The Great Lie
Cast & Crew
Shortly after beautiful, imperious, concert pianist Sandra Kovak and aviator Pete Van Allen impulsively marry, Pete learns from his lawyer that because Sandra's divorce is not yet final, their marriage is not legal. Now realizing that he does not love Sandra, Pete flies to Maryland to visit his longtime sweetheart, Maggie Patterson. Maggie loves Pete deeply, but worried about his drinking, she had earlier turned down his proposal. Pete tries to tell Maggie about the new development, but she is too hurt to listen and he flies back to Sandra in New York. Out of a sense of obligation, Pete proposes again to Sandra, and she accepts, but informs him that she will be performing in Philadelphia on the day that her divorce becomes final. After waiting until midnight for Sandra to return to New York and marry him, Pete feels he has fulfilled his duty to her and flies to Maryland to marry Maggie. Five days later, Pete is summoned to Washington, D.C. to discuss a job, and Maggie waits for him in New York. There she learns that Sandra is expecting a baby and intends to use her pregnancy to get Pete back. Pete does not return to New York, however, but leaves immediately for a mapping flight over the Brazilian jungle. When his plane is reported missing and a search party fails to find him, Maggie begs Sandra to have Pete's child and allow her to raise it. In return, Maggie will insure Sandra's financial security. The two women go into seclusion in the Arizona desert to await the birth of the baby. Afterward, Sandra continues her career and Maggie returns home with Pete, Jr., whom she presents as her own child. Sometime later, Pete is found alive and is delighted to learn about his son. Maggie, however, does not tell him who the child's mother really is. Now that Pete has come back, Sandra renews her attempt to use Pete, Jr. to woo Pete, but when she tells Maggie that Pete only stays married to her because of the baby, Maggie angrily discloses the truth to Pete. When he responds that Sandra can take the baby if she insists, but that he will remain with Maggie, Sandra chooses to depart, saying that she will leave Pete, Jr. with his mother.
J. Farrell Macdonald
Billy Eugene Ferris
Leo F. Forbstein
C. A. Riggs
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Carl Jules Weyl
Best Supporting Actress
The Great Lie
Astor had begun her career in silent films, at the age of 15. By the time she made The Great Lie, she'd undergone career ups and downs, and survived a major scandal in her private life. Astor was in her mid-thirties, and had finally hit her stride playing a series of brittle sophisticates. The movie year of 1941, in fact, was a good one for her. Besides The Great Lie, she also co-starred with Humphrey Bogart as the treacherous Brigid O'Shaughnessy in The Maltese Falcon (1941).
The Great Lie was a typical "woman's picture" of the era, a not-very-credible story of romantic travails. Davis had approved the casting of Astor as her rival, not only because she admired Astor as an actress, but because Astor had studied the piano and would be believable playing a Tchaikovsky sonata. In a Bette Davis film, it was usually Davis who provided the bad-girl fireworks, but in The Great Lie, Astor had the more flamboyant part. That would have been fine with Davis, as long as the characters and relationships worked. But Davis hated the script. "It's soap opera drivel and it stinks in all departments!" she complained, and enlisted Astor to help her rewrite the script.
The two women re-worked scenes to add substance and conflict. They gleefully improvised dialogue and situations. Director Goulding was delighted with their inventions, and couldn't wait to see what they'd come up with next. Rumors from the set said that Astor was "stealing the picture" from Davis, but both actresses denied it. "She handed The Great Lie to me on a silver platter," Astor said later. The result was a film that overcame its soap-opera limitations and crackled with wit. When she won her Oscar®, Astor thanked two people: Bette Davis and Tchaikovsky.
Director: Edmund Goulding
Producer: Henry Blanke
Screenplay: Lenore Coffee, based on the novel, January Heights, by Polan Banks
Editor: Ralph Dawson
Cinematography: Tony Gaudio
Art Direction: Carl Jules Weyl
Music: Max Steiner
Cast: Bette Davis (Maggie Patterson), George Brent (Pete Van Allen), Mary Astor (Sandra Kovak), Lucile Watson (Aunt Ada), Hattie McDaniel (Violet)
BW-108m. Closed captioning.
by Margarita Landazari
The Great Lie
"If I didn't think you meant so well, I'd feel like slapping your face"- Sandra Kovac
Bette Davis and Mary Astor thought the original script was not very good. They ended up rewriting the script themselves.
'Brent, George' was a licensed pilot and did his own landings in the movie.
Working titles of the film were Far Horizon, Women of the World and January Heights. According to production notes included in the file on the film at the AMPAS Library, George Brent was a licensed pilot and did his own takeoffs and landings for the film. Some scenes were filmed on location at the Warner Ranch in Calabasas, CA and in the Mojave Desert near Victorville. Timony Tennyson and Billy Eugene Ferris portray the baby at different ages. Mary Astor won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. When she accepted her Oscar she thanked Bette Davis and Tchaikovsky.
Modern sources add the following information: Bette Davis was dissatisfied with the initial story that Lenore Coffee developed from Polan Banks' novel, and it was at her insistence that the part of "Sandra" was built up. Mary Astor was suggested by director Ernst Lubitsch and enthusiastically seconded by Davis. Max Rabinovitch played the piano in Astor's concert scenes, and Norma Boleslavsky's hands were filmed in the close-ups. Brent and Astor reprised their roles in a March 2, 1942 Lux Radio Theatre broadcast, co-starring Loretta Young. January Sterling, Catherine McLeod and Glenn Langan starred in a Lux Video Theatre adaptation on March 21, 1957.