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The Old Maid (1939)

Approved  |   |  Drama  |  2 September 1939 (USA)
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Reviews: 31 user | 10 critic

The arrival of an ex-lover on a young woman's wedding day sets in motion a chain of events which will alter her and her cousin's lives forever.



(screen play), (based on the play by: Pulitzer Prize), 1 more credit »
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Complete credited cast:
George Brent ...
Clem Spender
Jim Ralston
Jerome Cowan ...
Joe Ralston
William Lundigan ...
Lanning Halsey
Cecilia Loftus ...
Grandmother Lovell
Janet Shaw ...
John (as DeWolf Hopper)
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Rod Cameron ...
(scenes deleted)
Raymond Rayhill Powell


After a two-year absence, Clem Spender returns home on the very day that his former fiancée, Delia, is marrying another man. Clem enlists in the Union army and dies on the battlefield, but not before finding comfort in the arms of Delia's cousin, Charlotte Lovell. The years pass and Charlotte establishes an orphanage and eventually confesses to Delia that her dearest young charge, Tina, is an fact her own child by Clem. Jealousy and family secrets threaten to tear the cousins apart. Written by L. Hamre

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Vividly, unforgettably, a woman's love starved soul is revealed. All those strange secrets she locks in her heart ... moments of rapture and of heartbreak ... longings that no man can fathom. Of these has the year's finest picture been woven!




Approved | See all certifications »




Release Date:

2 September 1939 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

A Velha Ama  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(RCA Victor System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


"Lux Radio Theater" broadcast a 60 minute radio adaptation of the movie on October 30, 1939 with Miriam Hopkins reprising her film role. See more »


When Dee is married, the invitation states the year as 1884. Later, when Tina is to marry, the announcement reads 1881 - three years earlier. See more »


Charlotte Lovell: She thinks I can't understand her. She considers me an old maid.
Delia Lovell Ralston: My dear.
Charlotte Lovell: A ridiculous, narrow-minded old maid. What else can she ever think of me?
Delia Lovell Ralston: Poor Charlotte.
Charlotte Lovell: Oh, but you needn't pity me. Because she's really mine. If she considers me an old maid, it's because I've deliberately made myself one in her eyes. I've done it from the beginning so she wouldn't have the least suspicion. I've practised everything I've ever had to say to her, if it was important, so that I'd sound like an old maid ...
See more »

Crazy Credits

The opening credits are shown on facsimiles of wedding invitation cards. See more »


Spoofed in The Film Fan (1939) See more »


When Johnny Comes Marching Home
(1863) (uncredited)
Music by Louis Lambert
Played at the train station when soldiers return
See more »

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User Reviews

Bette is wonderful in period soap opera from Edith Wharton novel...
14 May 2001 | by (U.S.A.) – See all my reviews

Bette Davis vies with Miriam Hopkins for the affection of George Brent in this film version of Edith Wharton's 'The Old Maid'. As hard as Hopkins tries, she can't steal the film from Bette -- nor Bette's daughter (Jane Bryan), the love child being brought up by Delia (Hopkins). Basically the story of Bette being unable to tell her daughter that she's her real mother.

There are some odd peculiarities about the film itself. George Brent makes a few brief appearances early in the film and then is suddenly killed off after going to fight in the Civil War. A montage shows the passage of time and suddenly we're given an abrupt change of scene and events before still another time transition. The continuity is choppy and leaves an unsatisfying impression of the film as a whole. It's as if events that should have been shown are compressed because of time constraints.

Bette Davis gives one of her more restrained portrayals, aging rather realistically, showing the loneliness of the embittered woman who is cheated out of marrying another man when her cousin Delia (Miriam Hopkins) discovers that she bore Brent's child.

The soap suds are pretty thick, all of them backed by a nice Max Steiner score and handsome sets and period costumes. Miriam Hopkins plays the selfish bitch with her customary skill and makes Davis seem even more sympathetic by comparison. I have seen this movie praised to the skies by some who consider it a work of art--but there are too many flaws, including a false and abrupt ending involving Bette Davis and daughter Jane Bryan, and time changes that seem more like a case of bad editing.

There are fine performances in supporting roles by Donald Crisp, James Stephenson, William Lundigan and Jerome Cowan under Edmund Goulding's tasteful direction.

A tear-jerker, 1930s style--but one that doesn't date too well.

14 of 26 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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Whom Clem loved--was Charlotte right? roseytrebles
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