Sunday, April 13, 2014

Right of Way (1983)---Better Late Than Never, The One and Only, Late-Career Pairing of Bette Davis and James Stewart

Impossible as it may be to believe, it wasn't until they were both 75-years old, that screen legends Bette Davis and James Stewart ever made a film together (both were born in 1908). While both are extremely beloved, iconic stars of the golden age, it took until 1983 for their film paths to cross for the first (and only) time.  That film, an emotional, heart-tugging, made-for-Cable-TV drama called Right of Way, also stars Melinda Dillon.  Based on Richard Lee's play of the same name, Right of Way is my addition to the "Diamonds and Gold Blogathon" hosted by Wide Screen World and Caftan Woman.  This event---dedicated to celebrating stars who were working well into their senior years---is sure to have a multitude of terrific entries.  You can access all the other articles HERE.




Elderly and long-married Teddy and Minnie Dwyer (Stewart and Davis) have recently learned that Minnie is afflicted with a terminal blood disorder.  Although there are complex treatments which could possibly buy her a bit more time, Minnie's prognosis is bleak, and the couple, who have lived together as one for years, have determined that they will die together as one.  Wanting to inform their daughter, Ruda (Melinda Dillon), of their plans, Teddy phones her and requests that she come for a visit.

Shocked by her parents' suicide plan---yet unable to talk them out of it---Ruda contacts Human Services, and after a social worker visits the Dwyer's unkempt home, Teddy and Minnie are rendered unable to care for themselves.  Knowing it is only a matter of time until they are under the state's care and no longer free to do as they please, the couple realize they will have to act quickly if they hope to be in control of when and how they die.  How it all plays out is the balance of the film.




It seems amazing to me that the only pairing of these two screen legends did not take place until the tail-end of both their careers.  While I don't know how they got along on set (Bette Davis, Larger Than Life doesn't say), they gave every appearance of being a loving, devoted, decades-married couple. The tender scenes between them easily reminded me of my own parents, grandparents, and in-laws.  I found Jimmy and Bette both to be wonderful and very believable in their roles.  Bette was typical Bette---sharp-tongued and not inclined to tolerate any foolishness.  Jimmy, too, was his usual self---lovable, slightly confused, somewhat-stammering. If I closed my eyes and just let my mind go, I would have thought Margo Channing and Elwood P. Dowd had come together.  What a testament to both of them that their iconic All About Eve and Harvey characters could still be envisioned at the end of their careers.

While patient suicide and euthanasia generate much controversy here in the 21st century, back in the early 1980's, they did even more so, making Right of Way quite bold for its time. I want to make clear that while I enjoyed this film and give it 4 stars, because of my faith, I absolutely cannot condone euthanasia or patient suicide.  However, the subject is handled with dignity and sensitivity and makes for a powerful discussion-piece kind of film.  Also, with many of us Baby Boomer/Generation X'ers currently watching our own parents age, Right of Way will probably hit close to home for the bulk of us.

Unfortunately, it doesn't appear that Right of Way is out on DVD; it is, however, available on VHS, as well as on YouTube (HERE).  I do hope you get a chance to see it, especially if you are a Bette Davis or Jimmy Stewart fan.

Happy viewing!!

19 comments:

  1. I recall that it was quite the big deal with Ms. Davis and Mr. Stewart finally got together for this TV film. Such a heart wrenching subject was made even more so by the audience's years of familiarity with the popular stars who were also outstanding actors.

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    1. I agree with you, CW. The knowledge that beloved stars Jimmy and Bette were themselves aging and winding down their long careers makes this film even more heart-tugging. It is so hard seeing those we love age and struggle with fragile health---even our movie star loves.

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  2. Thanks for reminding us of this special event. I recall hearing about it when it was broadcast, but I never saw it - I don't believe we had cable at the time. What a wonderful choice for this blogathon.

