Saturday, March 24, 2012

Bette Davis trespasses on Gloria Swanson's territory

In 1929, Gloria Swanson made her first talkie, a movie called The Trespasser. I've mentioned numerous times in the past that Hollywood has always remade its movies, and so it is with The Trespasser; director Edmund Goulding remade it in 1937 as That Certain Woman, with Bette Davis reprising the role originally done by Swanson. You can catch that remake tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM on TCM.

Bette Davis' character is a working woman, working as a secretary for lawyer Ian Hunter. However, she's about to retire, as she's been having a relationship with the wealthy Henry Fonda. The only problem is that they're of different social classes, so they have to elope. Fonda's father learns of the marriage and discovers where the couple is honeymooning, and impresses on his son why he should file for an annulment.

Fast forward a few years. If you've seen enough movies of the era, you'll know that being married for even just a few seconds can be enough to get a woman knocked up legitimately, so it's not surprising that the fast fowarding should be so that we can see Davis now having a young child. Because of her pride, and also her fear of losing her child, she never told Fonda about it, instead living a hand-to-mouth existence. She goes back to work for Hunter, who responds by treating her much better than he should have; just giving her a job ought to have been enough. Instead, he keeps her in a better condition, largely because he's in a loveless marriage. And then Hunter up and dies, and leaves quite a bit to Davis in his will. Really, now, can we get any more melodramatic?

Oh yes, yes we can get more melodramatic! Davis realizes that the will is going to be fought, and the wife thinks Davis might actually be responsible for Hunter's death! And this is going to cause controversy that might bring into question her fitness to be a mother. The only person who can help Davis, however, is... Fonda! Oh dear. And to make matters worse, Fonda is also trapped in a loveless marriage, to a woman who can never bear him a child because she's been in a car accident and is now confined to a wheelchair. One who, unsurprisingly, can give the child far more than Davis can.

Did people really take this stuff seriously back in 1937? One thing I haven't even mentioned is that Davis' character has a past that isn't really touched on in The Trespasser, which only serves to make the movie even sappier. Still, the actors really try here. If you need to give your eyes a workout by rolling them for an hour and a half, then That Certain Woman is a film for you. It's also gotten a DVD release via the Warner Archive.

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