I saw this on TCM (Turner Classic Movies) when they ran a marathon of these classic interviews, and I happened to catch this one profiling Bette Davis.
The title "A basically benevolent volcano" refers to a comment used by Olivia De Havilland (one of the interviewees) to describe Bette (the two worked together in "IN THIS OUR LIFE" and "HUSH, HUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE").
A BBC-financed production, this interview with Bette (it was filmed after she had a mild stroke as she can be seen talking out of one side of her mouth, but before she had that massive stroke where it rendered her unrecognizable) takes you back to her childhood where her mother worked her back off to put her through school, and how Bette vowed that she would get a job that paid so well, her mother would never have to work again.
And that she did. From Broadway baby to Hollywood, Bette made an impact at MGM Studios where she filmed a few supporting roles in some duds and then was subsequently fired (ie her contract was not "renewed") where she caught the next train back to the East, about to throw in the towel, when Mr George Arliss himself gave her a telephone call and coaxed her back to Hollywood to star in his latest film as his love interest (LOL!).
They actually show a snippet from this film ("THE WORKING MAN") where Mr George Arliss, heavily dressed in lipstick and make-up, trying to bat away Bette's sexual advances toward him where he plays a man nearly 40 years her senior (if trash like this was filmed today, he would be replaced with Woody Allen).
Back in Hollywood, Bette manages to get a crack at stardom again, this time getting some choice roles as 'strong-willed' female characters, usually either as a victim of violence or a modern day woman. She further discusses her limited roles in generic (of the time) trash like "FASHIONS OF 1934" and "BUREAU OF MISSING PERSONS", but her big break came in 1935 when she finally won the Best Actress Oscar for "DANGEROUS".
She fondly remembers the one role out of her entire film career that she was satisfied with (acting-wise), in "DARK VICTORY" where she plays a heroic woman grappling with the fact that she is going blind. Co-star Geraldine Fitzgerald gives some insight on how intimidated she was from what people had said about Bette at the time. Apparently the word was going around that Bette did not like other actresses getting 'face time' on camera in the same scenes as her, and that if Geraldine wanted to share the camera, she would have to get between a piece of furniture so Bette couldn't push her out of the scene (LOL)! Apparently it turned out to be all lies, and Geraldine thought Bette was one of the sweetest actresses she had ever worked with.
Bette comments on her WWII effort with the opening of the "Hollywood Canteen", an outlet for army veterans to 'mingle' with the stars. They even show footage where she does a small number and goes on to do the jitterbug with a professional dancer where he throws her around causing her to get a few bruises on her knees, yet she wanted it to look as 'realistic' as possible and swore that she was only going to film this in one take, hence the part where she staggers back outside the canteen (all bruised up) to finish her swan song!
She then goes on to talk about her career-defining moment in "ALL ABOUT EVE", where interviewee Anne Baxter gives her two cents on what a brilliant actress she is.
Her film career stagnated for a while until she came back with "WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?". Unfortunately, she (purposely?) avoids talking about this era, especially where it concerns her big comeback in the 60's horror genre (ie "THE NANNY", "HUSH HUSH", "DEAD RINGER", etc) and goes directly to the current day (ie. early 1980's) where she was still acting in her mid- 70's.
Not much is said on her many failed marriages, her disabled daughter "B.D.", the death of her mother or her countless publicized feuds with various actresses (including Ms Joan Crawford).
For a "film prospective", this is a pretty good documentary/interview. If you want to know more about the "personal life" of Bette Davis, you're probably better off with a Lifetime Television "Intimate Portrait". This was probably one of the last good interviews that she gave before she suffered the major stroke that really knocked her to the ground. She was never the same after that and it showed in both her films and personality (apparently she became so cantankerous, even sweethearts Lillian Gish and Helen Hayes couldn't say a nice thing about her).
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