The Old Maid (1939 film)

Last updated
The Old Maid
TheOldMaidPoster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Edmund Goulding
Produced by Hal B. Wallis
Screenplay by Casey Robinson
Based onThe Old Maid
1924 novel
by Edith Wharton
and 1935 play
by Zoë Akins
Starring Bette Davis
Miriam Hopkins
George Brent
Donald Crisp
Music by Max Steiner
Cinematography Tony Gaudio
Edited by George Amy
Production
company
Warner Bros.
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date
  • August 16, 1939 (1939-08-16)
Running time
95 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish

The Old Maid is a 1939 American drama film directed by Edmund Goulding. The screenplay by Casey Robinson is based on the 1935 Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name by Zoë Akins, which was adapted from the 1924 Edith Wharton novella The Old Maid: the Fifties (taken from the collection of novellas Old New York ).

Contents

Plot

Set during the American Civil War, the story focuses on Charlotte Lovell and her cousin Delia, whose wedding day is disrupted when her former fiancé Clem Spender returns following a two-year absence. Delia proceeds to marry Jim Ralston, and Charlotte comforts Clem, who enlists in the Union Army and is later killed in battle. Shortly after his death, Charlotte discovers she is pregnant with Clem's child, and in order to escape the stigma of an illegitimate child, she journeys West to have her baby, a daughter she names Clementina (or "Tina").

Following the end of the war, Charlotte and Tina relocate to Philadelphia, where Charlotte opens an orphanage. Delia is the mother of two children, and Charlotte is engaged to marry Joe Ralston, her cousin's brother-in-law. On her wedding day, Charlotte tells Delia that Tina is her child by Clem, and Delia stops Joe from marrying Charlotte by telling him that she is in poor health. The cousins become estranged, but when Jim is killed in a horse riding accident, Delia invites Charlotte and Tina to move in with her and her children. Tina, unaware Charlotte is her birth mother, assumes the role of Delia's daughter and calls Charlotte her aunt.

Fifteen years pass, and Tina is engaged to wealthy Lanning Halsey. Still unaware Charlotte is her mother, she begins to resent what she considers her interference in her life, and when Delia offers to formally adopt Tina in order to provide her with a reputable name and a prominent position in society, she gladly accepts. Charlotte intends to tell Tina the truth before her wedding but finds herself unable to do so.

Charlotte confronts Delia and reveals she resents the fact both Clem and Tina loved Delia more than they did her. Delia tells Tina that Charlotte sacrificed her own happiness by refusing to marry a man who did not want to raise Tina as his own. Delia urges Tina to kiss Charlotte last when Tina prepares to depart with her new husband. Tina complies, and her gesture leaves Charlotte happy and willing to share the rest of her life with Delia as a friend rather than an adversary.

Cast

Production

In 1935, the Los Angeles Times reported Ernst Lubitsch had purchased the screen rights to the Zoe Akins play and intended to cast Judith Anderson and Helen Menken, the stars of the Broadway production, in a film released by Paramount Pictures, but nothing came of the project. According to The Hollywood Reporter , Warner Bros. bought the rights from Paramount in January 1939. [1]

Humphrey Bogart originally was cast as Clem Spender, but studio head Jack L. Warner felt he looked neither heroic nor romantic and had him fired after two days of filming. Bette Davis urged director Edmund Goulding and producer Hal B. Wallis to replace him with George Brent, who accepted the role despite the fact it was so small. [2]

Bette Davis as Charlotte Lovell Bette Davis in The Old Maid trailer.jpg
Bette Davis as Charlotte Lovell

This was the first film in which Davis had equal screen time with a female co-star. "I was never mad about the part," she recalled in her 1962 autobiography A Lonely Life, [3] and she proposed she play both Charlotte and Delia. [4] Instead, the more colorful role of Delia went to Miriam Hopkins, with whom Davis had worked in Rochester, New York when the two were part of George Cukor's stock company, where Hopkins was the star and Davis the ingenue. [5] Hopkins resented the fact Davis had won the Academy Award for Best Actress for Jezebel , in which she recreated a role Hopkins had originated on Broadway, and she also was convinced Davis had an affair with Anatole Litvak during her marriage to the director, [2] whom she was in the process of divorcing. [4] As a result, she did everything she could to undermine her co-star's performance. "Miriam is a perfectly charming woman socially," Davis remembered. "Working with her is another story . . . Miriam used and, I must give her credit, knew every trick in the book. I became fascinated watching them appear one by one . . . Keeping my temper took its toll. I went home every night and screamed at everybody." [3] Cinematographer Tony Gaudio complained that Hopkins kept altering the makeup designed by Perc Westmore in order to look considerably younger than Davis in the segments in which both were supposed to be aged. [5] Both actresses cited illness for failing to appear on set at various times, and the production fell eleven days behind schedule. [2]

The film's soundtrack includes "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" (anachronistically) by Patrick Gilmore, "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" by William Steffe and Julia Ward Howe, "(I Wish I Was in) Dixie's Land" by Daniel Decatur Emmett, "Oh My Darling, Clementine" by Percy Montrose, and "Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair" by Stephen Foster.

