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.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Another Bette double ...

We have spent a few lazy afternoons re-watching some Bette Davis classics. Is there a more weirdly enjoyable '40s melodrama than THE GREAT LIE?  which teamed with Wyler's THE LETTER made a marvellous double-bill. Of course NOW VOYAGER and OLD ACQUAINTANCE are delicious fun too, and may be the next double bill. (You can keep MR SKEFFINGTON). 

Bette worked well with a strong female co-star (Miriam Hopkins, Olivia, Joan Crawford, Geraldine Fitzgerald) and so it is with Mary Astor here. THE GREAT LIE is really Mary's film, the role of concert pianist Sandra Kovac was built up for her and she deservedly won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar, in that good year for her. (By 1944 she was playing the mother in MEET ME IN ST LOUIS). Sandra is one of the great bitch-on-wheels roles and Astor delivers in spades - she was re-united with Bette for that cameo in HUSH HUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE as Jewel Mayhew in 1965, where she is sadly aged - but she ramps up the glamour here as her impossible Sandra.
THE GREAT LIE is plush - Orry-Kelly did the costumes, Max Steiner the music and gay Edmund Goulding directs. This is one of the great smoking films - they smoke all the time, Sandra even smokes non-stop throughout her pregnancy.  Bette is nice Maggie who lives in Maryland - but her home seems like a Deep South plantation with all those trees and moss, where the white folk are ministered to by the happy singing coloured folk, led by Hattie McDaniel (outdoing her Mammy in GWTW!). Here, one dresses for dinner and rings for the black manservant to make some more mint juleps. 

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. Pete returns "from the dead". Sandra and Maggie contend for Pete and the baby.

It begins with the aftermath of Sandra's marriage to Pete (George Brent - what did women see in him?), as they recover from a 3-day party, but Sandra got her dates wrong, her divorce from her first husband is not yet final, so they are not legally married. She has her concert tour and will not change the date for them to marry again and Pete is having doubts ..... he goes off to Maryland to see Maggie, the woman he really loves. Maggie wants him to pursue his aviation interests and soon they are indeed married for real. The on-going rivalry between Sandra and Maggie escalates and then Sandra finds she is pregnant with Pete's child, just as Pete goes missing on some mysterious government work, in Brazil.  
Maggie comes up with the idea of she taking Sandra's child which she can bring up as Pete's, so he could have Pete's name and money, while Sandra can continue her music career. Sandra agrees - she is not the maternal type - and the centre of the film shows the two of them holed up in Arizona waiting for the birth, as Sandra fumes and smokes, and Maggie strides around in jodhpurs waiting for the delivery .... 
then Pete is rescued and comes back, and thinks the child is his and Maggie's.  Sandra then decides she wants the baby back and Pete too, as his being alive changes everything. The scene is set for the climax as the two women battle over the child and Pete, who finally learns the truth - which will he choose? 

THE LETTER by comparison is serious drama, previously done by Jeanne Eagles in 1929 and I like Lee Remick' 1982 version where Leslie Crosbie is a right tease. Bette's version is much more duplicitous as she schemes to evade justice for shooting her lover, but this being the 1940s justice is waiting for her in that garden in the moonlight.   
The wife of a rubber plantation administrator shoots a man to death and claims it was self-defense. Her poise, graciousness and stoicism impress nearly everyone who meets her. Her husband is certainly without doubt; so is the district officer; while her lawyer's doubts may be a natural skepticism. But this is Singapore and the resentful natives will have no compunction about undermining this accused murderess. A letter in her hand turns up and may prove her undoing. 
Maugham's version of life in those steamy tropics still engrosses now. It may be Bette's defining role, along with Margo Channing of course  Those 'Bette Davis eyes' are dominant here, 
Soon: A Claudette Colbert double\; MIDNIGHT and THE PALM BEACH STORY.

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