Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

A Bette double feature


OLD ACQUAINTANCE along with THE GREAT LIE are probably my most watched Bette movies (along with NOW VOYAGER of course, plus JUNE BRIDE), they are such fun, as opposed to her Great Acting Roles as in JEZEBEL or THE LETTER; sometimes one wants a little camp lightness with Bette being brittle and amusing, as in Vincent Sherman's OLD ACQUAINTANCE (1943) from John Van Druten's play. I love that '40s ambience of the New York literary high life, Bette's apartment, her devoted housekeeper, her sending away the man she loves as "a woman just does not do that and live with herself" if she took her best friend's husband - and the older Bette with that streak in her hair, rescuing Deirdre from that lothario's apartment, and that young Gig Young (with his little moustache) whom she turns over to Deirdre (Dolores Moran), nobly giving up a man she loves a second time .... its all just too too.

Jealous of best friend Kit, a critically acclaimed but financially unsuccessful author and playwright, Millie writes a novel, the first in a string of bestselling trashy novels. After eight years of neglect and taking a backseat to Millie's fame, her husband Preston leaves her. Another decade passes and Kit announces her intention of marrying the decade-younger Rudd. Millie thinks Preston wishes to reconcile, only to discover he is engaged. He also admits that he was in love with Kit, who had turned down his many advances. Feeling Kit to blame for the failure of her marriage, Millie flies into a rage and confronts Kit. Later, learning of Rudd's affection for Millie's daughter Diedre, Kit graciously steps aside to bless their union. In the end, Millie and Kit make up, sharing a champagne toast for each one's old acquaintance.

Bette's rival here of course is Miriam Hopkins flouncing around as the trashy novelist whereas Bette's Kit Marlowe is the intellectual one while Miriam turns out one bestseller after another. That New York during wartime in the early '40s is nicely depicted too. And there is of course the famous scene where Bette finally has enough of Miriam's histrionics and returns to the room, puts down her package and advances on Miriam to give her a good shaking. Finally the two women toast each other with that flat champagne .... the women and the gays must have loved it at the time, and ever since.  

(Another great John Van Druten view of New York is his BELL BOOK & CANDLE with its coven of witches undercover, with their own secret places like that nightclub presided over by Hermione Gingold - amusingly, the gay Van Druten's play is now seen as being about gays and their undercover life in the New York of the time, as per review at Kim Novak label ....).

THE GREAT LIE by Edmund Goulding in 1941 pits Nice Bette against the Sandra Kovac of Mary Astor. Mary's Sandra here is one of the great bitches, and Bette as Maggie hands her the film on a plate. Its a delirious farrago where they both love George Brent (pure teak here.
Sandra and Pete elope but their marriage is invalid since she's not yet divorced. Sandra is, however, pregnant by Pete. Pete marries his former fiancée Maggie, then flies to South America where his plane crashes. Maggie pays Sandra to let her adopt Pete's baby to ensure it inherits Pete's name and fortune. Selfish Sandra, a renowned concert pianist, goes along with it . Pete returns "from the dead". Sandra and Maggie contend for Pete and the baby.

The stage is set for drama down on the plantation where Maggie and Pete and Sandra's baby are happy, with Pete thinking the infant is Maggie's, when Sandra pays a visit and tells Maggie she is going to tell Pete the truth and demand her baby back. How is this going to play out?
Suffice to say everyone gets their just desserts and its a movie one can happily wallow in any time, what with Hattie McDaniell running things down on the plantation, and then that scene out in the desert as Sandra and Maggie wait for the birth, Sandra demanding steaks and smoking while Bette's Maggie strides around in trousers ....

Soon, two Bettes are better than one, or "No One is as good as Bette when she is bad" - Bette's two pairs of twins, in  A STOLEN LIFE (1946) and DEAD RINGER (1964), plus Bette versus Joan in the '50s and '60s.For me Joan's '50s films are better, but Bette wins in the '60s.


  1. Two very fun films with very different backstage stories. Bette and Mary got along like a house afire rewriting what they considered a subpar script and molding Mary's Sandra into an Oscar winning part with delicious lines like "Whoever heard of an OUNCE of brandy!"

    Miriam of course was a shameless upstager disliked by many but she and Bette had that special animosity borne on the set of The Old Maid. It certainly adds spice to their scenes but it would have been marvelous if Bette had been able to convince Norma Shearer, the original choice, to do the film. Her fluttery grandiosity would have suited the role and I can see she and Bette having quite a prickly screen energy but Norma said no and retired so Miriam was in and the games began.

  2. How interesting, I had no idea Norma was in the frame. Pity Norma retired so young and did not interact with the later stars. Mary (Astor) was of course also guest-starrred in Bette's HUSH HUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE as the divinely named Jewel Mayhew, looking a lot older in her 2 pivotal scenes, but she is marvellous as Sandra in THE GREAT LIE.