Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939)

The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex aka Essex and Elizabeth
Director: Michael Curtiz
USA 1939
106 min
Starring: Bette Davis, Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Donald Crisp, Vincent Price and Henry Daniell, among others.

Welcome to the misogynist version of the life of Queen Elizabeth I!

Nah, I won't complain too much. Just enough.

This film is, like the ones in my previous post, based on a popular play. This was Elizabeth the Queen from 1930, written by some bloke called Maxwell Anderson. Initially the film version had the same title, but pompous Flynn wanted his existence included in the title - and there you have the present title. The "aka" title is even worse, putting Essex's name before the queen's! It is with that title the film is listed at IMDb.

Misogynist points: +5p.

Bette Davis as Queen Elizabeth I. The likeness is astounding.

Errol Flynn as Earl of Essex. Uncanny resemblance.

One can of course not expect a Hollywood version of a play, based on real events that took place more than 400 years earlier, to be entirely historically correct. For one thing, when this film starts it is 1596 and Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex (Flynn) has just to returned to London after the capturing of Cadiz.
In short: he beat up some Spaniards and the British people was happy, even though Essex wasn't entirely successful. At this time Essex was 31 years old - Queen Elizabeth was 63. Bette Davis was less than half the real age of the queen! But it's Hollywood, and the studio probably didn't want to put Marie Dressler in a romantic lead opposite handsome Flynn. Perhaps because she had been dead since 1934, but I don't know.

Misogynist points (for not hiring Dressler): +2p.

Before I get carried away with bitchiness, I may add that I loved the dialog that obviously points to a great playwright. And although Bette Davis and Errol Flynn didn't get along (to say the least), they managed to fool me several times - pointing towards great actors. Donald Crisp is excellent as Sir Francis Bacon, even though he still haunts my worst nightmares since Broken Blossoms (1919) [blog post]. But the coolest of all: Davis had her forehead and eyebrows shaved for this role. A funny fact that all classic film devotees should know blindfolded while being eaten alive by plague smitten rats.

So, may I be a little cruel now that I have been a pleasant little girl? Good. Yes, the dialog was smoothly written and is delivered with elegance - but what the heck does Essex think he can say to a queen? She is of course quite a bitch sometimes, but she is the goddamn queen! Take for example when the queen asks him if he think he's rule England better just because he's a man.

"I do indeed. And that's exactly where you fail. You can't think and act like a man."

When she gets mad, he laughs and says: "Fiery wench, aren't you?"

I want to hit him. Hit him hard. Which Bette Davis amusingly enough did during their first scene, after Essex had had the guts to turn his back to the queen. The slap, with heavy rings and all, was real and not intended. (Perhaps intended by Bette, but not planned by the director or anyone else.) According to Flynn's autobiography he wasn't too happy, which really shows in the scene. He has to use all power not to strike back. Haha, he deserved it. Pig.

Misogynist points: +10p.

Essex goes to Ireland to fight (don't they ever stop?), but the Queen orders him home. (In reality, she had forbidden him to come home, but being accurate is so boring.) The whole messy relationship ends when Essex tries to overthrow the queen by taking her and the palace hostage. (In reality he suddenly turned up in her bedroom without her being properly dressed - this time being accurate was too fun. He did not invade her court until two years later, neither. Too boring a fact.) Queen Elizabeth forgives him after some romantic talk about how he will become a good king and she will rule by his side (yeah, right), after which she demands him taken to the Tower and be executed for treason. Sensible enough.

What I don't quite buy, though, is her calling him back the day of the execution to pardon him. He was obviously only after her throne (Queen Elizabeth was, like I said, 60+ years old and covered with smallpox scars), yet she wants him pardoned - and he refuses! Yes, the silly man refuses to be pardoned, turns his back on her (again) and leaves for the gallows. She falls to the floor, shouting after him:

"Robert... take my throne! Take England! It's yours!"

