Ed Stephan puts forward the plot of the film as follows on IMDB: “Rosa Moline is bored with life in a small town. She loves Chicago industrialist Neil Latimer who has a hunting lodge nearby. Rosa squeezes her husband's patients to pay their bills so she can visit Chicago; her husband's patience is also tried: he tells her to go and never come back. Once there, Neil tells her he doesn't want her. Back home and pregnant, Neil shows up and now wants her. The caretaker at Neil's lodge threatens to reveal her pregnancy…”
Sierra County’s own city of Loyalton serves as the small town that Rosa is bored with. However, since the story takes place in a small town outside of Chicago, “Loyalton, California” is now re-named “Loyalton, Wisconsin” in the film.
The opening sequences of the film show many shots of 1940s Loyalton: its lonely Main Street, its long-gone theatre, and the Clover Valley Lumber Company’s mill; aside from losing a few buildings on Main Street, Loyalton looks almost the same today as it does in the film!
However, contrary to what I’ve heard a few Loyalton residents say about the filming process, Bette Davis, Joseph Cotten, and their co-stars did not shoot any of their scenes in Loyalton nor did they ever visit the town. The town was purely used as a backdrop to larger shots lacking the main characters (as seen in the opening scene). The train station, the Main Street and it’s business fronts that Davis’ character glides by, and the old house her character inhabits are all Hollywood sets. None of the film’s interior shots portray actual structures in Loyalton; they too are sets.
In one striking scene, Davis’ character can be seen on the balcony to her house while the fiery glow of the Clover Valley Lumber Mill’s teepee burner rages in the background. This scene was capable due to the amazing work of cinematographer Robert Burks, who used forced perspective to make the scene appear that it was filmed on location. Burks’ work caught the attention of Alfred Hitchcock, who later on utilized Burks’ talents for twelve of his films.
The character of Rosa Moline also describes Loyalton as “a two-train-a-day town” and her time there being like “sitting in a coffin and waiting to be carried out” and that “If I don't get out of here I'll die. If I don't get out of here I hope I die and burn.”
Raymond Durgnat and Scott Simmon wrote in their biography about director King Vidor that “In contrast to the city’s brutal industry, the film takes in its stride what is virtually a little documentary on small-town community, whose sawmills and rural industry set the slow, stolid human pace to which Rosa’s nervous intensity cannot adapt, and into whose neighborly concerns she cannot sink her spiritual roots… Loyalton’s one tiny blemish is that it is built around a pollution-belching mill that runs day and night, and after dark the sawdust flames turn the townscape into a glowing inferno.”
Beyond the Forest ended up being the final film Bette Davis completed during her tenure with Warner Brothers. Davis and Vidor feuded often during filming, and at one point, Davis went as far as asking Warner Brothers to replace him as the director. The film was generally looked upon as a failure. New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther wrote “To be sure, the script by Lenore Coffee offers little for her to do but run through the usual banalities of an infidelity yarn ... For those who have not been embarrassed by pretensions in a fairly long time, let us recommend the climax of this incredibly artificial film—the final scene in which the lady, apparently burning up with a bad case of peritonitis, drags herself out of bed, pulls herself to her mirror, smears make-up on her face and gets dressed in disheveled finery to stagger forth toward the railroad tracks and death… Not to be coy about it, we can see no 'Oscars' in the offing for this film.” The film also features abortion elements that were controversial at the time. However, Max Steiner, who composed the score of the film, was nominated in 1950 for an Academy Award for Best Music (Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture).
A copy of Beyond the Forest can be found at the Loyalton Library.