Critical reception

Frank S. Nugent of The New York Times observed,

"It probably is not a good motion picture, in the strict cinematic sense, professing as it does such strict allegiance to its theatrical parent; unquestionably it is as dated as the Victorian morals code which scourges its heroine through eight or nine reels; in the rudest terminology, it is a tear-jerker. But there can be no doubt about its popularity. It should go on and on. For a bad play, it makes a surprisingly good drama; or, if you feel that way about it, for a good play it fits surprisingly well on the screen . . . Scenically, it is a trifle on the static side, which could not be avoided altogether. But dramatically it is vital, engrossing and a little terrifying . . . As the old maid, Miss Davis has given a poignant and wise performance, hard and austere of surface, yet communicating through it the deep tenderness, the hidden anguish of the heart-broken mother. Miss Hopkins's Delia is a less certain characterization, gentler than Miss Akins had contrived her, suggesting but seldom the malignance lurking beneath a charming manner." [6]

The critic for Time thought the film was

"hardly more than the sum total of two good, sometimes brilliant, performances . . . Though the musty setting of The Old Maid is enough to make anyone susceptible to historical hay fever squirm, few will be unimpressed with the skill with which director Edmund Goulding manages his spirited costars. Instead of trying to divide the fat parts between them, he so deals out their histrionic diet that they bank as did Jack Spratt and his wife, cooperatively." [5]

Variety called the film "stagey, sombre and generally confusing fare." [7]

Home media

On April 1, 2008, Warner Home Video released the film as part of the box set The Bette Davis Collection, Volume 3, which also includes All This, and Heaven Too , The Great Lie , In This Our Life , Watch on the Rhine and Deception .

Related Research Articles

<i>Dark Victory</i> 1939 film

Dark Victory is a 1939 American melodrama film directed by Edmund Goulding, starring Bette Davis, and featuring George Brent, Humphrey Bogart, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Ronald Reagan, Henry Travers, and Cora Witherspoon. The screenplay by Casey Robinson was based on the 1934 play of the same title by George Brewer and Bertram Bloch, starring Tallulah Bankhead.

Bette Davis American actress

Ruth Elizabeth "Bette" Davis was an American actress with a career spanning more than 50 years and 100 acting credits. She was noted for playing unsympathetic, sardonic characters, and was famous for her performances in a range of film genres, from contemporary crime melodramas to historical films, suspense horror, and occasional comedies, although her greater successes were in romantic dramas. A recipient of two Academy Awards, she was the first thespian to accrue ten nominations.

Miriam Hopkins American actress

Ellen Miriam Hopkins was an American actress known for her versatility. She first signed with Paramount Pictures in 1930.

<i>Now, Voyager</i> 1942 American drama film directed by Irving Rapper

Now, Voyager is a 1942 American drama film starring Bette Davis, Paul Henreid, and Claude Rains, and directed by Irving Rapper. The screenplay by Casey Robinson is based on the 1941 novel of the same name by Olive Higgins Prouty.

<i>Mr. Skeffington</i>

Mr. Skeffington is a 1944 American drama film directed by Vincent Sherman, based on the novel of the same name by Elizabeth von Arnim.

Spinster Unmarried woman, often older

Spinster is a term referring to an unmarried woman who is older than what is perceived as the prime age range during which women usually marry. It can also indicate that a woman is considered unlikely to ever marry. The term originally denoted a woman whose occupation was to spin. Reasons for a single woman becoming a spinster or spinner (of wool for instance) varied, often being the result of a young child or adolescent who was orphaned being indentured to an adult; who would then have certain legally defined responsibilities toward the child "in sickness and in health" such as feeding and clothing them, providing living quarters, teaching them to read and write, and apprenticing them in a trade such as "the art and calling of being a spinster". A synonymous but more pejorative term is old maid. The closest equivalent term for males is "bachelor" or "confirmed bachelor", but this generally does not carry the same pejorative connotations in reference to age and perceived desirability in marriage.

<i>The Great Lie</i> 1941 film by Edmund Goulding

The Great Lie is a 1941 American drama film directed by Edmund Goulding, and starring Bette Davis, George Brent and Mary Astor. The screenplay by Lenore J. Coffee is based on the novel January Heights by Polan Banks.

