Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Great Lie (1941)

Here we have one of Bette Davis' lesser known films, which happens to be one of her better films.

Anyway, Bette Davis is Maggie, a young woman living on the plantation full of obedient Negroes. Her former flame Peter (George Brent), has just married concert pianist Sandra (Mary Astor) only to find out that their marriage is legally void. Of course, the only reason these kinds of things happen in old movies is to have poor Sandra knocked up with Peter's baby, and unfortunately for her Peter has returned to Maggie and married her. And unfortunately for both women, Peter's plane disappears over Brazil and he is presumed to be dead (but we know better, right?). So Maggie and Sandra, who have been rivals, come to a truce and Maggie hopes to care for Sandra during her shameful, sinful pregnancy. This leads to a great scene where both women are in a cabin out in Arizona and Sandra basically goes insane.

Anyway, the baby is born, Peter returns from the dead and Maggie claims the baby is hers, an arrangement with which Sandra has no objections. Or does she? Tune in to find out!

The film is an above average soap, and what really makes it memorable is the performances by the two leading ladies (who actually re-wrote the script together). Bette Davis is in the most least Bette Davis-y role you can expect, as the southern good girl aiding the woman pregnant with her husband's child. But she pulls it off with genuine kindness and sympathy.

Mary Astor, however, steals the show as the vain, arrogant, and catty pianist who find herself stuck in a situation that she loathes. She has lost her man, but doomed to carry his child, and Astor gives an Oscar-winning performances full of bitterness and bile.

Luckily, the film never really switches the focus from either of the two women, so it's able to maintain your attention throughout.

It's a nice little film that doesn't really get a whole lot of attention (well, besides an Oscar), and it's also a good show of Bette Davis' range, that she could convincingly play the good girl of the movie. So, I suggest you watch it, especially if you're a Bette Davis or Mary Astor fan.

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