Heaven is film theatre at its best. In the two starring roles are Bette Davis, as the young French governess, Henriette Deluzy-Desportes, and Charles Boyer, projecting one of his best performances as Duc de Praslin. The tragedy of their love affair, which resulted in the murder of the Duchesse de Praslin (Barbara O’Neil), the suicide of the Duc and the subsequent glimpse of some happiness for Henriette in her marriage to the American theological student, Henry Martyn Field (Jeffrey Lynn), is strong fare, involving delicate psychological shadings and understandings.
Casey Robinson in the scripting captures the quaintness of the manners and customs of Paris in 1848, and succeeds admirably in retaining both spirit and characters of Rachel Field’s novel, despite much deletion of material. Anatole Litvak’s direction is outstanding. Film throughout bears the mark of earnest and expert workmanship in all departments.
There are unusually effective performances of four youthful players as the de Praslin children. Every progressive step in the story is built around these youngsters, a bit of plot unfolding that takes the film far from conventional grooves. The children roles are played with fine emotional results by Virginia Weidler, June Lockhart, Ann Todd and Richard Nichols.
As for Davis, she is off the screen during the briefest interludes. In her scenes with Boyer, she retains an outward composure which only intensifies her real feelings, never completely expressed. It is acting so restrained that a single overdrawn passage or expression would shatter the illusion.
1940: Nominations: Best Picture, Supp. Actress (Barbara O’Neil), B&W Cinematography