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This must be one of the most under-rated of the Bette Davis films. At its
heart is a brilliant screenplay and two extraordinary performances.
John Van Druten and Lenore Coffee have taken Van Druten's play and created a camp masterpiece. The lines are nearly as funny as those in "All About Eve" eg "Why do I always look like a ninety-year old hag when I want to look like Shirley Temple."
And Bette and Miriam, who apparently hated each other, give stunning performances. Miriam is something of a horror here, all superficial bubble and vicious back-stabbing jealousy. Bette is nicer but can be just as catty. Their scenes together are pure joy. The male characters pale next to these goddesses - it's a wonder they bother with them at all.
Don't miss this one - you'll love it!
A classic woman's film in the best sense of the word, "Old
Acquaintance" was remade by George Cukor as "Rich and Famous" and
echoed in the final scenes of Pedro Almodovar's "La Flor de Mi
Secreto." Such is the enduring appeal of this tale of a friendship
between two women that continues throughout their lives despite
rivalries, temperament, and love affairs. Of course with Bette Davis
and Miriam Hopkins as the women, the film rises from melodramatic soap
opera to a higher level. Davis plays Kit, a serious, sensitive writer,
whose interests lie principally in her work. Hopkins plays Millie, a
self-absorbed woman who envies her friend's success, but is determined
to have everything: a writing career, a home, and a family. While Kit
writes critically lauded books and plays, Millie produces a steady
stream of best selling romantic novels. While Millie becomes wealthy
beyond measure, Kit remains appreciated if not rich. However, Kit's
warmth attracts the affections of not only Millie's increasingly
estranged husband, but also her neglected daughter.
Thus, the stage is set for emotional clashes between the two writers that provide Davis and Hopkins with some juicy material. Hopkins in particular chews the scenery, wrings her hands, and emotes outrageously. Davis, on the other hand, underplays her role more than usual, although the Davis eyes and inflections remain. Perhaps she understood that the histrionics of more than one actress would be too much for the audience to bear. However, during one classic outburst, Davis unexpectedly does steal a scene from Hopkins and provoke a startled laugh from the audience. With two strong women at its center, the men in "Old Acquaintance" understandably play support. John Loder is all bland good looks as Millie's husband, and a handsome Gig Young does little besides look handsome and play the too-young romantic interest for Davis.
With the exception of Deidre, Hopkins' daughter, the other major female roles also involve working women. Although Davis's maid may be a domestic, she does work and earn her own living. The reporter who interviews Hopkins and Loder is a gender-neutral role, but perhaps to emphasize the centrality of women to the story, another strong actress, Anne Revere, was cast. In fact, besides Loder and Young, most of the men in the film play waiters, taxi drivers, night clerks, playboys, and drunks. Newcomer Dolores Moran, who plays Deidre, was out of her league with Davis and Hopkins and comes across as shallow and unconvincing. Her erotic gyrations to seduce Gig Young in a listening booth and her defiant dalliance with an older playboy are at odds with the character and image of Kit, who was supposedly Deidre's role model.
Fast paced, lush, and romantic, "Old Acquaintance" is one of those movies that "they just don't make anymore." The dialog is delicious, the performances occasionally border on camp, and the direction is sure-handed. With a box of chocolates, a wad of Kleenex, and a bottle of flat champagne, Bette and Miriam are the perfect friends for a rainy afternoon.
Bette Davis and Miriam Hopkins, the stars of the classic 1939 film THE OLD MAID, reunite for this tale which spans twenty years in the love/hate relationship of two female friends who become competitive not only professionally, but in their personal lives as well. This one is a real dandy. Davis is her inimitably intense self, and she's matched all the way by the great Miriam Hopkins who was at her peak on-screen in the '30's. While this is often referred to as Davis' picture, Miriam holds her own. These ladies are truly two of the finest actresses to ever grace the Hollywood screen and deliver Oscar-caliber performances. The confrontation scene where Davis shakes the living daylights out of Hopkins is a high example of art imitating life because Davis and Hopkins weren't exactly the best of friends in real-life either. For some reason, this gem has never been released to video, but naturally the dreadful remake with Candice Bergen and Jacqueline Bissett(RICH AND FAMOUS) has.
