After WWII, with the return of the men to civil life, film audiences changed. Suddenly strong women were no longer in demand, nor were they palatable. This hit comedies in particular, a genre when if there was gender inequality it was against men. Take a look at the great number of actresses that excelled at it up to 1945 – among others Barbara Stanwyck, Carole Lombard, Katharine Hepburn, Myrna Loy, Claudette Colbert, Irene Dunne, Rosalind Russell and Jean Arthur. From the men's side, the only true leading men were Cary Grant and William Powell, Robert Montgomery to a lesser extend. The likes of Melvyn Douglas, Fred MacMurray and Ray Milland were there to support their female counterparts (and I think Douglas is much underrated) or worst, they would play the guy who had no chances at all, like Ralph Bellamy.
The Bette Davis’ vehicle “June Bride” is perhaps the best (worst?) example I have seen of the need to overpower women and keep them in the kitchen, their proper place. It’s the battle of wits between an ex-foreign correspondent (Robert Montgomery) and his new boss, the editor of housewife magazine who happens to also be his ex-something (Davis, obviously). The first half is ok – it plays it as it should, balanced, funny. It’s not exceptional, but Montgomery had a talent for comedy and Davis was great at delivering sarcastic lines: the scene in her apartment is brilliant, with the switching on and off of the lamps broken only by the great dialogue. It’s actually a pity she didn’t do more good comedy. It’s the second half, when the audience starts to feel sorry for Montgomery’s character that lacks sparkle – Davis’ character becomes increasingly unsympathetic. She never gives him any chances; she seems to hold the absolute truth. Per se, this is not the crime. The happy ending should have come when he forgives her and they both find a common ground – but there’s no forgiveness in store when she realises the error of her ways. The script suddenly demands her head, pride, dignity – her absolute and unconditional surrender. I have grown up watching these films as a prime example of the sort of parts women have never manage to get hold again, and seeing in Bette Davis one of strongest female presences in cinema ever. This is a woman that opens one of her films by shooting a man till the gun is empty. To me, who strongly believe in the equality of sexes, the ending was a punch in the stomach. I was horrified.
I know Warner Bros. was trying to get rid of Davis by 1948, and that films were about to change forever for a multitude of reasons such as television, the end of the studio system and method acting. But in my view, nothing can justify something as humiliating as trying to pass the ending of this film as a happy ending.