Sunday, February 10, 2008

Chick flicks not for guys

So I finally had the chance to knock The Great Lie (Warner Bros., 1941) off the list of Oscar-winning films I had not yet seen, as TCM showed this on Friday. I can now say "been there, done that; not gonna do it again". It's not a bad movie in terms of movie-making or acting quality; everybody involved does quite a competent job. But that story-line? That would fit right in with the rest of the schlock that shows up on the Lifetime Channel. (Well, except for the fact that The Great Lie isn't blatantly anti-male, but just a women's story.)

The Great Lie is a bit of a misnomer, in more ways than one. First, it's not so much a great lie as it is a great example of the writers' mental gymnastics in trying to get around the obstacles set up by the people enforcing the Production Code. Mary Astor would eventually win a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her portrayal of pianist Sandra Kovak. The movie starts with her getting married at a booze-filled party to aviator Peter Van Allen (played by Warners' stalwart George Brent). However, he's really in love with socialite Maggie Patterson (Bette Davis, who does surprisingly little scenery-chewing in this movie). So how do the writers resolve this situation? They claim that Sandra's divorce decree from a previous marriage was in fact not yet valid because she screwed up the dates: she had to wait one more week and get married again, so that the marriage would be legal.

This, naturally, gives Mr. Van Allen time to run off to Maryland and Maggie Patterson, so he can marry her and not have to go through marrying Kovak. Isn't it all so convenient for the writers? Well, it gets more convenient: on the one and only night Sandra and Peter thought they were legitimately married, they obviously had sex, since she finds out that she's been knocked up. (Well, she isn't really knocked up, since she had thought the marriage was legitimate. I told you there were some serious mental gymnastics involved here!) Sandra writes Peter to tell him he's going to have her child, but in the meantime the US government has called him away on an aviation expedition to Brazil.

Of course, things go from bad to worse, as Peter disappears when his plane goes down in the Amazon rain forest. Here is the second part of the misnomer, as Sandra offers Maggie what is ostensibly The Great Lie, but what is really more of an Indecent Proposal: in exchange for a substantial sum of money, Sandra will give the child up to Maggie in order that everybody may believe the child is legitimate. So, the two go out west together so that nobody will spot Sandra's pregnancy, and share some of the film's more ludicrous moments together. The big surprise is that Mary Astor is the one hamming it up; then again, it could be that she though this was how hormone-crazed pregnant women were supposed to act. All goes well, and Sandra has the baby, and they go their separate ways.

That is, until it turns out that Peter did not die in the plane crash, and will in fact be returning from the Amazon. Sandra then decided that she's going to come back into Maggie and Peter's lives, and take both the baby and Peter away from Maggie. After all, she's the biological mother, and Peter would never love Maggie if it weren't for that kid! (Again, I told you the plot was schlocky!) Here, however, the writers seem to have run out of ideas, as they wrap up the movie quite suddenly and unsatisfyingly.

What's in it for the women? That should be obvious. What's in it for the guys? Almost nothing, unless you can get your significant other to promise you sex if you watch the movie with her. That wouldn't be any more indecent a proposal as what we get in the movie.

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