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Beyond the Forest

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Beyond the Forest
Theatrical release poster
Directed byKing Vidor
Screenplay byLenore J. Coffee
Based onthe novel Beyond the Forest
by Stuart D. Engstrand
Produced byHenry Blanke
StarringBette Davis
Joseph Cotten
CinematographyRobert Burks
Edited byRudi Fehr
Music byMax Steiner
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • October 21, 1949 (1949-10-21) (United States)
Running time
97 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$1,589,000[1]
Box office$1,738,000[1]

Beyond the Forest is a 1949 American film noir directed by King Vidor, and featuring Bette Davis, Joseph Cotten, David Brian, and Ruth Roman. The screenplay is written by Lenore J. Coffee based on a novel by Stuart Engstrand.[2]

The film marks Davis's last appearance as a contract actress for Warner, after eighteen years with the studio. She tried several times to walk away from the film (which only caused the production cost to go through the roof), but Warner refused to release her from their employment contract.[3] She remembered the project as "a terrible movie",[4] and her death scene at end in the film as "the longest death scene ever seen on the screen".[3]

Plot

Rosa Moline is the dissatisfied, restless wife of Lewis, a small-town Wisconsin doctor. She is easily bored, uninterested in her husband's career or in anything to do with her current circumstances. She has long desired a glamorous life, in a world where she can have expensive things and meet truly interesting people.

For over a year, she has been having an affair with Neil Latimer, a Chicago businessman who owns the local hunting lodge. Tired of waiting for him to ask her to marry and move to Chicago, Rosa demands the money owed from Lewis' patients - who are often slow to pay his bills but pay him in produce or with odd jobs - to finance her trip to the city.

Lewis does not yet know about the affair, but he is used to his wife's unease with her life; he discovers what she's done and throws the cash at her, telling her that if she goes to Chicago, she need not come back. Rosa immediately leaves and fully expects Latimer to welcome her. However, he avoids her at first, then when he does meet her, he tells her he is in love with another woman he intends to marry. Devastated, Rosa returns to Wisconsin, where Lewis forgives her. She soon becomes pregnant and, briefly, seems to be trying to settle down.

During a party for Moose, the man who tends to the hunting lodge, Latimer shows up. He lets Rosa know that he has changed his mind and wants to marry her. Moose overhears the couple planning for her divorce and their marriage; the next day, as everyone is heading out on a hunting trip, Moose bets that her lover will not want the baby and advises Rosa that she had better tell Latimer about it, or he will. To prevent that eventuality, she shoots and kills Moose during the hunt. She is acquitted of this act by claiming she thought he was a deer.

To Rosa's consternation, Latimer wants to avoid "any dirt" associated with them and Moose's demise; he suggests they wait "a month or so" before they go through with their plans. At home, Lewis assumes that Rosa will come to feel good about having a baby, but Latimer's change of plans, and her inherent resentment of the pregnancy, drives her to confess both her affair with Latimer and that she deliberately murdered Moose. Lewis says that he only cares about his baby and that after she gives birth, she can go where ever she pleases.

From his office window, Lewis happens to see Rosa boarding a bus. He follows her to a neighboring town where she is sitting in a lawyer's office; she reluctantly leaves with him but, on the way home, tricks him into stopping their car and going to the trunk. She gets out of the vehicle and throws herself down an embankment, desperate to abort. The result is peritonitis and a raging fever which makes her delirious. She enlists Jenny, her housekeeper, to help her dress and she leaves the house to catch the train to Chicago. Near the tracks, she collapses and dies.

