Posted by: reederwi | May 4, 2010

Barbara O’Neil, All This and Heaven Too (1940)

Lust. Greed. Passion. Betrayal. Murder.

These words best describe Anatole Litvak’s 1940 drama All This and Heaven, Too.  Litvak’s Best Picture nominee tells the story of Henriette Deluzy (Bette Davis), a sweet and devoted woman who becomes the governess to the children of the sophisticated Duc de Praslin (Charles Boyer) and his demented wife, the Duchesse de Praslin (Barbara O’Neil) in mid 19th century Paris. As the bond between the children, the Duc and Henriette grows closer, the more volatile and obsessive the Duchesse becomes. After saving the Duchesses’ young son from a grave illness and endearing herself to the other children, Henriette is summarily dismissed from employment by the vengeful matriarch. The drama comes to a head when a tragedy befalls a member of the family and the lives of everyone involved are smashed to pieces.

Bette Davis is sweetly understated in the role of Henriette. The shy and demuir Davis, as the doting governess who tries desperately to keep a dysfunctional family from tearing itself apart, stands in stark contrast to Barbara O’Neil, nominee, (183), as the Duchesse de Praslin. It’s an understatement to say that O’Neil takes crazy to a whole new level. As soon as she sets foot on the steps of the expansive mansion, poor Henriette instantly incurs the wrath of her demonic mistress. Blinded by insane jealousy, the Duchesse is hellbent on warding off anyone who comes too close to her increasingly-distant husband. O’Neil is powerful and intense in her portrayal of the venemous Duchesse. The gifted O’Neil, who played a crazy mother  in this film, was better known to audiences as  Scarlet O’Hara’s kind, loving mother in Gone With the Wind. O’Neil lost the Oscar to Jane Darwell, who turned in a shatteringly brilliant performance as the earth-mother migrant worker Ma Joad in The Grapes of Wrath.


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