Sunday, 29 June 2008

The Great Lie (1941)

The Great Lie is one of many Bette Davis' vehicles from the 1940s, a woman's picture through and through (today they would be called melodramas). It was her forth and final collaboration with director Edmund Golding, and one of many with George Brent. The rest of the cast includes Mary Astor in a Oscar-winning performance and Hattie McDaniel. The plot is pure soap - George Brent finds out that his marriage to pianist Astor is not legal and when she refuses to abandon her career for him he goes and marries old sweetheart Davis. Sadly, soon he is given for dead in the Amazon. Astor meanwhile is pregnant and Davis gets desperate. She asks for the baby...

That anything interesting came out of this is quite remarkable. Davis and Astor do wonders with her scenes together and George Brent gives what I think is one of his best performances in the beginning of the film (not much competition there...). There are even light hints of a lesbian relationship when the two women are hiding in the Arizona desert, with Davis taking a "father" role to Astor's "mother".

The casting is quite interesting as there isn't really a leading character. It's a three way ensemble piece, with Davis out of her usual roles. In truth, her part seems to be tailored to Olivia de Havilland's screen persona at this stage (e.g. 1942's In This Our Life with Davis). I always found interesting that some of her best performances came opposite strong charismatic actresses such as Miriam Hopkins, Mary Astor, Olivia de Havilland, Anne Baxter(*) or actors like Errol Flynn, Henry Fonda or James Cagney (I'm one of five people on Earth who actually like "The Bride came C.O.D."). There is of course an exception which is "The Letter", my all time favourite of her performances.

Watching it tonight I could really find three faults with the film - the awful dubbing in the last scene, the black characters that are way too stereotypical and the third is a very personal thing that isn't really worth mentioning, as it won't matter next time I see the film.

(*) - Not mentioning Crawford is simply because a) I don't like Baby Jane and b) Joan Crawford is far more interesting that Davis in that film. And I really wish they would have done something else together in the 1940s (but not "Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte" cause I think is Olivia de Havilland's best performance after Melanie Wilkes).

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