Archive for the ‘Hattie McDaniel’ Tag

The Great Lie (1941): I Ain’t Gonna Lie on Maggie’s Farm No More   2 comments

 

Rich country girl, Maggie (Bette Davis) loves Peter (George Brent). Peter loves Maggie, but he can’t commit. In a weak and drunken moment, he marries Sandra (Mary Astor), a globe-trotting concert pianist. She’s sort of awful though so when a paperwork glitch nullifies their marriage, Peter marries Maggie.


“You’ll do.”

All is happiness and light until Sandra drops a bombshell—she’s pregnant. When Peter’s plane is lost during a mapping expedition to the Amazon, Maggie has an idea. She’ll take Sandra to a secluded cabin where she’ll have her baby privately, then Maggie will claim the child as her own so the kid has a dad, at least on paper. The two women travel to Arizona, where Maggie takes care of the difficult Sandra during her pregnancy. When Maggie returns, she has a new baby with Peter’s name.


“No, I don’t have any eights!”

Despite her heartbreak at the loss of her husband, Maggie soldiers on and focuses on raising her son, who she names Peter, after his father. Maggie is a wonderful mother and young Pete thrives with the help of Maggie and maid superwoman, Violet (Hattie McDaniel). Things proceed swimmingly until Peter returns from the dead and eats the rest of the cast. I’m kidding, but that would be an interesting plot twist, wouldn’t it?


“This is a human child, right?”

Peter comes back to Maggie and is overjoyed to see her and to meet his son. He’s a loving and dedicated husband and father and he, Maggie, Young Pete, and Violet live happily ever after. Not so fast, bub. Sandra finds out Peter is back from the jungle and she wants him AND her baby. During a tense visit to Maggie’s farm, Maggie has a head full of ideas that are drivin’ her insane. Sorry, I couldn’t resist.


“Don’t trust her, Pete.”

Anyway, Sandra threatens to tell Peter that Young Pete is hers, claiming Peter will leave Maggie since the baby is the only thing holding their marriage together. This is a film made in 1941 in which a boozy career woman has a child out of wedlock, so you can guess who wins.


“Dammit.”

The Great Lie is a terrific melodrama with great performances by all the leads. Bette Davis is lovely as the good girl with confidence issues. In the beginning of the film, Maggie’s idea of domestic bliss is a little too dull for Peter. He’s not ready to settle down. Brent plays Peter as a bit of a playboy, but overall, he’s a decent guy. When he finds out his marriage to Sandra isn’t legal, he offers to remarry her. Of course, he wants her to give up a gig to do it. You could call that dirty pool, but she wants him to give up his job to follow her around while she plays concerts too. It’s more like the two alpha personalities just don’t mesh. I like how he handles the news about Young Pete, too.


“I double dog dare ya!”

Davis and Brent are good together. She always said Brent was her favorite leading man and the two were close on and off the set. They had a passionate affair, but stayed friends even after it ended, making eleven films together.


“Race ya!”

Brent is more talented than he gets credit for because he makes it look easy. He excels at playing the cad with a heart of gold. Clark Gable does that too, but I’ve always preferred Brent. He’s smoother and doesn’t wear his emotions on his sleeve. Keeping his thoughts and feelings closer to the vest makes him more mysterious and more appealing.


“It’s sweet of you to wait four years for me to commit, then watch me marry and impregnate someone else. Is supper ready?”

Mary Astor, as Sandra, is fantastic! She’s a demanding prima donna with genuine talent who wants everything done yesterday. She’s accustomed to getting her own way and is put out when anyone challenges her. She’s not evil though. Astor could easily have played this as a one note character, but she gives Sandra depth. Maybe the marriage wouldn’t have lasted, but not because Sandra doesn’t love Peter. When Sandra sees Maggie, Peter, and Young Pete living so happily together, she wonders if she’s made the right choice. The forties were not exactly the ‘have it all’ decade. Sandra has chosen a career and perhaps she has moments in hotel rooms in Sydney or Budapest when she regrets not having a family. The audience sees flashes of these thoughts as Sandra holds her baby.


“TA DA!”

The Great Lie is fleshed out by a cadre of veteran character actors. Lucile Watson, Jerome Cowen, Grant Mitchell, Russell Hicks, and the charismatic, Hattie McDaniel lend their enormous talents to the film. Warner Brother had an impressive well of talent to draw from and that’s obvious when watching any film they made, especially in the 1940s.


“You’re paying me scale?”

Edmund Goulding directed The Great Lie and two other Davis/Brent vehicles, Dark Victory and The Old Maid, along with a gang of other films, including the amazing, and completely different, Nightmare Alley and The Razor’s Edge. This is a low-key melodrama with sympathetic characters who act like normal, flawed human beings. There are some noble moments, but overall, the story, written by Lenore Coffee from Polan Banks’ novel, is realistic. Sure, everyone is rich and no one has to go to the bathroom, but it’s a movie. The film also looks and sounds great thanks to Orry-Kelly’s gowns and Max Steiner’s music.

I was thinking this plot could have taken an entirely different path. What if Maggie brought Sandra out to Arizona to steal her baby, kill her, and bury her under a cactus? Then, Peter comes back to Maggie after fighting off piranha and anacondas and junk and finds out he has a baby. He’s thrilled until detectives come calling at the farm asking where Maggie was for nine months a while back. Oh, and why were she and Sandra going to Arizona anyway? When a thirsty man, stranded in the desert, cuts open a saguaro to survive, he notices a woman’s shoe poking out of the dry ground. After he makes it back to civilization, he tells the story to a doctor with ties to law enforcement. His friend, a local deputy with political aspirations, digs up he body, connects the dots, and bingo! Maggie’s doin’ hard time and Peter’s looking for wife #3.


“These new taffeta jail duds are stunning.”

I digress. The Great Lie is an entertaining story made by a talented director, a veteran cast of lead and character actors, and produced at the height of Warner Brothers’ powers.

This is a good one.

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In This Our Life (1942)   20 comments

poster life

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.

what
“What do you mean I can’t have it?” 

 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.

creepy
Creepy 

 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.

witch 

“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.

oliviadennis 

“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. 

 shopping 

“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.

slap
They seem disenchanted. 

 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.

bench
“Snap out of it.” 

 You can guess what happens next. The two fall in love and everything goes swimmingly until Stanley returns home.

happyolivia
“It’s all smooth sailing now.” 

 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.

bar
This jukebox goes to 11. 

 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.

andy
WHAT? 

 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.

parry 

“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.

heel 

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*

cast-Maltese-Falcon
Psst…wrong film.

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 I wrote this piece for the Great Villain Blogathon hosted by Kristina https://hqofk.wordpress.com/, 

Karen https://shadowsandsatin.wordpress.com/, and 

Ruth http://silverscreenings.org/
Thank you for hosting such a fun event!

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