Well, let’s continue with the Bette Davis films with The Great Lie, a 1941 drama starring my favorite dame and her lover, George Brent. The imdb. has this synopsis:
After a newlywed’s husband apparently dies in a plane crash, she discovers that her rival for his affections is now pregnant with his child.
Ooo… intrigue! And hopefully face-slapping, yes? There needs to be more movies where Bette Davis slaps the shit out of people. (Just sayin’.)
OH MAN the movie starts off with music that I should remember … I think it’s from a Bugs Bunny cartoon? And — WAIT I HAVE SHAZAM NOW HOLD ON
Hm. Apparently Shazam doesn’t believe in being able to tag classical music. The fuck, Shazam? Even classy people need to figure out where they’ve heard that song before.
A-ha! The music is apparently the Piano Concerto No. 1 in B Flat Minor by Pyotr Tchaikovsky, and the beginning strains were heard at the beginning of the classic Merrie Melodie cartoon, A Corny Concerto, starring (in part) Bugs Bunny! Fun Fact!: The introduction is by Tchaikovsky, but the rest of the music heard in A Corny Concerto is all composed by Johann Strauss.
Hi, my name is Alaina Patterson, and I used to be a classical music nerd.
ANYWAY. The credits end, and here’s where the story actually begins. Holy cow, this apartment they live in has a leopard-printed couch! Well, some dude comes in and wakes George Brent up — apparently his name is Mr. Van Allen — and his wife is sleeping in the other room, and apparently Mrs. Van Allen is a pianist who might be playing with the Philadelphia orchestra, and the storming dude wants to see her for some reason? And there goes George Brent, making a scotch and soda at, like, nine in the morning. Awesome.
Let me take a moment (speaking of scotch) to mention how freaking happy I am that Ron Burgandy announced that there’s going to be a sequel to Anchorman! I swear, Anchorman is easily on my list of top ten favorite movies of all time, and the fact that we’re getting a sequel is fantastic!
The next day (or later that day, whatever), Mr. Van Allen — also known as Pete — goes to see his lawyer. That can’t be good. The lawyer does mention that Pete hasn’t been in the daylight for a week, and his response is “there’s something about that woman.” Nice! Was this before or after the Whatchimacallit Laws, because that seems kind of racy for its day.
Well, Mr. Lawyer tells George Brent/Pete that his new marriage isn’t legal because Sandy (his wife) — her divorce wasn’t finalized. So if he wants to marry her, he’ll have to do it again and sober in the daylight. That tells me a lot about their original ceremony.
Flash to him flying a plane — what!? — over Maryland, and there’s this — oh god, I don’t know how to proceed. He’s clearly a servant, and he’s African American, and it’s like … you know that episode of Mad Men where Roger did blackface and all the viewers got offended? That’s how I’m feeling about this moment, especially when the servant calls him “Mr. Pete.” Oh, 1942 racism! Don’t ever change!
And HOLY SHIT THERE’S MAMMY FROM GONE FROM THE WIND. And yes, I have seen that movie — three times, even. So shut up.
And there’s Bette Davis, hiding from “Mr. Pete” by pretending to have a cold. Oh, lord, and she’s got a Southern accent? That type of accent sounds awful coming out of her mouth. I swear, one of the next movies I have to watch isAll About Eve, because I’m not sure if I can take another movie of Bette Davis being a simpering female.
Oh, Pete proposed to Bette Davis (Maggie), and she refused him. And then he went off and married someone else. And she asked him to be a sober person — wait a minute. She had a problem with alcohol? Is this because of what happened with Errol Flynn in the last movie?
And now he’s leaving Maggie’s house, not saying a word about the fact that his marriage is null? Why — what? This movie is confusing. So he goes back home and his wife (Mary Astor) is still hiding, and that dude is still waiting for her. Apparently Mary Astor is getting a massage from some dude because Pete left the window open (?) and she caught cold in her shoulder (??), and at one point the massage dude pinches too hard or something and she just hauls off and slaps him! Holy shit, I kind of love Mary Astor. Because what did I say about face-slapping? ALL MOVIES NEED MORE FACE-SLAPPING.
Pete at least tells Mary Astor that they’re not legally married, and he pretty much gives her an ultimatum: marry him on Tuesday, or play the concert in Philadelphia on Tuesday as scheduled. Judging by the tantrum she pulls on her piano and the poster we see in the next shot (holy shit, orchestra seats were $5 back then?!), we are led to believe that they don’t remarry and Sandra Kovak (Mary Astor) remains in love with her career. Good on her, I guess. And here’s Bette Davis, waiting for Sandra Kovak to finish her performance. If I didn’t know any better, I’d almost guess that Bette was beginning to play the Eve role in this. Holy crap, Mary Astor’s even wearing the cape that Eve wears after winning the Sarah Siddons award! Not making that up, I swear!
Maggie and Sandra talk about Maggie’s idea for Pete — Pete wants to maybe get back into aviation, or something. Hey, at least Bette Davis has lost the horrific Southern accent she sported for all of two seconds. It was just bad.
It’s weird to see Bette Davis in the non-powerful role. Mary Astor is totally being the bitchy one, and it doesn’t feel right in my head to not hear those lines come from Bette Davis. Not to say she hasn’t had some one-liners, but … it’s strange, not seeing her own the room when she’s sparring with Mary Astor.
