|Astor, Brent, Davis and who's baby?|
THE GREAT LIE (1941). Director: Edmund Goulding. Screenplay by Lenore Coffey. Based on "The Far Horizon" by Polan Banks.
"It's so completely mad!" -- Sandra.
Wealthy Maggie Patterson (Bette Davis) loves rugged Pete Van Allen (George Brent), but she's turned down his marriage proposals once too often and he winds up wedded to, shall we say, "vibrant" concert pianist Sandra Kovak (Mary Astor). But it turns out that Sandra wasn't quite divorced from her last husband, so Maggie has another chance to snare Pete. When tragedy strikes, Sandra and Maggie enter into a bizarre bargain having to do with Pete's baby, but then the circumstances change dramatically and ... The Great Lie is a very engaging soap opera featuring a vulnerable, lovely Davis and a wicked-sharp and excellent Astor in a battle for the same man, bolstered not only by their performances [*especially Astor's] but some literate dialogue, smooth direction from Goulding [who also put Davis and Brent through their paces in The Old Maid], fine photography from Tony Gaudio, and an excellent supporting cast headed by a warm, snappy Hattie McDaniel and including Jerome Cowan, Grant Mitchell and Lucile Watson. Brent's character isn't the brightest in the universe, but the main problem is that Brent isn't a good enough actor to get across Van Allen's nuances. Some of the black characters are treated a bit patronizingly, typical of the period, but McDaniel maintains her dignity, and there's a wonderful bit with a young black man in a tree singing a ballad with a very sweet voice and simple sincerity. One of the best sequences in the movie has the two ladies sharing a cabin together in the desert while one awaits the birth of her baby and the other acts like an expectant father! Very amusing at times. Modern-day television soap operas have used variations of this basic plot over and over and over again! *NOTE: Astor won the best supporting Oscar for this.
Verdict: Very entertaining soaper done in high style. ***.