...yeah, about that. What the duck? Why a duck?
No, seriously. This is a parody of post-code Hollywood - to have goddamn Queen Elizabeth begging on the floor. We are talking about the woman who, apart from being the daughter of infamous wife-executioner Henry VIII, imprisoned and executed her cousin Mary, Queen of Scots. The woman who became queen at the age of 25, and obviously had been able to handle her own for 40 years. Her... begging, with tears flowing down her face? She was obviously sad by the turn of events, but I will not buy that she couldn't keep it together at all and offering the throne to a traitor.

Misogynist points: +157

Result: A movie that does not fancy women.

Bette is disappointed with the view on women in Hollywood.

I hate when I sound like a feminist whiny bitch, but this is just too much. It's not a bad movie, Bette Davis is strong and awesome (most of the time... when she could)... but these little details annoyed the hell out of me. (Should one really take ten frustrated cigarette breaks and a glass of red wine during one movie?) To hell with it. And Errol Flynn (although he is quite handsome).

Fun fact: Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex was the only man to ever have a private execution on Tower Green (no family fun for the British people there), and it supposedly took the executioner three chops before his head was severed. That's karma, asshole.


Christopher said...

oh that chopping block looks inviting after a night of hard drinking..
ahhhhh :o) pardons from the Govenor please..

Will said...

This isn't the first time you've made the linkage of "feminist" with "whiny bitch". Basically, it's uncalled for and misdirected ... Ironically, you tally "Misogynist points". Seems like a contradiction of values.

I regret saying this, but if it wasn't for a linage of assertive feminists, you wouldn't have the freedoms and responsibilities you currently have.

Want to take shots at women? Then fire away at the reactionary, freedom limiting Sarah Palins of the world.

Lolita said...

Please, help yourself ;)

Perhaps it's more obvious to me that I am wildly sarcastic than to all of my readers. After all, this time I called myself a whiny bitch that sound like a feminist - isn't that a little improvement since last...? Haha. But seriously though, nobody need to ever get offended by anything I write - I never mean to hurt anyone. Even though I like the feminists of, say, early 20th century than present day ones. In those times they had more to complain about, rightfully so.
And Sara Palin is a shame to all women.

Christopher said...

yawwwwwn...gentlemen..theres no fighting in the War Room..

Lolita said...


Christopher said...

why do Liberals always want to infringe on our freedoms!?
braying jackASS!

Millie said...

Sheesh, Lolita! Could you spend a little less time limiting women everywhere with your horrible, uncalled-for sarcasm and spend a little more time being helpfully serious?! I MEAN GEEZ!


By the way, I love this post!

This is one of those movies, I'm always MEANING to see, and never quite get around to! Haha! (AKA: I go as far as to check it out from the library...FIVE DIFFERENT TIMES...and then proceed to let it sit on the shelf each time until it's overdue and I have horrible amounts of fines). Sad, but true.

This review was so completely hilarious I really don't think I need to see it now!

"Initially the film version had the same title, but pompous Flynn wanted his existence included in the title"

AHAHAHAHAHAHHAHA! This made me laugh.

Great post!

Lolita said...

Again - "word"!

I adore you, sweetheart! I will never doubt my readers again, just because some puritans hate me ;)

I was actually a little disappointed in the film - Bette's portrayal of the queen is really the only interesting thing. I don't understand why they stuffed in De Havilland in such a small role, just because Flynn is in the movie. Well, I'm glad my post satisfied you!

Diana. said...

well i think that...that´s hollywood! and you can find similar silly scenes and dialogues in today´s movies, but in my case i find easier to accept these kind of nosenses in classics than in modern movies.

Maybe the only accuracy was the Bette look. In that case: thank you Bette! (and just Bette, by all accounts)


CrimsonJames said...

I wonder why Davis chose to play the Queen as if she had Palsey or coked out. She is constantly shaking,slapping her dress or wringing her hands. Maybe that was a well known characteristic of Elizabeth and I am just an idiot or just a case of method acting.

Lolita said...

I bet she had one reason or another... All I know about Elizabeth I's behavior is that she was temperamental and eccentric, and never wanted to believe that she was ugly. And she gave mean nicknames to all of her friends at the court!