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    1. Thanks for visiting, Jacqueline. You know, I'm surprised that I didn't hear about this movie back in the day. In 1983, I was in my early 20's and living with my grandparents, who were huge classic film people. I remember my grandfather raving about Lana Turner on a regular basis. And my grandmother used to go on about Ray Milland and Loretta Young., When Loretta Young made a made-for-TV Christmas movie in 1986, my grandmother convinced me to watch it with her. So, "Right of Way" surely would have been something they were interested in. Obviously, they didn't have cable at the time either.

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  3. When I wrote about DARK VICTORY, another Bette Davis movie in which she stares down death in the face, I said that in theory, taking one's life if death would be considered a relief by contrast might not be so bad. Emphasis on the words 'in theory.'

    In reality, it's never that simple, of course, for many reasons, which I won't go into. In AMOUR, we got to see exactly how difficult it can be for an elderly couple when one of them is about to go before the other. This movie sounds like a sharp contrast, as long as it doesn't play like a movie of the week.

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    1. Rich, thank you for visiting and for co-hosting this great blogathon.

      I love "Dark Victory." It's my 2nd favorite Bette Davis film, and her Judith is also one of my favorite female film characters.

      For many elderly couples, who have been married 5 or 6 decades, the thought of death is infinitely more appealing than the thought of life without their lifelong partner. Not that he would have taken his own life, but my grandfather lost his will to live after my grandmother---his wife of nearly 57 years---succumbed to cancer. He often said that he wished he had died too, that they had died together in a car crash. I think it's hard for those of us married less than half that time to understand that kind of devotion and oneness.

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  4. Wow. That sounds both compelling and depressing -- a potent mix if done right!

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    1. Hamlette, definitely compelling and if not depressing, at least extremely touching. I definitely found myself weeping.

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  5. I had no idea they'd never made a film together! Considering how much star power they both had, it is funny that they didn't until so late in life. I'm going to save this one on Youtube and definitely will watch it! Thank you for sharing Patti:)

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    1. Victoria, I hope it won't be deleted by the time you are able to watch it. Far too often, I put something on my YouTube list, then when I go to watch it a month or so later, it's gone.

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  6. Well, this is sure new to me! Thanks for a great review of 2 great actors who finally got together. I will be checking this out and hope, as you say, it is still up on youtube.

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    1. New to me to, Flick. Not sure how I happened upon it on YouTube, but once I did, I figured it would be a perfect addition to the blogathon.

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  7. It's incredible that it took Stewart and Davis so long to 'get it together'. Both are screen legends. Before I saw it I was worried that one would 'steal' the show, but I think it's a well balanced movie that makes use of both their talents. I'm going to give this a re-watch now, before it's taken down again ;)

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    1. Girls, yes, it was a balanced movie that makes use of both their talents. Of course, it may have been a challenge getting to that place, with one or the other of them having to fight for a scene.

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  8. What a wonderful piece, Patti. I count both James Stewart and Bette Davis among my favourite actors and would love to see them together - I see this is actually out on DVD in region 2 but only in Spain. I might be tempted to buy it, but, if not, will try to see it on Youtube before it disappears.

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    1. Judy, thanks for mentioning the region 2 DVD. I hadn't seen that on Amazon. The whole region thing really bugs me sometimes.

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  9. I just heard about it recently, and wow, what a risky theme it has! I'm so glad you said it is on YouTube, I'll surely catch a glimpse of it later.
    Elwood and Margo really don't look like a good couple to me... LOL
    Bette's and Jimmy's pairing reminds me of Kate Hepburn and Henry Fonda in On Golden Pond. Imagine what they could have done if they were paired 40 years earlier?
    Don't forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)
    Kisses!
    Le
    http://www.criticaretro.blogspot.com.br/2014/04/o-vento-sera-tua-heranca-inherit-wind.html

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  10. Hi Patti, This sounds so good. I did not see it and now I would really like to. Thank you for sharing. These two actors are some of my very favorites.
    Hope you enjoy a great rest or the week.
    Blessings XO

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  11. You know, I never once wondered about Steward & Davis doing a film, and I'm glad to hear they eventually did. And it sounds like an intriguing one at that!

    Thanks for the YouTube link!

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