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In the gallery of Bette Davis' "bad girl" roles, it would be difficult to pick the baddest. But Stanley Timberlake in In This Our Life (1942) is definitely a contender. Stanley is a spoiled, selfish Virginia belle who dumps her fiance (George Brent) and runs off with her sister's (Olivia de Havilland) husband (Dennis Morgan)...and that's just in the first twenty minutes. The further evils that Stanley is responsible for include suicide, hit-and-run, racism, and even hints of incest. Not to mention her exaggerated cupid's-bow mouth and unflattering, fluffy hairdo.
In This Our Life was based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about the contemporary South by Ellen Glasgow. John Huston, whose directorial debut, The Maltese Falcon (1941), had been a surprise hit, would be directing his first all-star vehicle. On Huston's suggestion, Warner Brothers had hired Howard Koch to write the script. Huston later claimed that he disliked the script, but since he had selected Koch, he felt bound to stand by him. Huston also said he was seduced by the idea of working with stars like Davis and de Havilland. With both actresses, Huston got more than he bargained for.
The two women were friends and had great respect for each other's work. The real battle on In This Our Life was one for control, between Huston and Davis. Bette often challenged her directors, and she felt that Huston had not earned his position due to talent, but because his father was the respected actor Walter Huston. Additionally, Huston quickly fell in love with de Havilland, and Davis felt the director was favoring Olivia with more close-ups. Davis was quick to let Huston know who the star was, and took her already exaggerated character over the top. In his autobiography, however, Huston claimed that she did so with his blessing. "There is something elemental about Bette -- a demon within her that threatens to break out and eat everybody....The studio was afraid of her; afraid of her demon. They confused it with overacting. Over their objections, I let the demon go; some critics thought Bette's performance was one of her finest."
One strikingly modern element of In This Our Life is its treatment of the African-American characters. Parry Clay is a dignified young man, who is studying to become a lawyer. The studio was having trouble casting the role, until Davis noticed Ernest Anderson, a waiter in the studio's restaurant. She was impressed by his sensitive face and serious demeanor, and pointed him out to Huston. Huston agreed, and Anderson gave a fine performance as Parry.
In later years Davis was highly critical of In This Our Life, and blamed the script and Huston's direction. If there was any real-life catfight connected with the film, it happened when Bette Davis met author Ellen Glasgow. The outraged novelist minced no words in telling Davis how much she hated the film. Davis tried to lighten the atmosphere: "You should have been an actress, Miss Glasgow - you're so volatile!" "If I had chosen acting over writing," Glasgow shot back, "I wouldn't be the overacting ham you are!"
Producer: David Lewis
Director: John Huston
Screenplay: Howard Koch, John Huston, based on the novel by Ellen Glasgow
Editor: William Holmes
Cinematography: Ernest Haller
Art Direction: Robert Haas
Music: Max Steiner
Cast: Bette Davis (Stanley Timberlake), Olivia de Havilland (Roy Timberlake), George Brent (Craig Fleming), Dennis Morgan (Peter Kingsmill), Charles Coburn (William Fitzroy), Frank Craven (Asa Timberlake), Billie Burke (Lavinia Timberlake).
BW-97m. Closed captioning.
by Margarita Landazuri