Monday, October 12, 2009

All This and Heaven, Too (1940)

Most books are better than their film renditions, with a few exceptions. I personally enjoy the movie based upon Rachel Field's All This and Heaven, Too more than I ever liked the original novel. Not that the book is dull; it is based upon a true event. Rachel's great uncle married the infamous Henriette Deluzy-Desportes. Mademoiselle Deluzy was accused of complicity in a murder which rocked France and ignited the Revolution of 1848. After her release from the Conciergerie she fled to America where she married the Protestant minister Mr. Field.

The film, however, brings all the characters and their vying passions to life far better than does the novel. Charles Boyer wavers on the brink of insanity as the honorable but tormented Duc de Choiseul-Praslin. Scion of an ancient but impoverished family, the Duc has married the nouvelle-riche Fanny Sebastiani, daughter of one of Napoleon's generals. Barbara O'Neill, who played Scarlett O'Hara's saintly and refined mother, demonstrates her range as the hysterical, paranoid, oversexed Fanny, dripping with venom and religiosity. She would have stolen the show from any other female actress but Bette Davis. Bette is the restrained Huguenot governess Mademoiselle Deluzy, who brings order and dignity into the chaotic household, winning the hearts of the Duc and his children, thus earning for herself the Fanny's hatred. Davis simmers along as Mademoiselle Deluzy, who must face the stigma of sins she did not commit for, as so often happens, people are more incensed by the platonic friendship between the Duc and the governess than they would have been by a full blown love affair. Perhaps it is because such romantic but chaste relationships are sometimes more intense and longer lasting than sexual flings.

At any rate, Henriette pays a high price for the Duc's admiration and devotion. It is a most bitter tragedy, made all the more so by the reality of the actual story. The family of the Duc de Praslin-Choiseul was destroyed by Fanny's violent murder. Henriette found peace in a faraway land, where she passed on the story which became an American novel and classic film. Share


Nancy Reyes said...

One of my favorites.

And it's on You tube:link

lara77 said...

I agree; a wonderful film and the fact is Bette Davis does steal the film. After seeing her in this production along with many others I can see why so many people consider her America's greatest actress. She is simply mesmerizing; she gets so in character. Whether as a waitress, an Empress or a governess; Bette Davis was one of America's crown jewels.

Theodore Harvey said...

I watched this movie tonight, it having first been recommended to me by veteran monarchist activist and historian Gregory Lauder-Frost (with whom I stayed in the UK for a few days this summer) and then coincidentally also by your blog. (Great minds think alike I guess.) It is indeed an excellent film and I'm glad I saw it.

Enbrethiliel said...


Elena, I watched this a few nights ago without knowing any of the history. I thought that the bit at the end about the scandal helping to bring down Louis Philippe was fictional--a way to fit a made-up story into the past we are all familiar with. So I was blown away to learn that it was based on a true story!

And of course, the first place I went after learning this was Tea at Trianon! ;-)