“Don’t you ever get tired of lessons?”
Upon moving to the Welsh countryside, a schoolteacher (Bette Davis) decides to establish a classroom in her own house to help teach the village children. One student (John Dall) stands out as particularly gifted, and she helps him begin preparations to attend Oxford — but the tarty daughter (Joan Lorring) of her housekeeper (Rosalind Ivan) has other plans in mind for Dall.
Irving Rapper directed Bette Davis in no less than nine films, including this adaptation of Welsh author Emlyn Williams’ semi-autobiographical play about a gifted young coal-miner attempting to gain entrance into Oxford. The storyline is often overly theatrical, and certain scenes (such as when the coal-miners sing impossibly beautiful ditties while walking to and from work) come across as heavy-handed — but Davis is such a nuanced and compelling actress that she consistently elevates the material, helping us remain invested and engaged throughout. In his film debut, Dall (best known for his starring roles in Hitchcock’s Rope and Joseph Lewis’s Gun Crazy) received a Best Supporting Actor nomination, and does an impressive job portraying his character’s deep sense of conflict; it’s easy to understand why this strapping young man would both appreciate and resent the attentions paid to him by Davis. However, I’m less enamored with Lorring’s performance as a trollop who sets a key plot hitch in motion: while Davis apparently hand-picked her for the role, I find her performance overly broad; sure, she’s written as a no-good femme fatale whose very mother confesses to not liking her when she was born (poor thing!), but she’s a tad too one-dimensional in her sociopathic glee for my tastes.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Bette Davis as Lily Moffat
- John Dall as Morgan Evans
No, though it’s recommended.