52 Code Films – Week #40: “All This, and Heaven Too” from 1940; “A Letter of Recommendation” for The Unemployment Blogathon

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Today is Sunday, so it is time for another 52 Code films article! This is a noteworthy week. Not only is it my first article in this series to be published in October, it is the fortieth article in this series. There are only twelve weeks left in 2019! I hope that I will be able to fill the next twelve weeks with interesting films that will further deepen our understanding of the Code.

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Today’s topic is All This, and Heaven Too from 1940. This article is also my second entry in The Unemployment Blogathon, which is being hosted by Steve of Movie Movie Blog Blog The Sequel this weekend. If the name of this blog is familiar to you but you were unaware of The Sequel on its ending, you haven’t heard of Steve’s dilemma. Due to the fact that he got locked out of his blog several months ago due to a sign-in malfunction, he has had to start a new WordPress site to continue his blogging. We pity his misfortune but admire his perseverance! I am very happy to be joining this very interesting blogathon, which gave me a good reason to watch one of the movies on a new Bette Davis DVD collection we purchased at Barnes and Noble a few weeks ago. I watched this film on Wednesday, and now I am happy to use it, as well as this week’s Film Fashion Friday article on an outfit for jobhunting, to support Steve and his blogathon! By the way, you can still read his older articles at the original Movie Movie Blog Blog website.

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Plot

At a girls’ school in America in the late 1840s, a new French teacher causes a swirl of gossip about her past in France. After reading old newspaper articles about her, one of the girls starts mocking the young woman on her first day there by asking her how to spell the name of a prison. The teacher decides to tell the students the true story of what happened to her back in France, when she was known as Madamoiselle D. She recounts how she left a governess position in England to return to her native France. On the boat, she meets a kind American minister who wishes her happiness; we saw this man as her friend at the film’s opening before the flashback. When she arrives in France, she applies for a position as the governess at the household of an important French nobleman. The head of the household is pleased by her references and presentation, but his neurotic wife is immediately jealous of how young and attractive the new woman is. Nevertheless, their four children like her, so she is employed. The household has some deep-seated problems. When the new governess first arrives, she can hear the husband and wife arguing. It quickly becomes obvious that theirs is a loveless marriage, as they live in separate wings. Furthermore, the mother cares very little for their three daughters and young son, whom she has given to the management of their father. Under the guidance of the loving governess, the children grow much happier. The young mademoiselle tries hard to be kind to everyone in the household, but it is hard to reach the cold mother, whose only desire in life is to rekindle in her husband the passionate love which she still feels for him. However, he is growing to greatly admire the governess, who possesses a gentle selflessness that the harsh noblewoman never had. One day, the noblewoman insists on driving in an open carriage with her three-year-old son, despite the mademoiselle’s warning that he has a slight cold. She persists, and the chill makes the boy get diphtheria. When the child’s life is in danger, his beloved governess stays by his side constantly, as does his father. After the child recovers, his mother’s resentment for the governess continues to grow. She vents to her fiercely devoted ladies’ maid, confesses her inner thoughts to the priest who is always at their house, and pours her heart out to her husband in letters. Matters escalate when a newspaper mentions that the nobleman was seen at the theatre in the company of the governess. Although the situation was innocent, rumors swirl, and the wife wants to discharge the servant. She eventually does, devastating the whole household. Her refusal to write a promised letter of recommendation for the blameless young woman has dire consequences for the whole family and the French monarchy.

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Cast

The governess is Henriette Deluzy-Desportes, played by Bette Davis. The nobleman who employs her is Duc Theodore de Praslin, played by Charles Boyer. His wife is Duchesse Frances de Praslin, played by Barbara O’Neil. Their oldest daughter is Isabelle de Praslin, played by June Lockhart. Their second daughter is Louise de Praslin, played by Virginia Weidler. Their youngest daughter is Berthe de Praslin, played by Ann Todd. Their only son is Reynald de Praslin, played by Richard Nichols. The minister who is kind to the Henriette at the opening of the film and on her boat voyage to France is Henry Martyn Field, played by Jeffrey Lynn. The priest is Abbe Gallard, played by Fritz Leiber. The Duchesse’s maid is Maxine, played by Carmen Bretta. The student who mocks Henriette at the film’s opening is Emily Schuyler, played by Ann Gillis.

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Production Notes

This film was directed by Anatole Litvak. The executive producer was Hal B. Wallis with associate producer Davis Lewis. Jack L. Warner was in charge of production. The production company was Warner Bros. The screenplay was written by Casey Robinson. The screenplay was based on the 1938 novel of the same name by Rachel Field, which in turn was based on the true story of the French governess Henriette Deluzy-Desportes, who was Miss Field’s great-aunt. This film was nominated for three Academy Awards, Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress for Barbara O’Neil, and Best Black-and-White Cinematography for Ernest Haller.

