Alright, it's been a while since I've made a post on a classic film, so why not jump back into Old Hollywood with a Bette Davis movie? And better yet, this is one of Bette Davis' best.
Bette Davis plays Charlotte Vale, a frumpy spinster living in Boston under the thumb of her domineering older mother (Bette Davis actually appeared without any make-up during the films opening scenes), who is whisked away to a sanitarium by the kindly Dr. Jaquith (Claude Rains). There, she begins to change from a timid frump into a beautiful and more confidant woman. After leaving the sanitarium, she goes on a South American cruise and encounters Jerry Durrance (Paul Henreid), and the two fall in love, despite Jerry being married and refusing to leave his horrible wife out of the fear that he will lose his daughter. Complications arise and the story of the two lovers becomes intertwined with Charlotte's blossoming into the woman she always wanted to be.
Bette Davis is absolutely fantastic in the part of the neurotic young one who evolves into a swan. She doesn't turn it into a before and after type characterization, Charlotte slowly and slowly becomes more confidant as the film goes on and every step feels believable and real. We pity her for her mistreatment from her mother and we root for her to find love and happiness.
The supporting cast is good as well, with Claude Rains excelling as the caring and wise doctor who takes Charlotte under his wing. Paul Henreid is fine too, playing a character that is conflicted in his love for another woman and for his own daughter. Gladys Cooper is brilliant as Charlotte's domineering mother, she never seems to give a second thought to making her character thoroughly despicable and unlikable.
This film is fine example of the superior soaps that were being made during this time, which were able to remain soapy and entertaining without venturing into eyeball-rolling territory. It also takes a few directions that one might not expect (Bette Davis herself had a theory as to what happens after the film, which I like to think is the truth), which helps it rise above being too corny, plus, the level of acting elevates the material to a point where it comes across as genuine emotion as opposed to hokey scenery chewing.
In case you haven't guess it by now, I heartily recommend this movie, especially for older film buff or fans of Bette Davis. While some people may find the films soap opera-ish story to be a turn off, it's such a finely crafted film that you should give it a chance.