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Rachel Field's novel, All This and Heaven Too, was based on the true story of Field's great-aunt, Henriette Deluzy Desportes, a French governess who fell in love with the Duc de Praslin, her employer. When Praslin's wife, the Duchesse, was murdered, Henriette was implicated. It was a real-life scandal that brought down France's King Louis-Philippe in 1847.
The book was a best-seller, and in 1938 Warner Bros. paid $100,000 for the film rights. It was something of a consolation prize for the studio, which had lost Gone With the Wind (1939) to David Selznick. And it also became one for Warner's most popular star, Bette Davis, who lost the role of Scarlett. Bent on revenge, the studio set out to outdo GWTW - even to the extent of referring to All This and Heaven Too (1940) in memos as ATAHT. The production cost $1,370,000, and it's all on the screen: 65 exterior sets, including a ship and a country chateau; and 35 interiors, many outfitted with genuine antiques as lavish and rich as befits the household of a duke.
To play Praslin, Warner Bros. chose French heartthrob Charles Boyer, who was also at the peak of his fame. And for once Davis had a co-star worthy of her. Boyer not only projected a melancholy sexiness, he was a brilliant and sensitive actor. But he almost didn't play the part. In 1939, Boyer had returned to France to make a film. He arrived on September 1 - the day Germany attacked Poland. Two days later, France declared war. Boyer's film was cancelled and, in a burst of patriotic fervor, Boyer enlisted in the French army - in spite of the fact that he was 42 years old and committed to star in All This and Heaven Too. But instead of important war work, Private Boyer was assigned switchboard duty. Before long, he was mustered out and returned to America, refusing to discuss his brief military career. Making All This and Heaven Too was an unhappy experience for Boyer, who was distraught by the daily war reports, and unable to understand his character. But his misery worked well for the character, a brooding, unhappily-married man. Director Anatole Litvak, who had also directed Boyer in Mayerling (1936) and Tovarich (1937), considered it one of Boyer's finest performances.
Litvak had worked with Davis before, too, in The Sisters (1938), but their relationship was a lot less cordial than the one with Boyer. It was rumored that Davis and Litvak had a brief affair, but whether they did or not, it didn't help their on-set relationship. She hated the way he worked, felt that he was inflexible, heavy-handed, and lacked spontaneity. She constantly challenged Litvak's direction, and at one point even threatened to have him fired. Nevertheless, many critics felt that Davis' portrayal of Henriette was one of her subtlest and most disciplined.
Barbara O'Neil (who played Scarlett's mother in Gone With the Wind) was cast as the Duchesse on the suggestion of Charles Boyer, who had worked with O'Neil in When Tomorrow Comes (1939). O'Neil wanted to play the neurotic, slovenly Duchesse realistically, but the studio insisted on giving her the full glamour treatment. In spite of that, O'Neil earned an Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actress.
The film was also nominated as Best Picture, as was cinematographer Ernest Haller. Bette Davis was nominated as Best Actress - not for All This and Heaven Too, but for The Letter (1940). The reviews for All This and Heaven Too were respectful, but the film was not the blockbuster the studio had hoped for. Perhaps at 140 minutes, it was too long. Maybe the subject matter was too grim. Director Anatole Litvak thought it was "overproduced. You couldn't see the actors for the candelabra," he complained. Most viewers would disagree. The performances of the three stars are so powerful that the glow of the candelabra seems dim by comparison.
Producer: Hal B. Wallis, David Lewis
Director: Anatole Litvak
Screenplay: Casey Robinson, based on the novel by Rachel Lyman Field
Editor: Warren Low
Cinematography: Ernest Haller
Art Direction: Carl Jules Weyl
Music: Max Steiner
Cast: Bette Davis (Henriette Deluzy Desportes), Charles Boyer (Duc de Praslin), Jeffrey Lynn (Rev. Henry Field), Barbara O'Neil (Duchesse de Praslin), Virginia Weidler (Louise), Walter Hampden (Pasquier), Henry Daniell (Broussais), Harry Davenport (Pierre), George Coulouris (Charpentier), Richard Nichols (Reynald), June Lockhart (Isabelle de Praslin), Ann E. Todd (Berthe de Praslin), Montagu Love (Marechal Sebastiani).
BW-141m. Closed captioning. Descriptive Video.
by Margarita Landazuri