more as mentally-disturbed than evil.

Fans of parody and self-parody in particular won't be disappointed but that's as much as the film has to offer.

FYI: Davis’s line "What a dump!" spoken when Rosa and Louis return home after socializing was quoted by Elizabeth Taylor's Martha in Who's Afraid of Viriginia Woolf? (1966)




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