Dangerous (1935): Bette Davis’ First Best Actress Oscar in Trashy Melodrama, Co-Starring Franchot Tone

Bette Davis specialized in portraying suffering actresses, and four out of her ten Best Actress Oscar nominations were for playing such roles. (She had never been nominated for Supporting Actress).

In her first Oscar-winning role, in the 1935 mawkish Dangerous, which was directed by Alfred E. Green, scripted by Laird Doyle from an original story, Davis plays Joyce Heath, a bottle-swigging, once-famous stage actress. She’s bent on self-destruction until she meets an admiring young architect named Dan Bellows (Franchot Tone), who befriends her and sponsors her comeback.

Read about Bette Davis’ Greatest Screen Performance, All About Eve.

All About Eve (1950): Starring Bette Davis in her Best (but Snubbed) Performance

Joyce is aware that Bellows is engaged to socialite Gail Armitage (Margaret Lindsay), but she encourages his attentions and he falls for her.

When her husband Gordon (John Eldredge) refuses Joyce a divorce, so she can marry the architect, she attempts to kill both of them by driving into a tree. They survive, but her husband is crippled for life. Returning triumphantly to the stage, Joyce now understands the values of sacrifice and commitment, giving up her real love for the architect to serve the needs of her husband.

Formulaic and trashy as “Dangerous” is, Davis is such a skillful actress, particularly in melodramas, that she brings an incredible emotional intensity to the role.

The part of Joyce Heath, the self-destructive, hard-drinking actress, was possibly modeled on Jeanne Eagles, who died several years earlier of drugs overdose at the height of her career.

A couple of sequences stand out, such as Davis’s remarkable gone-to-the-dogs barroom scene. Tough and surly with Alison Skip, she says, “I don’t want any of your greasy food; give me a drink.”

And when Tone’s architect compliments Davis on revealing the truth, like a real gentleman, She replies, “Perhaps I’m not lady enough to lie.”

All About Eve (1950): Starring Bette Davis in her Best (but Snubbed) Performance

At first, Joyce holds that she has the talent to jinx all the people she gets involved with. Joyce’s ensuing transformation from a sodden, despairing barfly to a loving and hopeful woman is only semi-credible, though it meets the conventions of the time for the portrayal of women on and off screen. At one point Joyce says, “The way not to be a jinx is to pay my debts,” a lesson she absorbed from the kind architect. In the film’s upbeat last image, Joyce is seen with bouquet of flowers going to visit husband in hospital

Some people considered Davis’ 1935 Best Actress Oscar for “Dangerous” a compensation or consolation prize from the Academy for losing out the year before for “Of Human Bondage,” in 1934; Davis was a write-in candidate. Consensus in the industry, including Davis herself, held that Katharine Hepburn gave the strongest female performance that year, in George Stevens’ “Alice Adams.”

Detailed Plot (in chronological order)

Don Bellows (Franchot Tone), a prominent architect, is engaged to the wealthy femme, Gail Armitage (Margaret Lindsay), when he meets down-and-out Joyce Heath (Bette Davis), an alcoholic has-been, who was once the most promising actress on Broadway.

Don is deeply indebted to Joyce because of her splendid performance in “Romeo and Juliet–he claims it nspired him to become an architect.

While rehabilitating her, Don falls in love with the tempestuous actress. Joyce, convinced she destroys anything and anyone she touches, warns him that she is a jinx. However, compelled to save her, Don breaks his engagement to Gail and risks his fortune to back her comeback in a Broadway show.

Before opening night, he insists that they marry, but Joyce resists his proposal, concealing the fact that she is already married to Gordon Heath (John Eldredge), an ineffectual but devoted man, financially ruined by their marriage.

Joyce begs Gordon for a divorce, and when he refuses, she causes a car accident that cripples him. Her own injuries keep her from opening in the show, which goes on to fail.  Don is ruined, and when he learns that Joyce has deceived him, he accuses her of being selfish.

Joyce considers suicide, but then begins to see the truth in Don’s speech. She reopens the show and, though she loves Don, she sends him back to Gail.

In the happy ending, the show is a success, and Joyce, now dedicated to a more responsible life, decides to salvage her marriage.



Joyce Heath (Bette Davis)

Don Bellows (Franchot Tone)

Gail Armitage (Margaret Lindsay)

Mrs. Williams (Alison Skipworth)

Gordon Heath (John Eldredge)

Teddy (Dick Foran)

George Sheffield (Pierre watkin)

Roger Farnsworth (Walter walker)

Charles Melton (George Irving)

Reed Walsh (William B. Davidson)



Produced by Harry Joe Brown

Director: Alfred E. Green

Screenplay: Laird Doyle

Camera: Ernest Haller

Editor; Thomas Richards

Music: Bernard Kaun

Art direction: Hugh Reticker

Costumes: Orry-Kelly