Pete has shown up, meanwhile, at Maggie’s house in Maryland. Pete finally tells her that he’s not really married to Sandra. And then there’s the requisite scene of the servants working in the kitchen. And then Maggie and Pete FINALLY get married, and they have the saddest looking wedding cake ever — I mean, it’s just one big slab of cake, without tiers or any other decoration. And while the servants are all celebrating, Bette and George are hanging out on a couch far away from the frou-ferah.
WAIT A SECOND — Bette Davis’s character’s name is Maggie Patterson?! THAT’S MY MOM’S NAME! THE HELL? I don’t know what to do with that!
Why does Maryland look like Georgia? Seriously, down to the proliferation of plantation workers and moss-covered willows, this place looks like Tara.
Pete joins the aviation department in Washington, and goes flying off somewhere. Maggie is hanging out in New York and runs into Sandra, who tells Maggie that she’s pregnant with Pete’s baby. Just as Maggie learns that news, Pete calls her long-distance to let her know he’s going on a long trip. Sandra tells Maggie that she’s going to get Pete back, and Maggie accuses her of lying about the baby.
And now Pete’s plane is missing, and everyone thinks he’s dead, but Maggie’s trying to hold on to the belief that he’s still alive in Brazil somewhere. And as Bette’s crying, she finds a long letter to Pete from Sandra. And she gets a gleam in her eye, similar to the gleam the Grinch gets when he gets his horrible, awful idea.
She storms into Sandra’s house and asks to adopt Sandra’s baby when it’s born so it can have Pete’s name and legacy. Maggie offers to take her and Sandra far away where no one will know them, and after taking the baby, will set Sandra up for life money-wise. Her eyes practically boinging dollar signs, Sandra agrees.
And when Bette Davis says “we’ll go far away where no one knows us,” apparently that means the Arizona desert, because apparently in order to avoid the paparazzi that follows all the concert pianists around in 1941, Arizona is the wilderness to which one disappears. Damn, they are in the middle of nowhere. And Sandra’s getting bored with being all alone, and being bored equates to smoking a lot, which apparently even in 1941 was not recommended for pregnant women.
In the middle of the night, Bette Davis wakes up and finds Sandra in the kitchen making a sandwich. Out of an entire ham. And Sandra also has a craving for pickles, and apparently that’s not a good idea for a pregnant woman? What?! That’s all pregnant women have been eating for decades!
And then Mary Astor freaks out, what with the solitude and the cravings and the not having alcohol and the not smoking cigarettes and the wind outside and the everything, and finally, Bette Davis smacks her friend upside the head. And THAT’S what I’ve been waiting for! Bette Davis needs to smack more people. Can I make that happen?
And FINALLY, the baby is born, a poor squabbling little thing that sounds like a duck. Bette leaves the birthing room to go talk to the shade of Pete, and then there’s a spinning globe that lands on Australia, and there’s Mary Astor, playing the piano in Australia. She’s cleverly wearing an empire waist gown to hide the remnants of the baby fat. Meanwhile, there are two old dudes looking at a globe, perhaps hoping to find Pete in Brazil. It sounds like there could be a chance, but they’re not going to tell Maggie at the risk of getting her hopes up.
Bette’s feeding Young Pete when her Aunt comes to visit, and there’s a telegram from Pete, saying that he’s alive and he’s coming home! At midnight, Thursday, in Cartersville, or whatever. The plane lands on the plantation, and Pete emerges from the plane in practically the same suit he left in, and he certainly doesn’t look like he’s been missing in Brazil for almost a year. He and Bette Davis have a nice reunion, and then there’s a showing of home movies — they had the ability to make home movies back then? I find that rather hard to believe.
Bette Davis and George Brent head to New York for some reason and, of course, run into Mary Astor at a bar. Because there’s only one bar in New York. Mary hints that Bette should have told Pete whose baby it was, then she dances off evilly with some random dude.
Then Bette Davis is at the house taking care of her dogs and she hears piano music. When she goes in, of course, there’s Mary Astor playing on her piano. There’s a joke in there, about the Paderewski playing the concerto upon her, the piano, and I just maintain that the next movie I watch is going to be All About Eve. Pete invites her to stay the night, and Bette says it’s okay. The baby gets put to bed around six, apparently, because when they dress for dinner it’s almost seven o’clock.
Pete gets a phone call, and Maggie and Sandra have a brief fight about what they’re going to do with their plan. Sandra tells Maggie she’s not going to do anything, but she wants Maggie to tell Pete about the baby, because, and I quote, “It was never part of the bargain that Pete was still alive.”
The next day, Sandra confronts Maggie, and they both tell Pete about Young Pete. Pete slowly goes over all the evidence and puts everything together. In the end, he tells Sandra that if she wants the baby, it’s within her rights to take the baby, but he’s going to stay with Maggie. But in the real end, Sandra lets Maggie keep both Old Pete and Young Pete, and in the real end, I can finally go to bed.
What is it with these old Bette Davis movies that just don’t measure up to Bette Davis’s potential? I mean, seriously! I watched Now, Voyager last year and liked that, but this stuff is kind of ridiculous. Come on, Bette, you can pick scripts better than this!
But hey, at least this movie held up to its title?
Grade for The Great Lie: Meh.