Thursday, September 17, 2009

Old Acquaintance (1943)

Bette Davis and (the one woman she admitted to hating) Miriam Hopkins star together in this wonderful soap about friends who kinda hate each other.

Bette Davis is Kit Marlowe, an unmarried independent author who has written a critical hit of a book that is unfortunately, not selling very well. She is "friends" with Millie Drake (Miriam Hopkins), an over-the-top attention whore of a shrew who only is able to retain her friendship with Kit because Kit feels a deep sense of responsibility to her because of their childhood together. It doesn't help that she is in love with Millie's husband, who also feels the same way about Kit, and further adding to the friction is when Millie decides to become an author as well, writing trashy romances that make millions. The film follows their friendship as well as their fights and squabbles.

What works about the film is that you never really buy Kit and Millie as friends, Kit is simply too smart and too low-key to enjoy being in the company of the hysterical Millie and the film brilliantly adds conflict after conflict to eventually force the two to have it out. Plus, it's very soapy, with catfights and forbidden love and the stuff that classic films excelled at with class.

As to be expected, the two leads are great. Bette Davis is often cited as being a Hollywood "bitch" but she was much more versatile than people think and the strong, independent, yet still vulnerable woman is a role in which she excelled. Kit is intelligent, kind, warm, and strong, but clinging to a foolish sense of duty to Millie as opposed to following her own feelings. Miriam Hopkins has a license to be overly dramatic in this film, and she takes full advantage of it, not really making an effort to make Millie very likable, instead being as shrill as possible. And as I said, their friction is believable, in part because the two actresses publicly admitted to hating each other, which is odd since they made 2 films together (The other film, The Old Maid doesn't utilize their feelings towards each other in the way that this film does).

This seems to be (to me at least), a lesser known Bette Davis film, which is a bit sad, because it is one of her better films. Granted, at the end of the day, it's a big soap opera and the strong woman is a character that Bette Davis has played countless times before, so this is not new territory for her. But the film still succeeds at offering a good soap with good acting and some good bit of "frenemy" action before that became an actual term.

So watch it, if you can.

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