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The Old Maid

Posted by martinteller on September 30, 2012

Delia Lovell (Miriam Hopkins) is marrying into money, having grown tired of waiting for the roguish Clem (George Brent) to come back from his wanderings.  Clem returns on the very day of the wedding, and hearing the news, rushes to try to win her back.  She rebukes him, but he’s scooped up by Delia’s cousin Charlotte (Bette Davis).  They share a night of passion, and then Clem is off to fight for the Union.  He dies at Vicksburg… unaware of the little girl he’s left behind, whom Charlotte hides in an orphanage to avoid scandal.  The child will be a pawn in a game of bitterness and rivalry between Delia and Charlotte for the next 20 years.

This is rather soapy stuff, but not in an entirely disagreeable way.  An adaptation of a Pulitzer Prize-winning play based on an Edith Wharton novel, it’s high melodrama.  But high melodrama is in good hands when Bette Davis is involved.  She’s a perfect model of silent self-sacrifice, holding back years of acid resentment.  And Hopkins — a favorite of mine — is excellent as well, playing a woman whose villainous betrayal makes her easy to hate, but subsequent good intentions make it hard to hold a grudge.  Both are nuanced characters, and many of the conflicts are not simple black vs. white things.

As I said, the movie is rather soapy and doesn’t make enough of its opportunity to comment on the restrictive morality that drove everyone into this situation.  Also, the string-heavy Max Steiner score is unremarkable, as is the cinematography.  But it’s worthwhile for the character drama, propelled by two wonderful leading ladies.  Rating: Good (74)


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