In the summer of 1991, the local TV station proposed a 13-movie season dedicated to Bette Davis; bafflingly, I only opted to record one of the films – THE GREAT LIE (1941), her surprising rosette in the "Halliwell Film-goer's Companion"! Eventually, I acquired all of the others and have even watched most of them – for the record, with the viewing of this one (even if the copy I ended up with displayed intermittent signs of freezing throughout!), I am only left with BORDERTOWN (1935) and A STOLEN LIFE (1946) to catch up with...
Anyway, it was pure coincidence that I watched this on the same day as the Oscar-winning Katharine Hepburn vehicle MORNING GLORY (1933), since this also landed Davis – herself one of Hollywood's foremost female stars – her first Best Actress nod, and in which she similarly played a stage performer (albeit a washed-up rather than an aspiring one
even if only 27 at the time)! Incidentally, while she gives an undeniably strong performance (ironically, among her competition was Hepburn herself in ALICE ADAMS), the film is perhaps best-known as one of a handful deemed as "consolation prizes", where a particular personality was awarded an Oscar for a less 'noteworthy' role after they failed to win the previous year for what looked like a sure bet: in Davis' case, it was OF HUMAN BONDAGE (where she clamorously even failed to obtain an official nomination), while other such famous examples include James Stewart's triumph in THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (1940) – making up for his loss in MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (1939) – and Joan Fontaine's in SUSPICION (1941), as opposed to REBECCA (1940)...a practice, I might add, which continues to this day (compare Russell Crowe's 2000 and Denzel Washington's 2001 wins with the ones they were nominated for in their respective previous year)!
As expected, Davis is the whole show here, but Franchot Tone (himself an Oscar nominee that same year, albeit for MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY) is well cast as her leading man and fresh-faced Margaret Lindsay is somewhat typecast as the "other woman". The star is supposedly a "jinx" – as many who were involved with her met a sad fate – so she is shunned by the profession and consequently hits the skids; Tone (who, apparently, was inspired to seek an artistic vocation after watching Davis at work) sees her at a bar and decides to help. Before long, she practically begins to run his life while showing little to no gratitude; he goes so far as to neglect work and fiancée' over his constant attentions for her! Eventually, she sees the error of her ways, he finds the courage to break off his engagement and even lands her a comeback in the role she had always wanted to play. This being a melodrama, however, things do not quite go as planned: the actress not only 'falls off the wagon' during the rehearsal period due to insecurity, but Tone himself keeps harassing her with a marriage proposal – which cannot be honoured because (unbeknownst to him) she is already married! When her husband, who considers Davis his meal-ticket, refuses to give her a divorce, she decides to take matters into her own hands...
In the end, the film remains eminently watchable for several reasons (not least the recognizable Warner Bros. style) – but, sensibly, it pales beside the performances that would constitute the star's greatest years, which were still ahead of her (1938-1946).
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