You can’t beat Bonita!

As I write this, Edward Dmytryk’s Seven Miles from Alcatraz (1942) is wrapping up on Turner Classic Movies. It’s a cute little RKO programmer about a pair of escaped cons forced to dredge up sufficient patriotism (and forestall their flight from justice long enough) to defy Nazi spies in a lighthouse a few laps from The Rock. I nearly turned the thing off until I saw her… those pouty lips, that high forehead, those delicious chum-chum cheeks. Bonita Granville as I live and breathe!

Young Bonita GranvilleThe daughter of Ziegfeld performer Bernard “Bunny” Granville, Bonita made her stage debut at age 3. She played bit parts, often unbilled, in films from 1932 onward. At the age of 13, she was nominated for an Academy Award® for playing a mendacious schoolgirl whose lies spell trouble for These Three (1936), the first film adaptation of the Lillian Hellman play The Children’s Hour, directed by William Wyler. There she was causing trouble again as one of the preteen hysterics of Maid of Salem (1937), causing trouble for Fred MacMurray as the ironically named Ann Goode.

There’s something about Bonita, something about the glint in her eyes and the slightly downturned structure of that kissable mouth that made her perfect for borderline villainous roles. Then there are those teeth. There's something odd about Bonita Granville's teeth… I don't know if I can explain it, I don't know if I want to explain it. (Why didn't anyone ever cast her as Poe's Berenice? She was a natural!) I first saw her as Bette Davis’ precocious niece in Now, Voyager (1942), a sardonic daughter of priviledge spending her allowance on designer suits and cork-tipped cigarettes. She’s not a bad person, just a wee bit of a bitch. Not a capital offense… just a spankable one. Well, don't get me started.

Bonita Granville's teeth

 

Of course, Bonita Granville is best known for playing the girl hero of the Warner Brothers Nancy Drew mysteries , which began with Nancy Drew, Detective (1938). Although the part seems tailor-made for someone of Granville’s obvious intelligence and pluck, the studio went slapstick with the character, making her a natural born adept at solving crimes but hopeless at everything else, from driving a car to making dinner. Fenders were bent and pies burned but Nancy always got her man. Truth be told, I’m not so fond of her Nancy Drew movies. Yes, they’re entertaining and crisp and offer lots of great character actors into the bargain, but it’s just not Bonita to me. There’s not enough of an edge there.

Seven Miles from AlcatrazBonita plays a good girl in Seven Miles from Alcatraz, too, and for most of the film’s running time it seems as though it’s another tiptoe through the tulips for the Bad Girl of my Dreams… until Nazi spy/baroness Tala Birell (another European import shipped in to be the next Greta Garbo and left beached) ties her to a column for disobedience and (if that weren’t sweet enough) begins to whip her with a riding crop. (Why were Nazi spies always so hard to ferret out… couldn’t we have simply detained anyone seen holding a riding crop?). Mind you, it’s only a couple of lashes laid across Bonita’s fully clothed back… but still. Be still my racing heart, lay flat gooseflesh! Even better, when she gets free, she turns around and cold cocks the Aryan dress horse with a flashlight. Taking punishment and meting it out… Seven Miles from Alcatraz may be the ultimate Bonita Granville movie!

Bonita Granville married well, retired from films relatively early and spent the last decade of her career in episodic television, producing and taking occasional roles. Losing her husband in 1984, she herself died much too early, of cancer, four years later. She’ll have been gone 19 years next month but we’ll always have her at her blithe and bitchy best in her many wonderful movies.

These Three

Watch a Bonita Granville movie today!

13 Responses You can’t beat Bonita!
Posted By MDR : September 4, 2007 4:06 pm

A favorite of mine, to be sure! She could be evil (as in These Three (1936)) and she could be funny (like she was in Merrily We Live (1938)), but I beg to differ regarding your chosen title.  Perhaps you've not seen Hitler's Children (1943)?http://www.classicfilmguide.com/image.php?id=122

Posted By MDR : September 4, 2007 4:06 pm

A favorite of mine, to be sure! She could be evil (as in These Three (1936)) and she could be funny (like she was in Merrily We Live (1938)), but I beg to differ regarding your chosen title.  Perhaps you've not seen Hitler's Children (1943)?http://www.classicfilmguide.com/image.php?id=122

Posted By RHS : September 4, 2007 4:14 pm

Way to go, HighHurdler… you just made me ruin a perfectly good pair of pants!

Posted By RHS : September 4, 2007 4:14 pm

Way to go, HighHurdler… you just made me ruin a perfectly good pair of pants!

Posted By Kimberly : September 6, 2007 4:46 am

I've always wanted to see These Three and the old Nancy Drew episodes. Now you've got me even more curious about them. Until you posted this I had no idea that the original Nancy Drew had been released on DVD.Hitlers Children looks pretty amazing too!

Posted By Kimberly : September 6, 2007 4:46 am

I've always wanted to see These Three and the old Nancy Drew episodes. Now you've got me even more curious about them. Until you posted this I had no idea that the original Nancy Drew had been released on DVD.Hitlers Children looks pretty amazing too!

Posted By Samantha : September 9, 2007 12:45 pm

Hi guys, I was at  http://moviego.blogspot yesterday, there a site that shows  free  online movies, do you think a site like this could keep the  theaters out of work ? I work for a Indi Production company and we have not been affected much yet,  actually alot of the people i know in the movie business go to moviego to watch movies all the time,  i guess people don't want to spend $20 to see a movie anymore. :O) 

Posted By Samantha : September 9, 2007 12:45 pm

Hi guys, I was at  http://moviego.blogspot yesterday, there a site that shows  free  online movies, do you think a site like this could keep the  theaters out of work ? I work for a Indi Production company and we have not been affected much yet,  actually alot of the people i know in the movie business go to moviego to watch movies all the time,  i guess people don't want to spend $20 to see a movie anymore. :O) 

Posted By Samantha : September 9, 2007 12:47 pm

Sorry here is the link http://moviego.blogspot.com

Posted By Samantha : September 9, 2007 12:47 pm

Sorry here is the link http://moviego.blogspot.com

Posted By YancySkancy : September 10, 2007 8:06 pm

Gosh, Samantha, maybe you should ask your fellow plants at moviego.  Y'know, instead of asking those of us who came in here to read a blog post about Bonita Granville.  Good luck!

Posted By YancySkancy : September 10, 2007 8:06 pm

Gosh, Samantha, maybe you should ask your fellow plants at moviego.  Y'know, instead of asking those of us who came in here to read a blog post about Bonita Granville.  Good luck!

Posted By swac44 : May 24, 2018 12:15 pm

Just to prove that old Movie Morlocks posts never die, I recently cruised through the Nancy Drew movies during this week’s marathon of them, and was thoroughly entertained, more than RHS was, from the looks of it. Just popped in to MM to see if anyone had done a piece on Bonita, and was not disappointed, now I need to remember to DVR Hitler’s Children and Seven Miles From Alcatraz the next time they come around.

Funny RHS would use the adjective “bitchy” since Granville would spend the latter part of her career as a producer on several Lassie titles and shows. Sounds like she really found her collie!

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