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Bette Davis and Gary Merrill struck romantic sparks while making All About Eve (1950), and married in July of 1950. The film had resurrected Davis' career, and she had her pick of roles, but content in her new marriage, she turned them all down. Then, in early 1951, she had an offer she couldn't refuse: a British thriller, co-produced by Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., entitled Another Man's Poison (1951). The script needed work, but there was a role for her husband in the film, and the promise of first-class passage on the Queen Elizabeth, and first-class lodgings in England for herself, Merrill, her five-year-old daughter, their newly adopted baby girl, two nannies, and a maid. It would be an all-expenses-paid family honeymoon.
Davis also got to choose her director, and she selected American Irving Rapper, who had directed one of her biggest hits, Now, Voyager (1942), and whom she liked because she could dominate him. Airily ignoring the script problems with Another Man's Poison, Davis told reporters, "I've always wanted to play in a suspense picture as they're made in England, with that quiet effectiveness which the British singularly seem to possess." Another attraction for Davis was the opportunity to work with actor-writer Emlyn Williams, who had written the autobiographical play on which Davis' film, The Corn Is Green (1945), was based.
Problems began as soon as the Davis-Merrill entourage arrived in England. Davis threw a lavish party for the British press in their stateroom aboard ship, and the next day the tabloids were full of unkind stories about the rich American actress, her hundreds of pieces of luggage, her mink coats, and her husband, "Mr. Davis." The actress was furious, but Merrill shrugged it off, and the couple got to work. In Another Man's Poison, Davis plays a mystery writer who poisons her escaped-convict husband, and enlists his fellow escapee, Merrill, to cover it up. Since Emlyn Williams was a playwright, Davis enlisted him to work with her on fixing the script. By the time they were through, Another Man's Poison may not have had the "quiet effectiveness" Davis admired, but effective it certainly was, with a surprise twist that some critics found exciting; others found it ridiculous. Even critics who scoffed at the absurdities of the script had to marvel at Davis' bravura playing of it. As Frank Hauser wrote in New Statesman and Nation, "No one has ever accused Bette Davis of failing to rise to a good script; what this film shows is how far she can go to meet a bad one."
Although Another Man's Poison was not entirely successful, the English all-expenses-paid honeymoon certainly was. Davis and Merrill were delighted to hobnob with British theatrical royalty: dinner at John Gielgud's house (with Alec Guinness and Ralph Richardson); a Sunday at the restored abbey which was the country home of Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh (with fellow guests Noel Coward and Peter Finch). For Davis, the biggest thrill was when Emlyn Williams brought the schoolteacher who had been the inspiration for Miss Moffat in The Corn Is Green onto the set of Another Man's Poison, and introduced her to Davis.
The following year, Merrill starred in Phone Call from a Stranger (1952), and Davis played a small role in the film. In 1959, they co-starred in a touring stage production, The World of Carl Sandburg. By then, the marriage was already rocky, and they divorced the following year. Neither of them ever re-married. Davis died in 1989, Merrill in 1990.
Producer: Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Daniel M. Angel
Director: Irving Rapper
Screenplay: Val Guest, based on the play Deadlock, by Leslie Sands
Editor: Gordon Hales
Cinematography: Robert Krasker
Costume Design: Julie Harris
Art Direction: Cedric Dawe
Music: John Greenwood, Paul Sawtell
Principal Cast: Bette Davis (Janet Frobisher), Gary Merrill (George Bates), Emlyn Williams (Dr. Henderson), Anthony Steel (Larry Stevens), Barbara Murray (Chris Dale), Reginald Beckwith (Mr. Bigley), Edna Morris (Mrs. Bunting).
by Margarita Landazuri