<i>Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte</i> 1964 film by Robert Aldrich

Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte is a 1964 American psychological horror film directed and produced by Robert Aldrich. It stars Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland, Joseph Cotten, Agnes Moorehead and Mary Astor in her final film role. It follows a middle-aged Southern woman (Davis), suspected in the unsolved murder of her lover from decades before, who is plagued by bizarre occurrences after summoning her cousin to help challenge the local government's impending demolition of her home. The screenplay was adapted by Henry Farrell and Lukas Heller, from Farrell's unpublished short story "What Ever Happened to Cousin Charlotte?"

Zoe Akins

Zoe Byrd Akins was an American playwright, poet, and author. She won a Pulitzer Prize for drama.

<i>In This Our Life</i> 1942 film by John Huston

In This Our Life is a 1942 American drama film, the second to be directed by John Huston. The screenplay by Howard Koch is based on the 1941 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same title by Ellen Glasgow. The cast included the established stars Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland as sisters and rivals in romance and life. Raoul Walsh also worked as director, taking over when Huston was called away for a war assignment after the United States entered World War II, but he was uncredited. This film was the third of six films that de Havilland and Davis starred in together.

<i>Old Acquaintance</i>

Old Acquaintance is a 1943 American drama film released by Warner Bros. It was directed by Vincent Sherman and produced by Henry Blanke with Jack L. Warner as executive producer. The film was adapted from a screenplay by John Van Druten, Lenore Coffee and Edmund Goulding based on Van Druten's 1940 play of the same title.

<i>The Anniversary</i> (1968 film)

The Anniversary is a 1968 British black comedy film directed by Roy Ward Baker for Hammer Films and Seven Arts and starring Bette Davis. The screenplay, by Jimmy Sangster, was adapted from Bill MacIlwraith's 1966 play.

<i>The Sisters</i> (1938 film) 1938 drama film by Anatole Litvak

The Sisters is a 1938 American drama film produced and directed by Anatole Litvak and starring Errol Flynn and Bette Davis. The screenplay by Milton Krims is based on the 1937 novel of the same title by Myron Brinig.

<i>The Rich Are Always with Us</i> 1932 film

The Rich Are Always with Us is a 1932 American pre-Code romantic comedy-drama film directed by Alfred E. Green and starring Ruth Chatterton, George Brent, and Bette Davis. The screenplay by Austin Parker is based on the novel of the same name by Ethel Pettit.

<i>That Certain Woman</i> 1937 film by Edmund Goulding

That Certain Woman is a 1937 American drama film written and directed by Edmund Goulding and starring Bette Davis, Henry Fonda, and Anita Louise. It is a remake of Goulding's 1929 film The Trespasser, Gloria Swanson's first sound film.

<i>So Big</i> (1932 film) 1932 film

So Big is a 1932 pre-Code American drama film directed by William A. Wellman and starring Barbara Stanwyck. The screenplay by J. Grubb Alexander and Robert Lord is based on the 1924 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name, by Edna Ferber.

<i>The Little Foxes</i> (film) 1941 film by William Wyler

The Little Foxes is a 1941 American drama film directed by William Wyler. The screenplay by Lillian Hellman is based on her 1939 play The Little Foxes. Hellman's ex-husband Arthur Kober, Dorothy Parker and her husband Alan Campbell contributed additional scenes and dialogue.

<i>The Old Maid</i> (play)

The Old Maid is a 1935 play by American playwright Zoë Akins, adapted from Edith Wharton's 1924 novella of the same name. Directed by Guthrie McClintic and starring Judith Anderson and Helen Menken, the play opened January 7, 1935, at the Empire Theatre on Broadway, and ran for 305 performances. The play was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Old New York (1924) is a collection of four novellas by Edith Wharton, revolving around upper-class New York City society in the 1840s, 1850s, 1860s, and 1870s.

Comet over Broadway (1938) is an American film starring Kay Francis and released by Warner Brothers. John Farrow stepped in as director when Busby Berkeley became ill, but Farrow was uncredited on the film.

References

  1. The Old Maid notes at Turner Classic Movies
  2. 1 2 3 Higham, Charles, The Life of Bette Davis. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company 1981. ISBN   0-02-551500-4, pp. 123-125
  3. 1 2 Davis, Bette, A Lonely Life. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons 1962. ISBN   0-425-12350-2, p. 229-230
  4. 1 2 The Old Maid main article at Turner Classic Movies
  5. 1 2 3 Stine, Whitney, and Davis, Bette, Mother Goddam: The Story of the Career of Bette Davis. New York: Hawthorn Books 1974. ISBN   0-8015-5184-6, pp. 118-120
  6. New York Times review
  7. Variety review