20th Century Films

The Virtue of Goodness: All This, and Heaven Too (1940)

In the court of public opinion, a good person can be judged guilty, even when there is no proof of wrongdoing.

all this and heaven tooThe character trait of goodness can be defined as “the deliberate preference of right to wrong, the firm and persistent resistance of all moral evil, and the choosing and following of all moral good.”

In Anatole Litvak’s All This, and Heaven Too (1940), Henriette Deluzy-Desportes (Bette Davis) embodies goodness as the governess to four children.

Henriette always does what is morally right. When the boy Reynald (Richard Nichols) suffers from diphtheria, she attends to him throughout the night and cares for him with a mother’s love.

Henriette loves the children, and she also loves their father, the Duc de Praslin (Charles Boyer). However, although he loves her in return, she resists the temptation to have an affair and run away with him.

It is ironic that when a person is good, they can often be accused of being bad. The Duchesse de Praslin (Barbara O’Neil) accuses Henriette of stealing the love of her husband and her children. But Henriette has stolen nothing. The Duc and the children love her because she is so good. The Duchesse hates Henriette because jealousy has poisoned her heart.

One of the most universal moral principles is to do no harm to another person. This is what sets Henriette apart from the Duc and the Duchesse. She causes no harm to anyone and only seeks their good.

Henriette does not repay evil with evil. The Duchess is cruel to Henriette, yet she is still respectful toward her and honors her in the presence of the children. Henriette repays cruelty with kindness.

In contrast, the Duchesse punishes Henriette, forcing her to resign her position, and the Duc commits the greatest harm of all, murdering the Duchesse because of her mistreatment of Henriette. Because of the harm they cause, the Duc and Duchesse are both lacking in goodness. They feel no regret or remorse for doing wrong.

When a person is truly good, they will not hate those who wrong them. The Duchesse breaks her promise to give Henriette a letter of recommendation, making it impossible for her to find another position as a governess. However, despite being wronged, Henriette has no ill will toward the Duchess.

Good people will often suffer injustices. In the climax of the film, Henriette is charged with conspiring with the Duc to murder the Duchesse, and she is sent to prison. Although the charges are eventually dropped, she is left with a tarnished reputation, and the scandal follows her when she accepts a teaching position in the United States. In the court of public opinion, a good person can be judged guilty, even when there is no proof of wrongdoing.

The film suggests that although good people must suffer injustices, they will be rewarded in the end. The children in Henriette’s class initially judge her as guilty, but after telling her story, she wins their affection. Finally, Rev. Henry Field (Jeffrey Lynn), falls in love with her, and we can assume that they will marry and live happily ever after. Henriette finds heaven on Earth, but she must go through hell to get there.


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5 comments

  1. Dear Christopher,

    This is a great article! I really enjoyed reading it. Thank you for sending me the link. You made some excellent and very true points about this film. I liked your summation on virtue and goodness.

    Yours Hopefully,

    Tiffany Brannan

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Indeed Christopher I have noticed that a tarnished reputation can make soooo much difference in a person’s future.
    Just an investigation based on an accusal, even if the investigation finds nothing but evidence contrary to the claim of wrongdoing and shows the accusal was invalid, can leave a dark mark that will never fully fade.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I remember this Bette Davis film. While it is not among her most popular, Davis takes on a role she will recreate again and again.

    In “Now, Voyager” (1942), Davis is transformed from an emotionally abused “plain Jane” to a confident woman who sacrifices the possibility of love for the sake of a young girl’s well-being. In “The Corn Is Green” (1945), she plays a school teacher in a Welch town who encourages a gifted student, but sacrifices their friendship in order to raise the young man’s illegitimate child.

    These are all pictures of virtue.

    Liked by 1 person

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