Long before "Beaches" and "The Turning Point", there was the film "Old
Acquaintance" (1937?). Focusing on the familiar theme of longtime
friendship that is tainted by jealousy and competition, one of the most
remarkable things about it is that Davis actually plays the "nice" one
this time around. "Old Acquaintance" begins with Kit (Davis), a writer
who turns out books that appeal to female intellectuals, returns home
to visit her old friend Millie (Hopkins). Kit and Millie basically grew
up together, and despite Kit's seriousness and drive and Millie's
concern for all things material, the two have forged a friendship that
is pretty tight. When we first meet the two, Millie, married and
pregnant with her first (and only) child, decides that she too can
become an authoress, only she is going to write what she thinks the
public wants; torrid potboilers (ala Danielle Steel) that are high on
the sappy melodrama, and low on the substance meter. When Millie finds
eventual success and becomes extremely wealthy, churning out book after
book, her husband Pres (Loder), and child, Didi begin to feel neglected
and eschewed, thanks to Millie's highly materialistic and "queen bee"
attitude. They both turn to Kit, who has managed to stick around
through all of this, Pres falling in love with her, and Didi looking to
Kit as a surrogate mother. Despite Kit having reciprocal feelings for
Pres, she insists that they can never come to fruition since Millie is
her best friend, so he divorces Millie and leaves. Years later, still a
success, Millie finds out that Kit and Pres were in love at one point,
and despite the fact that neither followed through with their feelings,
Millie blames Kit, now an accomplished and respected playwright,
eventually turning Didi, now in her late teens, against her. The drama
is further heightened when Kit finally agrees to marry Rudd (Young),
her younger lover, right when he meets and falls in love with Didi,
causing further conflict and heartache until Kit and Millie are left
with the prospect of only being left with the other, despite their
serious issues over the years.
I really enjoyed "Old Acquaintance" because it had all of the elements of a great melodrama; back-stabbing, unrealized and tragic love, Bette Davis. Whether she is playing the good soul or the evil one (most likely the latter), Davis does drama the best, and "Old Acquaintance" is a fine example of her work. Hopkins, who I previously have seen playing fairly harmless and airy characters in ("The Heiress") as well as endangered and misunderstood (the wrongfully accused school teacher in "These Three") really rolls up her sleeves and digs into this part with obvious relish. She is fantastic, and while you spend most of the movie hating her, you can't help but admire how well Hopkins performs the role. The supporting cast of Loder and Young are fairly solid, and Loder in particular is great as the put-upon, romantic and downtrodden husband. Part of you wants to smirk and call him a wuss and part of you wishes you could date him.
The story itself is full and solidly carries itself well from the beginning of the film until the end. Coupled with good acting and a couple of great slaps courtesy of La Davis, "Old Acquaintance" was a good, meaty film that I watched with great relish, wondering where it had been for the last 20 years I have spent watching all things classic film, and in particular, Bette Davis. There was nothing stupendous about "Old Acquaintance" that made me speak in tongues or anything, but it is a wonderful film that has fallen into relative obscurity over the years that deserves to be seen and enjoyed. 8/10 --Shelly
Hollywood was still at the height of the "women's films" with stars like
Bette Davis and Miriam Hopkins sharing the screen in stories with romantic
notions. This one is pure soap suds, but just try to look away when these
two real-life enemies share the close-ups.
The two portray authors--one a sensitive, thoughtful woman (Bette Davis), the other a shrewish housewife who writes pulp fiction (Miriam Hopkins). The two share the ups and downs of a rocky relationship when the lesser writer becomes famous for her trash and loses her ignored husband (John Loder). A very young Gig Young provides some romantic interest for Davis--until she sensibly concludes that he is too young for her. At the end, the two women are left facing middle-age together and, as they sit before a roaring fireplace, toast each other to the fadeout strains of Franz Waxman's music.
All of this plays like a Cosmopolitan magazine story of the '40s but is made to seem intelligent and likeable by the sheer magnetism of Bette Davis and Miriam Hopkins, never better than here. Hopkins sinks her teeth into the role of a nasty bitch--and Davis is unusually even-tempered until the scene where she shakes the living daylights out of Hopkins.
Forget the 1982 remake directed by George Cukor--like most remakes, it lacked the ingredients that made the original such a treat.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Bette Davis must have been relieved to know that once she was done
filming THE OLD MAID, chances were she didn't have to work with Miriam
Hopkins again. I can only imagine her expression in having to deal with
Hopkins for one more movie after suggestions to re-team with pal Mary
Astor didn't fall through. She must have thought it was some kind of
sick joke. Or karma. Who knows. To the end of her life she stated that
while she respected Hopkins as an actress and even went to say that
Hopkins didn't have to take on supporting parts so quickly, she was a
congenial person, but working with her was another story.
It's not hard to see why: Hopkins tries insanely hard to steal every scene she's in from the moment the camera focuses on her back and she talks to Bette Davis' character over the phone in the opening scene. It's as if she were constantly aware of being under the camera lights and she needed to make sure that the viewer would see her as well. It only adds to her insecurity that her shrill performance, while very good, is not the focus of the movie -- indeed, she's off screen for a good chunk of the movie later on -- as it is Davis' character's story.
