Having just read that famed director Vincent Sherman died, it seems a fitting tribute to take a look Old Acquaintance, one of the films he made with the legendary Bette Davis. Part of the recently released Bette Davis Collection volume 2, Old Acquaintance is a classy and stylish movie about the topsy-turvy relationship between two women who end up bearing it all for friendship, loyalty and for love. As the saying goes, friendship has no bounds.
In Old Acquaintance, Bette Davis plays Kit Marlowe, a serious literary writer who has returned to her childhood home to stay with her best friend Millie Drake (Miriam Hopkins). Kit is a down-to-earth and unpretentious sort of girl, modest, cheerful, and ladylike - she sails through life with an unassuming confidence. Millie's husband Preston (John Loder) obviously has a soft spot for her, and likewise Kit is attracted to him, although she doesn't want to admit it to herself or to Preston.
Millie, however, is a surefire pain the neck. Neurotic and insecure, she aches for a life of her own, outside of the trimmings of her husband and her quiet domestic existance, and is inspired by her friend's visit to try and get her trashy romance novel published. Although Kit has had minimal success herself - her own novels have "artistic merit" - she agrees to help Millie out.
Fast forward eight years 1932 and Millie has become a huge success from romance potboilers - most of the critics agree that they're trash. She's now incredibly wealthy and can afford to live in salubrious apartment in Manhattan, deck herself out in gorgeous outfits and give her young daughter Deirdre absolutely anything.
The problem is that she maybe rich but she's still self-absorbed. Preston still suffers by her side choosing to endure indignities to be a good dad to Deirdre. Kit stays the ever-loyal friend, taking Deirdre shopping and putting up with her best friend's temper tantrums. The deep love between Kit and Preston is still unfulfilled, and as the story progresses, he again professes his love for Kit. Kit returns his love but cannot "do that" to a friend.
A woman of integrity, Kit plays the martyr as she turns down Preston's advances yet again. Time moves on and all three characters cross paths, and there's more romantic shenanigans involving Deirdre, (Delores Moran) now all grown up and Kit's younger suitor Rudd Kendall (Gig Young).
Much of the drama in Old Acquaintance centers on the ever changing needs between Millie and Kit. The poor Kit is constantly having to put her own needs on the back burner, while she spends much of her live feverishly trying to placate the insufferably selfish Millie, who has never listened to reason and who automatically assumes Kit's friendship with her husband is more than platonic. Meanwhile, Kit is getting on in years and feels the pressure to marry and have children - this is a real issue for her as she's ten years older than Rudd.
Sherman directs the film with a great style and visual flair and he really manages to nail the characters, emphasizing how diametrically apposed Kit and Millie actually are. Kit is the selfless, dependable sufferer for a cause, while Millie is all to ready to sacrifice a lifelong friendship for petty jealousies.
Old Acquaintance is also notable for the fact that Bette Davis decided to take on the nice, mannered and subtle character, rather than play, showier, over-the-top role, which Hopkins made her own. This is a smart, erudite - if not a little talky - movie that really presents a friendship that truly does weather the stormy waters of time. Mike Leonard June 06.