Henriette (Bette Davis) is beginning a new job as a teacher at an all-girls school in New York, but she’s off to a rocky start. One of her students suspects that she may be the infamous “Mademoiselle D,” a woman caught in a scandal which was highly publicized in the French-language newspapers.
Word begins to spread about Henriette’s past, and she’s forced to confront her students, telling them the real story.
Before coming to America, Henriette was a governess, hired into the household of the Duc de Praslin (Charles Boyer) to care for his four children. The Duchesse (Barbara O’Neil) hadn’t exactly been the ideal homemaker, neglecting her children and often fighting with her husband, so Henriette’s calm presence transformed the home.
But with the Duchesse fearing that Henriette was trying to replace her, tragedy struck the household.
All This, and Heaven Too was directed by Anatole Litvak from a screenplay by Casey Robinson.
Like many Bette Davis films, this film belongs to Bette Davis. Charles Boyer and Barbara O’Neil give very fine performances, but this is Bette’s film. She shares nice chemistry with Boyer and gives a predictably strong performance as the good-hearted, caring governess caught in an awful situation.
The film is told in flashback by Henriette as she shares her past with her bratty new students… and when I say bratty, I mean it. These kids are judgmental terrors! This framing device for the story is kind of odd and unnecessary, but certainly adds to the melodrama.
And of melodrama, there is plenty. Much of the film’s tension comes not from Bette, whose character is kind and principled, but from the Duchesse. The Duchesse is jealous and over-dramatic. The viewer does kind of feel for her early on, as her son falls ill, she’s too ill to be around her ill son, and her marriage is in total shambles. She doesn’t handle the situation well, but the emotions driving her decisions are understandable.
Still, she’s not sympathetic. She’s needlessly cruel to Henriette as the film goes on, even though Henriette has remained professional and generally hidden her feelings for the Duc. The two share a few great confrontation scenes.
Throughout most of the film’s run time, the love triangle takes the expected turns, but my attention was still held quite well. There are several genuinely heartbreaking scenes (such as one in which the kids gift Henriette with a locket, just before she leaves her job), and a wild twist that makes for an intense final act.
All This, and Heaven Too finds its strength in two places: Bette, and its batty twist. On the whole, I wouldn’t place it among my favorite Bette Davis films, but it did effectively drain my emotional bank by the end! Recommended for Davis die-hards and fans of classic melodrama.