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Bette Davis: A Basically Benevolent Volcano 

A documentary about and an interview with Hollywood actress Bette Davis about her life and career from the late 1920s to the 1980s on stage and mostly before the camera.


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Episode credited cast:
Bette Davis ... Herself
Ian Holm ... Narrator (voice)
Geraldine Fitzgerald ... Herself
Anne Baxter ... Herself
Olivia de Havilland ... Herself
Joseph L. Mankiewicz ... Himself (as Joseph Mankiewicz)
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
George Arliss ... (archive footage)
Richard Barthelmess ... (archive footage)
Humphrey Bogart ... (archive footage)
George Brent ... Himself (archive footage)
Charles Coburn ... (archive footage)
Joseph Cotten ... (archive footage)
Henry Fonda ... (archive footage)
Paul Henreid ... (archive footage)
Robert Montgomery ... (archive footage)


A documentary about and an interview with Hollywood actress Bette Davis about her life and career from the late 1920s to the 1980s on stage and mostly before the camera.

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Release Date:

2 November 1983 (UK) See more »

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Technical Specs


(TCM print)

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Did You Know?


Olivia de Havilland: Bette Davis is a basically benevolent volcano.
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Features The Present with a Future (1943) See more »

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Interview with a legend
19 October 2005 | by jotix100See all my reviews

"Bette Davis: A Basically Benevolent Volcano" was shown recently on TCM. This is basically an interview with Bette Davis more than a documentary. In it, we get to see the star of so many films talking to the camera about her views on her career and her films. Since it is a candid conversation with Ms. Davis, she seems to be directing her opinions to us, the viewers, on the other side of the room in an intimate way. The narration by Ian Holm makes a good deal of sense, enhancing what we one is watching.

What this interview could have used was a different format in which, in addition to telling us about herself, more emphasis in her career could have been illustrated with film clips that would have had a more comprehensive and cohesion in examining and illustrating her long association with the cinema. As it plays, one only gets to see some of her most obvious achievements, while other films in which she shone are not even mentioned, or are bypassed without an explanation.

We understand the limitations of this format, and the viewer is lucky to catch a fleeting glimpse of the woman who was a down to earth person in the land of make believe. Ms. Davis never lost touch with her Yankee values and no nonsense attitude toward everything she did. In fact, her puritanical background indicates her upbringing and the influence her mother had on her.

Bette Davis, the consummate actress and artist, confesses her quest for perfection and how most of her work didn't quite satisfy her. In fact, the only film that comes close to her best work seems to be "Dark Victory", which she considered to have met her criteria for the perfection she wanted in everything.

It's a shame that only Olivia DeHavilland, Anne Baxter, Geraldine Fitzgerald and Joseph L. Mankiewicz offer their opinions about Bette Davis. They knew her well, but one misses hearing from other voices too.

The interview is essential for Bette Davis' fans who can see one of the legends of the cinema recounting her life for our benefit.

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