Archive for the ‘Orry-Kelly’ 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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