Dangerous (1935)

Bette Davis is just fine in the role of Joyce Heath, the talented and self-destructive actress who is brought back from the brink by the creepily-obsessive adulation of architect Don Bellows (Franchot Tone). The problem is the herky-jerky and sporadic treatment of the problems that Joyce suffers from, notably alcoholism. She seems to be a heavy drinker just so that she can say she’s a down and out has-been, like it was something to aspire to!

I understand that she’s supposedly drowning her sorrows and having a pity party for herself, but the script didn’t convincingly portray that.

At the beginning of the movie she’s wasted out of her mind until Bellows takes an interest in her and somehow schemes to take her back to his country estate to dry her rummied-ass out.

That’s all well and good except that by the afternoon of day number two, she’s out lounging in the barn taking a cat nap and completely forgets that she has a drinking problem until the end of the movie when Drama 101 demands that we have some sort of conflict and climax, since her triumphant return to the stage by itself wouldn’t be that big of deal with her all sobered up.

This is also about the time the movie chooses to introduce the fact that she already has a husband, providing some more drama that the movie didn’t rightfully earn. (Why wouldn’t her biggest fan know that she was married? Wouldn’t she mention it when she was agreeing to marry Tone?)

Don has his own romantic problems caused by his sudden hook up with his idol. He’s a high-flying architect/socialite who has all these big condos he’s designing and getting ready to build. He also has himself a fiancee named Gail.

Gail and he are going to be married sometime in the near future and her family is one of those fancy-pants families whose last name is Armitage, so their connections and money are really going to benefit Don.

One night, he and Gail and one of their pals are skipping out on some deadly dull dinner party (at 79 minutes, this movie thankfully doesn’t have the space to actually show us how deadly dull it is, we just get told about it) and decide that what would really be tops is to go down to the carnival and get sno-cones and marvel at the carny folks.

Once down there, they go into some seedy joint for a bite to eat. Don notices a drunken woman across the room and recognizes her as Joyce Heath, the woman who was so good on the stage that it inspired him to become an architect. I know that makes about as much sense as actually becoming an architect, but Tom explained to us earlier that she inspired him to go create and since he couldn’t sing, dance, or draw, he starting designing townhouses!

He manages to ditch his fiancee and goes back to see Joyce. She’s wasted and he takes her back to his place.

Don’s impromptu rehab effort is met with some resistance at first, but before you know it, they’re getting caught in the rain, the bridge back to the city is washed out and he has to spend the night there with her.

Dangerous was all about a pretty limp set up (like your fiancee would really let go off alone at the carnival or that you could simply sort of kidnap a movie star back to your country estate to force her to do all twelve steps at once) and an embarrassingly contrived ending, but I found myself enjoying Don and Joyce’s verbal sparring and the scene where she pretends to read him a play about a man and a woman in a situation that mirrors theirs is very effective.

Joyce tries to be honest with Don (well, except for being married and all) about how she doesn’t know how she’ll feel about all this in the morning or any other day that is to come, but knows she loves him that moment. She’s not portrayed as a starry-eyed innocent or a skank which is usually the only two kinds of roles women can get in movies like this.

Don senses that this is true love and interprets her comments to somehow mean that he should sink $80,000 of his own money in a play that she would star in!

Everything is going along beautifully (the play looks good in rehearsals, Don has dumped Gail, Joyce doesn’t smell like a saloon) until Don pressures her to marry him.

The self-destruction that Joyce seemed predisposed to was never explored in any significant fashion and her problems were really minimized during the film so much as to seem just forgotten about. If the film wanted to show her relapse toward the end to demonstrate that these are problems not easily solved, there was surely a better way than to resort to the soap-opera style secret husband.

If I buy that Don was in love with Joyce or infatuated with her and I think you can safely say that dumping $80,000 on a play qualifies as something beyond “platonic”, why should I believe that he suddenly refused to have anything to do with Joyce once he found out she was married and that he would go running back to Gail? And why would Gail take him back?

The conventional wisdom was that Davis knew the Oscar she won for this film was a make-up call for not winning the year before for Of Human Bondage. She was right and like most make-up calls, Dangerous leaves as bad a taste in your mouth as the initial screw job that was pulled in the first place.

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