Excerpt from High Camp Vol 1 |
Beyond the Forest (U.S. 1949 B&W)
Beyond the Forest stars Bette Davis as Rosa Moline, "a midnight girl in a nine o'clock town." That's how the ads described her when this febrile melodrama was first released. The script features one of her most notorious bits of dialogue: surveying her cozy living room, she grumbles, "What a dump!" This line has been immortalized, not only by Edward Albee, but by legions of impressionists and drag queens.
The film begins with a pious prologue that was obviously tacked on to placate the Legion of Decency (which nonetheless condemned the film as morally objectionable): "This is the story of evil. Evil is headstrong--is puffed up. For our soul's sake, it is salutary for us to view it in all its naked ugliness once in a while." Even before we've been properly introduced to her, a narrator describes Rosa "moving easily, freely, every man's admiring eye upon her." She's a girl to watch out for, all right. In the first reel, she knocks a reformed alcoholic off the wagon and casually shoots a cute little porcupine. She lets her poor, tired, selfless, hardworking husband (Joseph Cotten) scare up his own supper while she sits in the porch swing and files her nails. When she walks down the street, all the townsfolk turn and stare at her as if she had two heads. Somewhat improbably, she inspires and inflames the lust of a millionaire sportsman who's built himself a ritzy hunting lodge just outside of town. (He's played by David Brian, who, ironically enough, was a swain of Miss Joan Crawford at roughly the same time that this film was released.)|
|But mannerism, however entertaining, must ultimately make way for plot. Rosa guns down a luckless boob who tries to get in her way. The coroner's inquest rules it an accident, but she comes to a bad end, anyhow. (This is the sort of town in which a "good" woman is defined by her fecundity.) The best scenes come earlier: in Chicago, where she tracks down her big shot paramour and gets rebuffed. I felt like I was watching some crazed housewife who'd read too many Fifties romance comics and was trying to act out one of the stories on her own. She may be just a lurid, hopped-up Madame Bovary, but I, for one, could certainly relate to her wild, importunate hubris --and so could any other homosexual male who's tried to turn his fantasies into reality. [Gays penned-up in Bible-belt, homophobic, small towns certainly can relate.] Her desperation seems weirdly appropriate, since, as played by the forty-year-old Miss Davis, she's all too obviously over the hill. Bette's portrayal has a bitchy, Baby Jane-ish intensity. Despite the assortment of good-looking men around, she saves all her real passion for the scene where she finds herself alone with a mink coat. (It belongs to co-star Ruth Roman. Rosa is positively verdant with envy.) Identifying with Rosa Moline is sort of like sympathizing with Imelda Marcos. But who says we've gotta be Politically Correct all the time?|