Beyond the Forest

dir. King Vidor

TIFF Cinematheque - Hollywood Classics

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A camp classic to end all camp classics, this full-throttle backwoods melodrama stars a bewigged Bette Davis as a small-town vamp hungering to escape to the big city.

"If they held a pageant for most dyspeptic film of the 1940s, King Vidor's Beyond the Forest would have been a shoo-in finalist, and Bette Davis easily would have walked away with the prize for Miss Monstrosity" (Howard Hampton, Film Comment). "What a dump!," that immortal camp imprecation, is hardly the only reason to take in Beyond the Forest, which might better have been called Beyond the Pale. Davis held this full-throttle backwoods melodrama in utter disdain, but it is truly delectable: exploiting the great King Vidor's excessive side (cf. Duel in the Sun), Forest is, according to Pauline Kael's celebrated estimation, "consistently (though inadvertently) hilarious; there's not a sane dull scene in this peerless piece of camp." Decked out in a ratty black wig and speckled with sweat, Davis plays a small-town vamp who "hop[s] the most monstrously phallic train in film history" (Dave Kehr) to decamp from Wisconsin and her long-suffering husband (Joseph Cotten) for Chicago and her lover there, a businessman she imagines will keep her in fine fashion. Outrage follows outrage in Vidor's "own brand of hog-wild Expressionism" (Kael), culminating in what Davis sneeringly called the longest death scene in all cinema. Imperative!