Still, it makes for great watching: at every turn there is a chance for one of them to try and out-act the other. However, you wouldn't know that they couldn't stand each other here, just like in THE OLD MAID. The opening scenes are quite funny in establishing who Kit Marlowe and Millie Drake are as friends. Kit is the more understanding, the more tolerant of the two: she knows how to deal with her flighty friend and has come to see her quirks as basically that. Millie, while a drama queen who wants to give her friend the biggest reception ever, ever so slightly suggests an envy of Kit's career, but really has no malice towards her. You could tell they're really friends that have since fallen into the rut of duty.
It's an outsider that begins to see the real nature of this friendship. John Loder, playing Preston Drake, is clearly unhappy in his marriage to Millie but stays by her regardless until he meets the woman he should have married in Kit. He can't see how being so diametrically opposed women they could even be in the same room together -- Millie is just too needy, too over-the-top to the more sensible Kit. However, it's said that every person has his or her complement and the two women, more sisters than friends, seem to be just that.
It's when Millie begins to succeed as a romance writer -- a Danielle Steel or Nora Roberts of her time -- that the friendship starts to show signs of fraying at the seams. Millie shows her claws in hints, and Kit moves on, serving the war and doing more relevant things with her life. But for a movie that has two such stars, it's only fitting that somehow they remain together because after all... they're "friends", and this is a soap opera about longtime "friends" after all.
OLD ACQUAINTANCE is a good woman's picture. It has good pacing and despite covering over twenty-odd years between the lives of these two women, it doesn't feel slow or repetitive. Interesting is the relationship that develops between Kit and Deirdre (Dolores Moran), Millie's daughter, who at times reacts to Kit as if she were her own mother and not Millie. Of note, as well, is how Davis looks in her role -- one only has to see how she'd look ten years later to see how accurate the make-up department got it. Where the movie goes into its only dramatic moment is the confrontation scene -- dragged out with takes upon takes since Hopkins was overacting, trying to make Davis' character more vicious but only succeeding in making herself look more the vicious woman caught -- and the reconciliation scene, which is highly unlikely. But in ending the movie on this note, it's a striking irony that for the second and last time both actresses who detested each other and had major demands on set gave their best performances. The result is the movie that became OLD ACQUAINTANCE.
Just why this unusually literate, fairly intelligent and very well-acted film isn't yet available on video is a mystery. Bette Davis does a beautiful job playing writer Kit Marlowe and Miriam Hopkins, while a little overripe at times, does a fine job as her best friend and sometime nemesis, Millie Drake. The supporting cast is first-rate: Gig Young is very appealing and handsome in one of his earliest film roles, Dolores Moran is both sensitive and cheeky as Hopkin's confused daughter, and Esther Dale is splendid as Ms Marlowe's maid. The film revolves around Davis and Hopkins, their mutual friendship, jealousies via a love triangle, and their rivalry as authors: Davis is the noble, staid serious writer of quality literature, whereas Hopkins becomes wildly successful as the writer of sensational trashy love stories. The rather bland John Loder plays Millie's husband who takes a shine to Kit.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
After having gone head-to-head in "The Old Maid" a few years prior, Davis and Hopkins teamed up for round two in this film. It's a credit to both actresses that, despite their intense loathing for one another, they were able to convey warm and deep friendship on screen when it was called for, even embracing fondly when the touch of one probably repulsed the other. Davis plays a somewhat dowdy, earthy authoress who comes back to her hometown amid much flurry to visit her old school chum Hopkins. Davis writes critically-acclaimed, but lackluster-selling, books yet can't seem to find a man to share her life. Hopkins, on the other hand, has an affectionate husband (Loder) and is about to have a baby, but has no outlet for her own creativity. When Hopkins writes a tacky novel and it's a runaway best-seller, the dynamic between these old friends shifts and before long they are engaged in a rivalry and an unstated game of one-upmanship. The years flow by and, though Davis is still a respected writer and playwright, Hopkins has achieved extraordinary fame and success in her field. When Loder comes between the ladies and Hopkins' daughter Moran, as well, the sparks begin to fly, though never without a certain touch of humor. Davis enjoyed portraying a fairly realistic character in this go-round and came up with the notion that she would wear men's pajama tops to bed as a revealingly quirky trait. Though, as the film wears on, she is given a rather silly grey streak in her hair and becomes more mannered, it's still a well-drawn, interesting performance. Hopkins in at full tilt throughout and gives a zesty, energetic portrayal. One hopes that she was in on the joke of her heavily neurotic and over-the-top character. She provides a lot of the comic content with her exuberant bitchery. Loder gives a friendly, solid, if unspectacular performance. Young appears late in the game as Davis' younger suitor and is very handsome and effective. Moran is also mostly appealing and attractive, though she would exit the business before too long after marrying a producer. Revere shows up in a small, but amusing, role as a reporter. The story is an intriguing one, though there are a few head-scratching elements (such as how Moran has no recollection of what her father looks like when they meet after a lengthy separation.) Also, due to U.S. involvement in WWII coming about after the source play's debut, a bit of patriotic sentiment was incorporated into Davis' role to help assuage the potential fluffiness of such a piece in a time of war. In fact, the initial choice for director turned the project down because he didn't think audiences would care about "two bitches" bickering when there's a war on! Fortunately, the film was made as it's a fascinating thing to see these enemies working their craft together with Davis underplaying and Hopkins overplaying and somehow providing a tasty piece of entertainment in the process. Davis would have other nasty rivalries and issues with female stars after this such as with Susan Hayward in "Where Love Has Gone" and, infamously, Joan Crawford in "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The context for this film makes it a lot more interesting to watch.
