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When her beloved husband dies after a long illness, Jessica "Jess" Drummond (Barbara Stanwyck) finds herself struggling with the narrow social role allowed her as a widow among her conservative, wealthy Lake Forest friends. Friends' husbands make passes at her, her girlfriends gossip about other unmarried local women and her days are spent alone in her enormous suburban estate in the Warner Bros. melodrama My Reputation (1946).
With her two young sons away at school, Jessica becomes desperately lonely and takes a much needed ski vacation with her fun-loving friends Ginna (Eve Arden) and Cary Abbott (John Ridgely) in Lake Tahoe. There, Jessica meets a handsome, charming Army Major Scott Landis (George Brent) who is reluctant to marry and settle down. Back in Lake Forest, the gossip mill works overtime as friends and Jessica's straight-laced mother (Lucile Watson) view her blossoming romance with Major Landis with suspicion. Jessica's mother wants her to marry their conservative family lawyer Frank Everett (Warner Anderson). But when Major Landis is reassigned to Chicago, Jessica finds herself choosing passion and an uncertain romantic future over the thought of a safe, loveless marriage with Frank.
Director Curtis Bernhardt (Million Dollar Baby, 1941, A Stolen Life, 1946) directs this moody melodrama with some of the genre's usual undercurrents of social critique. Despite some soap opera tendencies, My Reputation is frank about how women's lives are often harshly dictated by their community, family and children, including Jessica's two young sons Kim (Scotty Beckett) and Keith (Bobby Cooper) who react with horror to their mother's high-profile romance with Major Landis.
Like several other Warner Bros. productions made during World War II, My Reputation was only screened for military use in 1944. The studio believed the film would be better received by the public at the end of the war, and thus held it back for a 1946 release.
My Reputation was adapted by Catherine Turney (Of Human Bondage, 1946, A Stolen Life) from the Clare Jaynes awkwardly titled novel Instruct My Sorrows.
It is Barbara Stanwyck's typically compelling screen presence which makes for a convincing portrait of a woman debilitated by loneliness and chafing under social strictures in My Reputation. Nominated four times for an Academy Award for Best Actress (Stella Dallas, 1937; Ball of Fire, 1941; Double Indemnity, 1944; Sorry, Wrong Number, 1948), Stanwyck never won an Oscar®. However, in 1981 she was given an honorary Oscar® for her "unique contribution to the art of screen acting." From 1964 - 1968, she made a successful jump to television in her role on "The Big Valley," which won her a second Emmy Award.
Born Ruby Stevens in 1907 Brooklyn, Stanwyck was orphaned at age four and raised by her older sister and later became a Ziegfeld chorus girl. In Hollywood, Stanwyck had a reputation in a movie business more often known for attitude and vanity, as an unpretentious, consummately professional, hardworking actress. Though Stanwyck ironically first screen-tested for Warner Bros., upon arriving in Hollywood, her test was rejected. She was eventually picked up by Columbia and loaned to Warners in 1931's Illicit. The two studios eventually struck a deal to share the enormously popular rising star between them. Though Stanwyck initially played tough working class women in films like Baby Face (1933) and Night Nurse (1931), her range proved enormous, as she took on screwball comedy, melodrama, film noir and played every station on the class spectrum, from respectable wealthy women like Jessica Drummond to the murderous and duplicitous femme fatale Phyllis Dietrichson in Billy Wilder's brilliant film noir Double Indemnity (1944). That film made Stanwyck, according to the IRS, the highest paid woman in America.
Director: Curtis Bernhardt
Producer: Henry Blanke
Screenplay: Catherine Turney from the novel by Clare Jaynes
Cinematography: James Wong Howe
Production Design: Anton Grot
Music: Max Steiner
Cast: Barbara Stanwyck (Jessica "Jess" Drummond), George Brent (Major Scott Landis), Lucile Watson (Mrs. Mary Kimball), Warner Anderson (Frank Everett), Eve Arden (Ginna Abbott), John Ridgely (Cary Abbott).
BW-94m. Closed captioning.
by Felicia Feaster