Cast

Production

The production of Beyond the Forest experienced several director-star contretemps that influenced Vidor’s and Davis’ evaluation of the film upon its completion.[5]

Film historian David Melville suggests that Warner Brothers offered Bette Davis, the aging seventeen-year veteran of the studio, the role of Rosa Moline anticipating she would reject the project, a move that would allow executives to void her contract. She completed the film nevertheless, but it would be her last with Warner Brothers.[6][7] Vidor and Davis feuded over direction of the picture throughout its filming.[8]

In an especially dramatic scene in the filming where Davis berates her “dull-but-decent doctor husband” (Joseph Cotten), Vidor demanded “greater vehemence” in her delivery. In response, Davis went to Jack Warner to ask that Vidor be replaced with another director, which Warner declined. Vidor was unaware of the request until the shooting was completed.[9] Davis’ complaints concerning Vidor had the opposite effect and spurred Warner executives to cancel her contract, a finale satisfactory to both parties.[10]

The final cut of the movie appeared without the sequence depicting Rosa’s abortion, an edit that Vidor only discovered when he viewed the picture at a local theater.[11]

Location

The scenes featuring the mythical town of "Loyalton, Wisconsin" were actually shot in Loyalton, California, a small, picturesque village in Sierra County.

Reception

Critical response

Film critic Bosley Crowther dismissed the film upon its release, writing,

To be sure, the script by Lenore Coffee offers little for her to do but run through the usual banalities of an infidelity yarn ... For those who have not been embarrassed by pretensions in a fairly long time, let us recommend the climax of this incredibly artificial film—the final scene in which the lady, apparently burning up with a bad case of peritonitis, drags herself out of bed, pulls herself to her mirror, smears make-up on her face and gets dressed in disheveled finery to stagger forth toward the railroad tracks and death. With the clashing refrain of 'Chicago' beating in her head, she pays for her selfish sins and follies. Quite an experience, we'd say ... Not to be coy about it, we can see no 'Oscars' in the offing for this film.[12]

Writing in 2004, Dennis Schwartz was nearly as dismissive, summarizing the plot as "bombastic melodrama", but noting that, "The film's only redeeming value is in its almost camp presentation, which might find some in the audience entertained by the overblown acting on Bette's part (she caricatures herself) and the intense but laughable soap opera story."[13] On the other hand, writers focused on the film noir movement, such as Alain Silver, have found merit in the movie: "King Vidor’s vision of melodrama in small-town America is never darker than in Beyond the Forest...where the arrangement of formal elements possesses the rigor and occasionally the overstatement of a Euripidean tragedy. The revelation that Rosa Moline’s “evil” is a role forced on her by a repressive environment is what transforms Vidor’s passion play from an updated rendering of Madame Bovary into film noir.”[14]

In February 2020, the film was shown at the 70th Berlin International Film Festival, as part of a retrospective dedicated to King Vidor's career.[15]

Censorship

The film originally received a ‘C’ classification from the Legion of Decency because of its abortion elements. This classification initially impacted the film’s box office, forcing the studio to negotiate cuts in order for the film to be reclassified as a ‘B.’[16]

Box Office

Variety said the film earned $1.5 million.[17]

According to Warner Bros accounts the film earned $1,331,000 domestically and $407,000 foreign.[1]

Theme

Novelist Stuart Engstrand in his 1948 novel of the same name describes anti-heroine Rosa Moline as the “Wisconsin [Madame] Bovary”, a reference to 19th Century novelist Gustave Flaubert’s doomed character in his 1856 Madame Bovary.[18] Rosa, who considers herself the victim of “[petty] bourgeois mediocrity” is the “small-town girl so consumed with craving for the city [Chicago] that she becomes what looks like a camp caricature of herself.”[19]

Vidor’s portrayal of Rosa conveys a sympathy for Rosa’s life force, “frustrated and deranged though it is.”[20][21] Vidor diverges from Flaubert’s social outlook in that he expresses a genuine sympathy for the small factory town and its community relationships that that Rosa finds repellent.[22]

Rosa’s long sought destination, Chicago, is depicted as a threatening domain of heavy industrial oppression, heightened by a Max Steiner score that emphasizes the city’s “brutality”. In contrast, Vidor portrays the rural industry in the small town Loyalton, Wisconsin as comporting with the “human pace” of life in the local community, the “pollution-belching mill” a “tiny blemish.”[23]

Legacy

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Vidor’s film noir-like melodrama of a middle-aged woman trapped in a small town she despises and married to a husband she regards as a weakling informs Edward Albee's Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.[24][25] Married couple Martha and George, whose relationship is reminiscent of Bette Davis/Joseph Cotten in Vidor’s film, have an exchange over a scene in Beyond the Forest, that opens with Martha invoking the now-famous line, “What a dump.”:

“What a dump. Hey, what’s that from? ‘What a dump!’"