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Code Compliance

This is a perfect Code film. I am so impressed by how many Warner Bros. film are perfect in terms of Code compliance. During the Pre-Code Era, Warner Bros. was infamous for its dirty, gritty films. Joseph Breen considered their taste and humor to be the crudest of all the studios. In the Breen Era, they abandoned dark and depressing modern stories like gangster films for dramatic and dignified period pieces like this one. This movie is a perfect Code film because it deals with very serious subject material in a completely acceptable way. The story of a married man who is in love with another woman is a difficult one, even more so because that woman is his children’s governess. However, this film maintains its morality and virtue as much as the two leading characters maintain theirs in the film. Their relationship is not a sinful one. There is not even so much as a kiss or an embrace between them. They never express their love for each other aloud. The emotions are obvious, but there is no adultery in this film. It also deals very delicately with the topic of the Duc and Duchesse’s passionless marriage. References to Reynald’s later birth and the corridor between their rooms make the situation quite clear, yet it is all very subtle. Depictions of situations like this can be embarrassing if they are too explicit, but this film never violates the sensibilities nor makes the viewers uncomfortable. It is important to note what a great accomplishment this is. Modern films find it almost impossible to tell a love story without significant problems without getting at least a PG-13 rating. This movie manages to depict a marriage in name only, love for a third party, scandal, political upheaval, grave illness, illegitimacy, suicide, and murder, yet it contains nothing which is not acceptable for all ages! Perfect Code films are the greatest achievements of the Golden Age of Hollywood, since they show just how much can be accomplished with voluntary self-regulation through proper enforcement of the Code.

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My Opinion

I think this is a wonderful movie. The story is absolutely riveting, and I find it so fascinating that it was based on real events as recounted by Henriette’s great-niece. When the film was released, some critics found it too long, but I thought that it was captivating throughout its 144 minute-run time. The acting is excellent. Bette Davis is outstanding as the sensitive French governess who put the family in her charge above her personal happiness. I thought that she looked exceptionally beautiful in the role, since the period costumes were very flattering to her figure. Charles Boyer was very effective as the disturbed Duc. This is only the third role in which I have seen him as a younger man, and I enjoyed his performance in this movie more than in Love Affair and Gaslight. He is sympathetic and likable as a man who loves his children and wants to have a happy family but can’t overcome his wife’s obsessive yet cruel nature. Barbara O’Neil is very believable as the Duchesse. She is so real as the insanely jealous woman who is approaching madness because of her unfulfilled passion. It is very easy to hate this character, so the actress fully deserves her Academy Award nomination for creating a believable role. The children are adorable and very sweet in their roles. The score is dramatic yet not overwhelming. I especially like the historical feeling of this film, since it really transports one to this fascinating time in history just before the French Revolution of 1848.

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Recommendation

I highly recommend this film to my readers. It is a great drama. It has tender moments, intense conflict, a little humor, and lots of human emotion. Although it is very deep and serious, I wouldn’t call it a very heavy or depressing movie. Despite the intense and sad parts of this film, it has a beautifully happy ending! I think that this is a movie which anybody could appreciate. It has great artistic merit as well as historical content. It is very informative about this chapter of history, yet that is just a backdrop to the intense story. This film has an interesting All Hallows Eve scene, which is very appropriate for this time of the year, since this is the first 52 Code Films article of October.

For the Blogathon

When I first chose this film as my topic for this blogathon, I wasn’t sure how appropriate it would really be. I knew that the governess got discharged, so I volunteered for this to be my new Code film on that knowledge alone. I was thrilled to see just how much it focused on unemployment! After the Duc impulsively joins his children and Henriette in the country on All Hallows Eve, his wife arrives the next evening. She is furious that her husband supposedly disgraced her by coming to the country to be with the governess. She discharges Henriette, promising to give her a letter of recommendation which will clear her of all suspicion if she leaves willingly. Henriette agrees for the good of the family. However, the next time we see her, it is August. Her rent is overdue because she has been unemployed ever since the Duchesse fired her. Although she has written her former employeress numerous times, she has received no response and no promised letter. Without such a letter, no one will hire her because of the bad press she received in the newspapers in connection with the Duc de Praslin. Not even her landlady, who is an old friend, can give her a job in her school without a letter to improve her reputation. Although the Duc has brought his children to visit their beloved former governess twice since she left. However, she has told him that she is working in her friend’s school; he is completely unaware of his wife’s unkept promise which keeps Henriette unemployed. During the third visit, Henriette feels compelled to ask him to mention the letter to his wife, since she is desperate for a job. Thankfully, asking for a letter of recommendation rarely has such tragic consequences! Thank you, Steve, for hosting this blogathon and for letting me participate. I hope that all my readers of this article and my other entry in the blogathon who are currently unemployed will be cheered by the two unemployed young ladies. Although they endure hard times, they both eventually find good jobs and husbands to boot!


Click the above image to buy this movie on DVD at Amazon and support PEPS through the Amazon Affiliate program!

The Great Breening Blogathon 7

Please join the third year of our annual Code celebration, The Third Annual Breening Blogathon! It is running from October 11-14 in honor of Joseph I. Breen’s 131st birthday. Whether you want to breen a film, review a new Code movie, or analyze some aspect of the years when Hollywood was governed by the Code, this is your chance to write about the topics which we always cover. What are your thoughts on the Code? This is your chance to play PCA-member or pretend that you are a member of PEPS. Let’s make this our most successful blogathon yet!

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2 thoughts on “52 Code Films – Week #40: “All This, and Heaven Too” from 1940; “A Letter of Recommendation” for The Unemployment Blogathon

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