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Bette Davis and Miriam Hopkins--a pair of actresses who hated each other--re-mix their chemistry from The Old Maid in Old Acquaintance, an entertaining adaptation of John Van Druten's play. The action begins with Davis, a semi-famous author,
Bette Davis and Miriam Hopkins--a pair of actresses who hated each other--re-mix their chemistry from The Old Maid in Old Acquaintance, an entertaining adaptation of John Van Druten's play. The action begins with Davis, a semi-famous author, returning to her small town and the home of old friend Hopkins. The later has opted for the settled life of husband and pregnancy, and she doesn't much hide her envy of Davis's success. Then the tables turn, as Hopkins pens a series of potboilers that sell much better than her friend-rival's. The movie keeps checking up on these two as the years pass, each wanting what the other has. It kicks around such staples as career vs. family, but what comes across most memorably in Old Acquaintance is the friendship between the two characters despite their rivalry; in that sense, the best scene in the film is the last scene. Hopkins has the flashy role, a silly ninny who seemingly never stops screeching, and Davis takes the more centered, self-effacing part. (By the way, Davis said that a scene in which she wears men's pajama tops caused a bit of a vogue at the time.) The men are in the background, although John Loder does a nice job of layering a gentle humor to Hopkins' long-suffering husband. Gig Young, in one of his earliest roles, is almost unrecognizable as a Davis paramour. Vincent Sherman (Mr. Skeffington) directed this example of the "women's picture," the kind of movie that kept Bette Davis the queen of the Warner Bros. lot. It was nicely remade by director George Cukor in 1981 as Rich and Famous, with Jacqueline Bisset and Candice Bergen. --Robert Horton
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Both actresses are well cast and the film raises many issues for women - career versus marriage, youth versus age in relationships etc. In 1943 Hollywood, these were unusual subjects and hence the enormous popularity of the film for the female audience. The film, moving between arch comedy and heavy drama, has a slick, glib quality and will not appeal to men.
"Old Acquaintance" is beautifully made by director, Vincent Sherman. While Hopkins penchant for theatrical mannerisms and overacting sits perfectly on her character here, Davis still outshines her with her superb mastery of the medium. Watch her use of props in this film and her movement around the sets. Hopkins has dated, Davis has not. The climax of the film is probably the scene when an exasperated Davis shakes Hopkins, reportedly reflecting the attitude of the director and the film crew, not just the audience. The film also has a fine Franz Waxman score, never used better than in an intimate scene in an hotel lobby between Davis and John Loder.
The print of the film is excellent and the DVD benefits from a very good commentary by Boz Hadleigh accompanied by the elderly Sherman. It is a treat to hear Sherman speak highly of Davis and her co-operation and intelligence while making the film. There is also a mediocre cartoon and a short film called "Stars on Horseback" which compiles clips, some of which are interpolated misleadingly from Warner's films, showing some of the studio's stars on horses - fairly dumb. The original trailer shows some shots cut from the film and lastly, there is a very good discussion of the film by the a number of historians/ biographers. These Warner's DVDs provide a lot of enjoyable extras and are good value.
This film has never been available before but can now be obtained alone or as part of the Davis Collection Volume 2. It is a worthwhile addition to the usual Davis classics.
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.
"Old Acquaintance" is a smoothly directed and well-acted "women's film" - the kind of movie that flourished in the 1940s. Davis and Hopkins had collaborated previously, on the superior 1939 "Old Maid." The two stars apparently had a bit of an off-screen rivalry as well, and Davis took delight in the fact that her grounded performance aged better that Hopkin's flightier acting in this film. I have to agree that Davis is far better here than Hopkins. Adapted from the successful Broadway play by John Van Druten, the movie is so easily digested that it's easy to overlook some of its flaws. Specifically, the actresses were too old to pull off some of the opening scenes depicting them in their 20s. The plot is also rather disjointed, jumping through the decades without much connective tissue. Also, for a movie about rivalry, the two leads don't really get to argue much close to the denouement, which includes a really silly, almost insulting fight. However, it's a fun romp that fans of Davis in particular are likely to enjoy.
The DVD includes a commentary track with the director, Vincent Sherman, and journalist Boze Hadleigh. It's not clear when this track was recorded, but it's pretty apparent that it was taken from an interview with Sherman (with sporadic questions from Hadleigh inserted later) as opposed to being a true commentary track, as most of the comments are about the picture more generally as opposed to the specific scenes playing. Nevertheless, it's an interesting behind-the-scenes peek that's not available for most 1940s pictures. Sherman tells a fascinating story about going out for a hamburger with Davis after the picture was completed and having the married Davis come on to him. He contemplates having an affair with Davis until a visit from her husband (Arthur Farnsworth) convinces him otherwise. Just weeks later, Farnsworth ended up dead under somewhat mysterious circumstances (an inquest ruled his death an accident). Sherman and Davis went on to work together on "Mr Skeffington" (which is a better movie than "Old Acquaintance"), but Sherman holds back the rest of the story.
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