Stanley Timberlake takes. She (yes, Stanley is a she) drives too fast and lets others pay her fines. She spends money she doesn’t have. She lies and when caught, bats her eyes coquettishly and does it again. She’s demanding, immature and for some reason, irresistible to men. Bette Davis gets to play the bad girl in this film about a family nearly torn apart by the selfishness of one person and the family’s unwillingness to stop her.
In the beginning we see Stanley flirt weirdly with her rich uncle William (Charles Coburn) in the hopes that he’ll give her money. He does. He always does.
Stanley is about to marry Craig Fleming (George Brent), a lawyer who, according to William, has odd ideas about his practice. You see, Craig values the law over money and often takes cases from indigent clients. Creepy Uncle William cares a bit too much about Stanley’s welfare, and very little about that of the rest of the Timberlake family. After all, Uncle William became rich by taking over the tobacco company owned by Stanley’s father, Asa (Frank Craven) and reducing him to an employee. The Timberlakes still have their home, but now they need help from Stanley’s sister, Roy (Olivia de Havilland) and her husband, Peter (Dennis Morgan) to pay the rent. Asa works hard at the office and at home. He has his hands full taking care of his overly dramatic, hypochondriac wife Lavinia (Billie Burke) and dealing with Stanley’s shenanigans.
“My daughter’s not a witch! You didn’t say witch? Oh.”
Asa takes solace in the fact that his daughter Roy is sensible and kind and married to a promising young doctor. Roy works as an interior decorator and she and Peter live in the family home too. They’ve put off finding a home of their own to help with the family’s finances. Maybe they should have moved out sooner because Stanley wants Peter. They have an affair and decide to run away together.
“Have a nice business trip, dear.” “Um yeah.”
Stanley and Peter leave Richmond and head north to Baltimore to make a new start. In the film, the couple lives together while waiting for Peter’s divorce which seems pretty risqué for 1942. Spoiled, demanding people seldom make good spouses and Stanley is no exception. She spends her days prettying herself and shopping and her nights dragging Peter out to nightclubs or pouting if he won’t go.
“Tough day, Stanley. How ’bout a cocktail?”
Soon his work suffers and his drinking and her obliviousness take a toll on their marriage. Things go downhill from there.
Back in Richmond, Roy and Craig deal differently with their jilted status. Roy puts her energy into her work, while Craig falls apart. He stops going to work and gives up until by chance he meets Roy who convinces him to stop feeling sorry for himself and move on.
You can guess what happens next. The two fall in love and everything goes swimmingly until Stanley returns home.
With her marriage over and her former fiancé engaged to her sister, Stanley finds Richmond dull and confining so she tries to liven it up with a little attempted man-stealing and drunk driving.
That doesn’t go over as well as you might think and once again Stanley’s thoughtless actions cause tragedy. Now her family sees just how horrible Stanley is. Will Roy and Craig stay together? Will pervy Uncle William keep his hands to himself? Will Stanley get her comeuppance? I’m not telling. You have to watch the movie.
Bette Davis didn’t love IN THIS OUR LIFE. She thought she was too old for the part and hated her wardrobe. She wanted to play the de Havilland part. She also had some health issues which slowed down production. Her star status allowed Davis to bring in costume designer Orry-Kelly. She also discovered Ernest Anderson who played Parry Clay. Anderson had never acted before but won raves for his portrayal of a black law student wrongly accused of a crime. Anderson gave the part the intelligence and dignity it needed and he went on to act in over forty film and television roles. He had some choice lines in the film. At one point Roy asks Parry why he wants to be a lawyer. He explains what being a colored man, in 1940s vernacular, meant.
“He can keep a job or he can lose a job, but he can’t get any higher up so he’s got to figure out something he can do that no one can take away.”
Along with Anderson, the supporting cast includes the always stellar Hattie McDaniel as Parry’s mother and Lee Patrick in a fun role as Stanley’s partner in crime in Baltimore. John Huston directed IN THIS OUR LIFE on the heels of his wildly successful debut THE MALTESE FALCON. He didn’t complete the film though. Three days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Huston was called into military service and Raoul Walsh finished the film. Walsh and Davis fought over just about everything and finally had to have a go-between so they could communicate. Critics found the film boring and the story, based on the novel by Ellen Glasgow, depressing. The Wartime Office of Censorship would not allow the foreign release of the film because of its depiction of racial inequality and the incest hinted at between Uncle William and Stanley.
I like this film. It has a THE LITTLE FOXES feel to it. Inconsiderate people try to take advantage of good ones thinking they won’t be stopped. The good people let it happen for a long time, but when they’re faced with something truly evil, they fight back.
What a heel.
Look for the director’s father, Walter Huston as a bartender and John Hamilton (Superman’s Perry White) as a police inspector. Oh, here’s something else pretty cool about this film. According to imdb, if you look hard enough during a scene between Bette Davis and Dennis Morgan in a roadhouse, you can see Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, Ward Bond, Elisha Cook, Jr., and Barton MacLane as patrons. Sadly, the version I watched was MALTESE FALCONless. *sad trombone*
I wrote this piece for the Great Villain Blogathon hosted by Kristina https://hqofk.wordpress.com/,
Karen https://shadowsandsatin.wordpress.com/, and
Thank you for hosting such a fun event!