Friday, April 3, 2009

The Great Lie (1941)

The Great Lie
Director: Edmund Goulding
USA 1941
108 min

A maid cleans up among empty bottles and smashed records in a villa after an apparently wild party. The hostess is the professional pianist Sandra Kovac (Mary Astor) and her fiancé Pete van Allen (George Brent). In the delight and influence of alcohol the two were married the night before, but a lawyer turns up in the hung over morning to tell the couple that Sandra's previous marriage hadn't had a finalized divorce.
Pete, who obviously has some second thoughts about the marriage, tells Sandra that if she wants to marry him she has to do that Tuesday next, when her divorce gets through but she also will have a piano concert in Philadelphia. She chooses to play, and Pete returns to the home of his previous fiancée, Maggie (Bette Davis). They marry, but soon a telegram reaches the couple that tells Pete he has to go to Washington. There he gets a mission to go on an aeroplane trip. His plane crashes in the jungles of South America and isn't found.

Not only have Maggie just lost her husband, but Sandra comes to see her to tell Maggie that she is pregnant, and that Pete is the father. They make an agreement - they settle down in a cottage away from the civilization during the pregnancy. When the child is delivered Maggie will bring it up, wanting a piece of Pete still with her. In return she will see to it that Sandra is financially secure.
However, Pete was not dead as assumed. He returns, witch forces Maggie to live with the great lie their baby is. As if it couldn't be worse, Sandra gets second thoughts about the agreement when she finds out that the man she loves is back.

Hattie McDaniel and George Brent.

A great drama with many twists and confrontations. And even though there is no actress better in argument scenes as Bette Davis, Mary Astor still manages to hold her own, even though she only has the third billing.
I read that both Davis and Astor disliked the script so much that they totally re-made it by jotting down notes on every page of the script. Astor got an Oscar for her role, and she really deserved it.
The character of Sandra plays several time a piece of music that I love, which is also played during the intertitles. It is Piano Concerto #1 in B flat minor by Tchaikovsky, and here it is:

Academy Awards 1942. Gary Cooper, Joan Fontaine and Mary Astor with an Oscar statue each. Cooper for Best Actor in Sergeant York, Fontaine for Best Actress in Suspicion and Astor for Best Supporting Actress in The Great Lie.


Kate Gabrielle said...


Princess Fire and Music said...

This is a great movie. I really loved seeing Bette Davis play a "good girl" for once.

Keith said...

I love this movie. I'm a huge fan of Bette Davis. The woman is a force to be reckoned with. Mary Astor was great in this film too. I love it.

Lolita said...

Kate Gabrielle:
Haha, me too! I hadn't seen it in years when I finally got to see it yesterday. A delight!

Princess of Fire and Music:
Good girl, but not boring! She is one of the greatest film stars ever.

It's true - even if a film Bette Davis stars in is bad, she is always great!

Robby Cress said...

Davis and Astor are both terrific. It's interesting that Astor got an Oscar nomination but not Davis. I'm curious to see who the best actress nominations were that year.

Lolita said...

Robby Cress:
Bette Davis deserved an Oscar nomination for almost every part she ever did!
As for the nominees:
Barbara Stanwyck in Ball of Fire
Greer Garson in Blossoms in the Dust
Olivia de Havilland in Hold Back the Dawn
Bette Davis in The Little Foxes

So she already had a nomination! As we said before - she was a great actress.

You know that you can look up all Oscar nominations on IMDb? Example:

Fabio said...

Thanks for this. I watched "The Great Lie" last night. Beautiful movie! And the video you posted captures its spirit perfectly. Thanks so much!

Lolita said...

Thank you for the kind words, Fabio!