I really love this film. I have watched it many times. It’s one that gets richer each time you watch it. Often, you hear it dismissed, or at least introduced, as Bette Davis’s Gone With The Wind, but it is definitely more than just a consolation prize. This film represents a turning point in Davis’s career and it was after her phenomenal turn in this film that she became the superstar we now know and love. The film was nominated for five Academy Award, won two: Best Cinematography, Best Score, Best Supporting Actress Fay Bainter (won), Best Actress Bette Davis (won), Best Picture. The other films nominated for Best Picture that year were The Adventures of Robin Hood, Alexander’s Ragtime Band, Boys Town, The Citadel, Four Daughters, La Grande Illusion, Pygmalion, Test Pilot, and winner You Can’t Take It With You. I have actually seen all of these films, and they are ALL fantastic.
Continuing with Noirvember, I decided to write about a proto-noir, William Wyler’s Dead End. This is a fabulous example of crime cinema, coming at the end of the thirties and a wave of films like Scarface and The Petrified Forest. Dead End takes a look at the life of several residents who live in tenements located below luxury apartments built for the view of the picturesque East River. The film was nominated for four Academy Awards, though it didn’t win any: Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Supporting Actress Claire Trevor and Best Picture. The other films nominated for Best Picture that year were The Awful Truth, Captains Courageous, The Good Earth, In Old Chicago, Lost Horizon, One Hundred Men and a Girl, Stage Door, A Star Is Born and winner The Life of Emile Zola.
Earlier this morning I participated in a virtual roundtable/Q&A about film restoration and conversion between Jeff Baker who is the Executive Vice President and General Manager Warner Bros. theatrical catalog, Ned Price who is the Vice President of Mastering at Warner Bros. and Andy Parsons who is the chair of the Blu-ray Association of America. By participated, I mean I watched the livestream of their conversation and asked a question via text after it was finished. Presented after the cut are what I think are the most interesting parts of the conversation, as well as the question I asked. While I am still one of those people who buys most of my films on DVD over Blu-ray (tell me how you screencap Blu-rays you bastards and I’ll switch!) the process behind how films get chosen, etc. is pretty fascinating.
Freddie Clegg: That’s a good painting, isn’t it?
Miranda Grey: Yes. Yes, it’s a Picasso.
Freddie Clegg: People don’t look like that.
Miranda Grey: Well, of course they don’t. He’s not trying to draw a face as it is. He’s, he’s trying to express a face as he sees it and feels it.
Freddie Clegg: Because he see it that way, that makes it good?
Miranda Grey: But it’s not a photograph.
Freddie Clegg: What’s wrong with photographs?
Miranda Grey: There’s nothing wrong with photographs.
Freddie Clegg: Photographs don’t lie!
Miranda Grey: Neither does this! It’s . . .it’s a face from all different angles. It’s the character behind the face.
Freddie Clegg: It’s just a joke. That’s all it is. It’s just a bad joke.
Miranda Grey: Just because you can’t grasp it right away. . .
Freddie Clegg: Well, how do I grasp it?! [beat] I’ll tell you something about this. . .it doesn’t mean anything. Not just to me, but to anybody else. You just say it does because some professor somewhere told you it did. It makes you so superior. You and all your friends. I don’t think one in a million decent, ordinary people would say this was any good. It’s rubbish, rubbish! That’s all it is.
The Heiress is a kind of movie that was very popular in classic era Hollywood and isn’t really made that often anymore. I mean, we get lots of period pieces ever year, but they often feel stuffy and/or Oscar-baity. What made the period dramas of this era so great is they feel modern, as in they felt modern at the time. And in doing so they still feel modern today. The Heiress or Jezebel or The Little Foxes feel as modern as any of their non-period contemporaries. I wish Hollywood could figure out how to do that again. I think Jane Campion came pretty close with The Piano. The Heiress was nominated for eight Academy Awards, winning four: Best B&W Art Direction-Set Decoration (won), Best B&W Costume Design (won), Best Score (won), Best B&W Cinematography, Best Supporting Actor Ralph Richardson, Best Actress Olivia de Havilland (won), Best Director William Wyler and Best Picture. The other films up for Best Picture that year were Battleground, A Letter to Three Wives, Twelve O’Clock High and winner All The King’s Men.