“How should I know what…”

“Aw, come on! What’s it from? You know…”

“...Martha...”

“WHAT’S IT FROM, FOR CHRIST’S SAKE?”

“What’s what from?”

“I just told you; I just did it. ‘What a dump!’ Hunh? What’s that from?”

“I haven’t the faintest idea what…”

“Dumbbell! It’s from some goddamn Bette Davis picture...some goddamn Warner Brothers epic”

“I can’t remember all the pictures that…”

“Nobody’s asking you to remember every goddamn Warner Brothers epic...just one! One single little epic! Bette Davis gets peritonitis in the end...she’s got this big black fright wig she wears all through the picture and she gets peritonitis, and she’s married to Joseph Cotten or something…”

“...somebody...”[26]

Film historian Raymond Durgnat observed that “Vidor’s exasperated melodrama” in Beyond the Forest “wears a lot better after the resurgence of high melodrama” that appeared in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?[27] Comedienne Carol Burnett incorporated the epithet into her routines on The Carol Burnett Show.[28]

Accolades

Composer Max Steiner was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Music (Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture) in 1950. The film is listed in Golden Raspberry Award founder John Wilson's book The Official Razzie Movie Guide as one of The 100 Most Enjoyably Bad Movies Ever Made[29] and recognized by the American Film Institute in these lists:

