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Year: 1946

Director: Curtis Bernhardt

Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, George Brent, Eve Arden

Odd that Stanwyck’s character in this 1946 weeper is named exactly the same as she was in Forty Guns. When I first read the synopsis of this film, I rolled my eyes. Soap opera city. Imagine my surprise when by the denouement of the picture, I was moved to tears. That’s how effective Babs is in conveying her pain @ being split between the love for her boys and personal happiness. I have friends who grew up in the North Shore area and their anecdotal stuff about the blue bloods and their snobbish behavior combined w/ gossip is plentiful. So the Chicago stuff for that decade is spot on. Jessica Drummond is in the untenable position of being a widow who is expected by her mother to honor a dead husband’s memory by not pursuing any other relationships. Brutal expectations and Stanwyck shows us that they are inhuman standards.

My Reputation is an excellent movie w/ one of my favorite performances from “Missy.”

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Year: 1943

Director: Vincent Sherman

Cast: Miriam Hopkins, Bette Davis, Gig Young, John Loder

Another women’s weeper pairing two combustible participants: Bette Davis (Kit Marlowe) and Hopkins (Millie). These women are friends but rivals. When Kit publishes a big Broadway hit of a play, she becomes famous in Manhattan circles. Not to be outdone, Millie begins to write trashy romances and they ironically are gobbled up by the reading public. Despite being a hack, Millie has a great deal more financial success than her “friend” who is a respected artist. Hopkin’s character’s obsession with writing alienates her husband Preston — played by John Loder — and he sours on their union. When he confesses to Kit that he really loves her, she rejects him. However, Preston divorces Millie anyway.

MH portrays a female type that I am very familiar with having dated several of them over the years. Bergman calls them pathological narcissists and numerous pictures he’s completed cast this kind of woman in prominent roles. Millie’s focus on life is so myopic that she selfishly concocts plans that are indifferent to the people around her. She expects everyone to incorporate her life design as their own. To not get onboard is to carve a miserable existense for yourself, at least if you don’t break free from such a woman. Needless to say, by the picture’s end the romance novelist has alienated everyone around her. Except oddly, not Kit. Though she has been the picture of propriety throughout this story, Kit has somehow managed to push away any amorous entanglements that might be permanent. When a handsome man 10 years younger proposes marriage to Kit, she rebuffs him.

In the famous Davis/Hopkins moment Kit becomes irate that Millie is oblivious to how good her life has been, culminating in the former shaking the snot out of the latter. Art imitating life? Still, we see them toasting to a New Year in the final shot implying that the two writers are all they have. Sorority sisters if you will. Old Acquaintance is a good film and I really responded to the female archetype played by Hopkins. She’s such a nasty person on the screen that I can’t help but love MH’s performance.

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Year: 1939

Director: Edmund Goulding

Cast: Miriam Hopkins, Bette Davis, George Brent

This is a melodrama set in the South @ the beginning of the Civil War and finishing well into the 1880s. Delia Lovell (Hopkins) is the older cousin to Charlotte (Bette Davis). The older Lovell belle grows weary of waiting for her fiance Clem Spender (George Brent) to propose marriage so she dumps him and marries a wealthy banker named Jim Ralston — played by James Stephenson — instead. Having held a torch for Clem herself for several years, Charlotte is thrilled and the two commence a romance immediately. When young Spender gets called to war, Davis’ character “comforts” him. The family eventually receives word that Charlotte’s lover is killed in action. This is the worst possible news because Ms. Lovell finds herself in the family way. Wishing to avoid scandal and any pox on the family name, the expecting mother travels out West to give birth in veiled secrecy.

Upon her return, Charlotte witnesses the devastations that war can leave in its wake. Wishing to contribute to the restoration of the South, our lead establishes a school for orphans. This has the added benefit of being a cover for her own child. When Delia finds out who the real father is to Clementina (Jane Bryan) she pleads with her cousin to move into her own home. Hopkins’ cousin suggests that the child has a birthright to a good name and financial resources. What appears as a gesture of Delia’s kindness at first is revealed to be anything but. As the years follow, Charlotte’s personal life is nearly snuffed out by this competitor for her daughter’s feelings. Davis’ character goes through Clementina’s adolescence reduced to the role of an annoying aunt while Delia pretends to be the child’s mother. Throughout the film, her older cousin’s selfish decisions have thwarted any chance Charlotte had @ happiness whether it be in romance, society, or in motherhood. As Clementine prepares for wedlock, our protagonist is sick of being a martyr and a doormat. The final scenes are a great payoff and combined with the rest of the movie, they make The Old Maid one of the better “women’s pictures” out there.

Hats off to Goulding for playing referee in this project as none of the notorious enmity each of these divas harbors for the other shows up in the frame. I have to compliment Davis with not being a grandstander in several scenes, as she chose correctly to play Charlotte stoically with measured reserve. Hopkins plays a detestable southern belle with verve and her insidious, machiavellian treatment of Davis’ Charlotte alienates the viewing audience. In short, she nails the part. What could have unraveled as a weepy, lame melodrama is given booster rockets by Hopkins and Davis. Give The Old Maid a spin if you want to see an acting clinic.