TCM’s star of the day is Bette Davis, and my film pick for the actress is It’s Love I’m After, which airs today at 7:30 A.M. (EST).
It’s Love I’m After follows renowned stage actors and real-life lovers Basil Underwood (Leslie Howard) and Joyce Arden (Bette Davis), who’ve postponed their nuptials eleven times, but are determined to make it to the altar on the twelfth try. A constant issue for the tempestuous couple is how often women fall for Basil because of the romantic men he plays on stage, as he’ll sometimes indulge in their infatuations with him. His latest adoring fan is debutante Marcia West (Olivia de Havilland), who’s willing to break off her engagement to Henry Grant (Patric Knowles) to be with her favorite actor. At Henry’s request, Basil must now play the role of a cad to get Marcia to fall out of love with him, all before finally tying the knot with Joyce.
When production began for It’s Love I’m After, there was no one attached to play the film’s leading lady, Joyce Arden. Leslie Howard originally envisioned an authentic stage actress for the role, either Gertrude Lawrence or Ina Claire, but they both had little experience in films. Warner Bros. producer Hal B. Wallis thought that the screwball comedy genre would be a great change-of-pace for Bette Davis, who was primarily known for appearing in melodramas. Davis initially declined though, recognizing that Marcia West was the better of the two leading female roles. She eventually agreed to appear in the film if Wallis gave her some time to relax beforehand; after all, Davis had appeared in more than 30 films within a seven-year period and deserved a bit of a break.
After a few years of small roles in less-than stellar films, Bette Davis was starting to become a hot commodity after her critically acclaimed performance in Of Human Bondage. The 1934 film was also her first on-screen pairing with Leslie Howard, and the two reunited twice more for The Petrified Forest and It’s Love I’m After (both directed by Archie Mayo, who also directed Davis in Bordertown). While this film was her last with Howard, it was the first one she made with Olivia de Havilland. The two actresses went on to appear in three more films together (The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, In This Our Life, and Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte) and ended up sharing a great friendship throughout their careers.
By the time Bette Davis made It’s Love I’m After, she already had one Academy Award under her belt for Dangerous, which many consider a make-up Oscar for Of Human Bondage. The following year she won her second and last Oscar for Jezebel, but it was far from the last time she was invited to the Academy Awards. She earned eight more nominations, all in the Best Actress category like her two winning performances. Davis also became the first person to secure ten Oscar nominations for acting when she was nominated for the last time for What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? in 1962.
In a film career filled with celebrated dramatic roles, It’s Love I’m After is a real treat to watch as Bette Davis gets to show off her comedic skills. The film is even more enjoyable with Leslie Howard and Olivia de Havilland alongside her, as they too were most known for their work in dramas as opposed to comedies like this one. Admittedly Davis was right in seeing that de Havilland landed the juicier role, as she pretty much steals the film from everyone else as a love-struck fan. And speaking of fans, for anyone who’s a fan of Gone with the Wind, It’s Love I’m After offers a few amusing connections to the epic film, which came out two years after this screwball comedy. Overall this film is a lot of fun to watch, especially for fans of any of the three leads.
I wrote this as a part of the 2016 TCM Summer Under the Stars Blogathon, where bloggers are celebrating the channel’s honorees and movies playing throughout the month. Click the banner below to read more posts!