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Posted at 3:03 PM ET, 04/ 5/2010

Happy birthday, Bette Davis

By Liz Kelly

Thanks, Roger Ebert, for reminding me that today is the birthday of a real actress -- one of the most amazing talents to ever grace the silver screen. A talent who makes the likes of Jennifer Aniston look like amateur hour and is indeed the stuff of which Hollywood legends are made.

I'm talking about one of my favorite actresses of all time: Bette Davis. And, although she passed away over 20 years ago, her movies are still required viewing -- at least in my house. In honor of what would have been her 102nd birthday, I offer my top five favorite Davis films:

1. "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"
By the time Davis took on the role of an aged vaudeville child star with murderous tendencies, she was herself already considered over-the-hill by Hollywood standards. But rather than turn to the Botox of her era, Davis gamely transformed herself into a grotesque overgrown spoiled brat and ended up with an Academy Award nomination. Truly remarkable performance perfectly counter-balanced by Joan Crawford as Jane's long-suffering sister/victim.

2. "All About Eve"
Ego-centric actresses, backstabbing, greasy gossip columnists -- what's not to like? Again, Davis portrays an aging actress but this time she faces off against the unscrupulously ambitious Anne Baxter who does her best to steal Davis's thunder. Silly girl. Look for a cameo from a young Marilyn Monroe. Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night:

3. "Now, Voyager"
In one of Davis's rarer sympathetic turns, she plays an introverted Boston spinster who escapes her mother's domineering grasp to find romance. Along the way she trades chaste collars for designer gowns. And while the ending is happy-ish, it's not story book. And that's kind of refreshing.

4. "The Petrified Forest"
A super-young Davis holds her own with Leslie Howard and Humphrey Bogart in this dialogue heavy (it was adapted from a Broadway play) movie about gangsters who invade a sleepy desert inn while on the run from cops.

5. "Return from Witch Mountain"
That's right -- I'm including this schlocky Disney offering in which Davis plays an evil spinster who, along with an equally rotten brother played by Christopher Lee, attempt to brainwash good little Tony and Tia into committing crimes. It's B-movie fare, but Davis deserves total props for vamping through the film like some unholy skeleton sucking down cigarettes.

Agree, disagree? Share your thoughts about Davis and her career below...

By Liz Kelly  | April 5, 2010; 3:03 PM ET
Categories:  Celebrities, In Praise Of...  
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Comments

I LOVE Now, Voyager! It is only ever remembered as a movie where cigarette use is a plot point that connects two people. It is so much more than that with great performances and a good story. I admit that I'm a sucker for ugly duckling introvert turns into a swan stories, especially ones like this that are more than just about the looks component. Highly recommend to everyone. Very impressed, Liz!

Posted by: y1776 | April 5, 2010 3:35 PM | Report abuse

"The Little Foxes" and "Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte" are on my list!

Posted by: tlc20011 | April 5, 2010 3:49 PM | Report abuse

All About Eve is my favorite. Of Human Bondage, The Letter, Jezebel, Dark Victory, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex are great too.

Posted by: jake14 | April 5, 2010 4:40 PM | Report abuse

Another favorite: Of Human Bondage

Posted by: joanna0721 | April 5, 2010 4:44 PM | Report abuse

"The Letter," by all means.

Posted by: nellie4 | April 5, 2010 4:53 PM | Report abuse

I loved her in "Death on the Nile." It was an ensemble drama with a cast that included Peter Ustinov and Mia Farrow, so screen time for Davis was limited. But the energy between her and a young Maggie Smith made for some of the best scenes in the film.

Posted by: ras4q | April 5, 2010 5:23 PM | Report abuse

Did you ever see Dick Cavett's interview with Davis? Memorable! Perhaps Producer Paul can find out whether it's available on video.

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | April 5, 2010 5:56 PM | Report abuse

I love The Letter -- I love that whole genre, in fact: the humid tropical night full of intrigue thing (think Macau, Key Largo, Red Dust, etc.).

I also like Mrs. Skeffington. Plus that had Claude Rains, one of my favourite actors.

-Snarky Squirrel

Posted by: 7900rmc | April 5, 2010 6:19 PM | Report abuse

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? GREAT movie, scary as heck, but ohmigosh. WOW.

Posted by: Alex511 | April 5, 2010 8:14 PM | Report abuse

I loved her in "Dark Victory"!

Posted by: cpf218 | April 5, 2010 8:33 PM | Report abuse

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Posted by: maidishoes451 | April 5, 2010 10:18 PM | Report abuse

Wow, it is amazing how you can take something positive (Bette's b-day) and use it to gratuitously slam another actress. So what if Jennifer Aniston isn't as good an actress as Bette Davis? Who said she was, and what does she have to do with Bette's b-day? NOTHING.
I usually love this blog but the snark is usually directed at deserving targets (I haven't heard Aniston compare herself to Bette Davis, so this seems out of bounds).

Posted by: caroleg | April 6, 2010 8:44 AM | Report abuse

Wow, it is amazing how you can take something positive (Bette's b-day) and use it to gratuitously slam another actress. So what if Jennifer Aniston isn't as good an actress as Bette Davis? And, what does she have to do with Bette's b-day? NOTHING.
I usually love this blog but the snark is usually directed at deserving targets (I haven't heard Aniston compare herself to Bette Davis, so this seems out of bounds).

Posted by: caroleg | April 6, 2010 8:46 AM | Report abuse

What about The Letter? Or the extremely underated A Catered Affair with Ernest Borgnine and Debbie Reynolds? She played a non-glamourous aging woman in that, too.

Posted by: scarlett1 | April 6, 2010 8:49 AM | Report abuse

Now, Voyager and Dark Victory. Also great supporting casts in each.

Posted by: jhershelredpuppy1 | April 6, 2010 8:59 AM | Report abuse

MM's appearance in "All about Eve" was a cameo?

Posted by: jezebel3 | April 6, 2010 9:56 AM | Report abuse

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