Several years before this movie was made, Bette Davis and Miriam
Hopkins also starred in "Old Maid". During this filming, the two
volatile actresses fought like dogs. It got so bad that Davis even
ended up sleeping with Hopkins' husband--and they truly hated each
other. In fact, the acrimony between them was far worse than the much
publicized feud between Davis and Joan Crawford. How they got these two
together for another film is curious, but Davis must have enjoyed it
immensely, as she played a woman who was practically a saint and
Hopkins was forces to play someone who is thoroughly despicable.
The film begins in the 1920s. Davis is returning to her old home town after man years' absence. In the interim, she's become a well-respected author and the town is gearing up for her return. However, of all the people anticipating, the one who has put the most energy into it is Hopkins. It seems she and Davis grew up together and Hopkins has grand plans about their reunion. However, it soon becomes obvious that Hopkins really wants to be the center of attention and when others intrude on her plans, she becomes furious and behaves like a child. Davis and Hopkins are able to patch things up--mostly because Davis (like she did throughout the film) made a lot of allowances for friend. In other words, she bit her tongue and remembered how much she cared for her.
During this tempestuous reunion, the very shallow Hopkins announces that she thinks it must not be that difficult to become a famous author and she's decided to become one, too! A normal friend would have been annoyed, but Davis takes this in a good-natured way. Amazingly, after a few more years, Hopkins IS a famous author. While not as well-respected as Davis, her books are smash successes. Unfortunately, while she is now rich and famous, her immaturity and selfishness have been allowed to blossom. Though in love with herself, he daughter is more like a household object and her husband can't stand her. Eventually, the husband divulges to Davis that he loves her and asks her to marry him, but Davis is too good a person and sends him packing.
Over time, Davis and Hopkins remain friends. However, as throughout the entire film you wonder why! After all, Hopkins is thoughtless and self-centered. But, Davis is always her friend--helping her raise her daughter (since the husband had long since left). Hopkins' horridly selfish life gets more and more difficult for those around her and the viewer is left to wonder how much longer this will go until Davis kills her. Well, this does lead to one of the best showdowns in film--the scene between them is a true classic. However, by the end, even after this big showdown, the two are reunited as friends--a very dissatisfying ending for an otherwise perfect film.
While there is a lot more to the film than this (including a subplot involving Gig Young and the grown daughter of Hopkins), but this is really not all that important--the fireworks between Hopkins and Davis are. That is THE reason to watch this film. And, despite the DVD having a short entitled "Old Acquaintance: A Classic Woman's Picture" and having commentary by a gay man throughout the commentary track, I hate when films are seen as a 'woman's film'--"Old Acquaintance" is a wonderful film regardless who watches it! This is one straight man who had a thoroughly wonderful time watching!
By the way, I have read quite a bit about both actresses and can say that both had enormous egos and many around them hated them (though there were many exceptions as well). But, at least in the case of Davis, despite being a rather nasty person, she was a heck of a terrific actress. As for Hopkins, her temperamental nature appears to have led to her once-promising career to have fizzled soon after "Old Acquaintance".
Chatty, entertaining and well-acted drama with comedic trimmings has lifelong friends Bette Davis and Miriam Hopkins both becoming writers: Davis, the literary authoress who charms the critics but can't score a bestseller; Hopkins, the fluttery, popular novelist of romantic fiction. Director Vincent Sherman does a good job at bringing this all to a boil, and yet there's too much breathless soap opera packed into the last act (the fault of the screenwriters, working from a play) and it eventually becomes fatiguing. Still, Hopkins does a high-wire act with her performance that is quite nimble (she's pitched very high but is never grating). Davis starts off very fresh and natural, but as her character ages and becomes glamorously middle-aged, Bette's affectations and mannerisms tread a self-parody; she's good throughout the film, yet one longs for more of that earthy quality she displays in the film's first hour. A fine "woman's picture" nevertheless, with some unusually good dialogue and well-paced sequences. *** from ****
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