Footnotes

  1. ^ a b c Warner Bros financial information in The William Shaefer Ledger. See Appendix 1, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, (1995) 15:sup1, 1-31 p 30 DOI: 10.1080/01439689508604551
  2. ^ Beyond the Forest at the American Film Institute Catalog Edit this at Wikidata.
  3. ^ a b Medved, Harry; Medved, Michael (1984). The Hollywood Hall of Shame. Penguin. p. 204. OCLC 9969169.
  4. ^ Bette Davis interview on YouTube.
  5. ^ Durgnat and Simmon, 1988 p. 278: “[Vidor], at the time, didn’t like the film himself.” And p. 271: Vidor: The film “looks better from a distance”
  6. ^ Melville, 2013: “Hollywood rumour claims that Warner Bros. only cast her as a ploy – hoping she would rebel and walk out on her contract.”
  7. ^ Baxter 1976 p. 75: “...Warner's happily freed the aging star and she escaped from burdens of roles like that of Rosa [Moline] which mocked her increasingly middle-aged appearance.”
  8. ^ Baxter 1976 p. 75: “[Davis] battled with Vidor constantly…”
  9. ^ Durgnat and Simmon, 1988 p. 274: See footnote on details. Also p. 236: Davis went to Jack Warner “to have [Vidor] fired” over the incident. And Vidor unaware of it until after the film was finished.
  10. ^ Baxter 1976 p. 75: Davis “used her irritation at [Vidor] as a lever to evade the rest of her Warner Brothers contract.”
    Durgnat and Simmon, 1988 p. 236:“...Davis’ threats to quit backfired; they were apparently an opportunity Warner's had been seeking, and her film was the last with the studio, for which she had worked for seventeen years.)”
    Melville, 2013: “Hollywood rumor claims that Warner Bros. only cast her as a ploy – hoping she would rebel and walk out on her contract. If so, they were sadly disappointed. Davis completed the film (although she did try, allegedly, to have Vidor fired as director) but it turned out to be her last for Warner's, a studio where she had reigned .”
  11. ^ Durgnat and Simmon, 1988 p. 236“...Jack Warner had had its abortion sequence removed from release prints”, a fact that Vidor was not aware of until he saw the film in a theater.
  12. ^ Crowther, Bosley (October 22, 1949). "'Beyond the Forest' With Bette Davis and Joseph Cotten Is New Bill at Strand". The New York Times.
  13. ^ Schwartz, Dennis (October 18, 2004). "Beyond the Forest". Archived from the original on January 10, 2014. Retrieved October 25, 2015.
  14. ^ Silver, Alain (2010). Film Noir: The Encyclopedia. p. 38. ISBN 978-0715638804.
  15. ^ "Berlinale 2020: Retrospective "King Vidor"". Berlinale. Retrieved 28 February 2020.
  16. ^ Kirby, David A. (September 2017). "Regulating cinematic stories about reproduction: pregnancy, childbirth, abortion and movie censorship in the US, 1930–1958". The British Journal for the History of Science. 50 (3): 451–472. doi:10.1017/S0007087417000814. ISSN 0007-0874. PMID 28923130.
  17. ^ "Top Grossers of 1949". Variety. 4 January 1950. p. 59.
  18. ^ Durgnat and Simmon, 1988 p. 271 And p. 308: Durgnat considers Beyond the Forest and Flaubert’s Madame Bovary “approximate pairs” in theme.
  19. ^ Durgnat and Simmon, 1988 p. 271-272
  20. ^ Durgnat and Simmon, 1988 p. 272
  21. ^ Melville, 2013: “Her defeat and, finally, her downfall take on an inevitability that tilts Beyond the Forest away from melodrama and towards tragedy. Rosa may be a ham, but she is as irrevocably doomed as The Trojan Women.”And “Beyond the Forest is one of a very few Hollywood films that invite us to question the forbidden and violent impulses of its lead character – not to mention our own forbidden and violent impulses, should we dare to empathize with her.” And: Andrew Britton, one of the film’s most vocal defenders, insisted that “King Vidor derives a critique of women’s oppression as audacious as any the cinema has given us from the story of a woman whose values and behavior are, on the face of it, merely reprehensible”
  22. ^ Durgnat and Simmon, 1988 p. 272: “...Vidor appreciates the [social and economic] life his Madame Bovary [Rosa Moline] despises.” p. 271 (emphasis in original)
  23. ^ Durgnat and Simmon, 1988 p. 273-274: “In contrast to the city’s brutal industry, the film takes in its stride what is virtually a little documentary on small-town community, whose sawmills and rural industry set the slow, stolid human pace to which Rosa’s nervous intensity cannot adapt, and into whose neighborly concerns she cannot sink her spiritual roots.”
    Hampton, 2013: “Loyalton’s one tiny blemish is that it is built around a pollution-belching mill that runs day and night, and after dark the sawdust flames turn the townscape into a glowing inferno.
    Durgnat and Simmon, 1988 p. 278: “[Vidor], at the time, didn’t like the film himself. But Billy Wilder’s enthusiasm for it strikes us as completely founded. It is one of the most deeply driven of the studies in the monstrosity of female folly that Hollywood filmmakers from Wilder to Aldrich, and American dramatists from Tennessee Williams to Edward Albee, have done with a mixture of moralistic wildness and mordant fascination that only looks like camp.” (emphasis in original)
    Melville, 2013: “[Davis] staggers to her bedroom mirror and smears herself, grotesquely, with lipstick and mascara. Her reflection leering out at her (and us) is an eerie flash-forward to Davis in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (Robert Aldrich, 1962).
    Durgnat and Simmon, 1988 p. 278:“Beyond the Forest is rooted- unusually for an American film. And still more for an American ‘woman’s drama’ - in the sense of a town’s economics...Rosa’s one unforgivable sin isn’t adultery’; it’s collecting the debts owed him by the town [residents].”
  24. ^ Melville, 2013: What a dump “recycled by Edward Albee in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
  25. ^ Hampton, 2013: “...her saintly sap of a husband (Joseph Cotton at his most obsequiously masochistic).”
  26. ^ Durgnat and Simmon, 1988 p. 269-270
  27. ^ Durgnat and Simmon, 1988 p. 271
  28. ^ Hampton, 2013: “‘What a dump’, a phrase both Edward Albee and Carol Burnett borrowed to great effect.)”
  29. ^ Wilson, John (2005). The Official Razzie Movie Guide: Enjoying the Best of Hollywood's Worst. Grand Central Publishing. ISBN 0-446-69334-0.
  30. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved 2016-07-30.

References

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