Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. USA, 1942. Warner Bros.. Screenplay by Casey Robinson, based on the novel by Olive Higgins Prouty. Cinematography by Sol Polito. Produced by Hal B. Wallis. Music by Max Steiner. Production Design by Robert M. Haas. Costume Design by Orry-Kelly. Film Editing by Warren Low. Academy Awards 1942.
One of Bette Davis‘ greatest Warner Bros. melodramas is this powerful drama about a woman’s emergence into her own self. She plays an ugly duckling spinster who, thanks to a European tour and advice from her psychiatrist (Claude Rains) and new beau (Paul Henreid), comes home looking like a duchess with a dollop of self-confidence to match. Now she’s ready to break her ties from her overprotective mother (a terrifying Gladys Cooper) and voyage into life without fear. Every inch of it impresses, from Davis’s surprising ability to play the shrinking violet effectively (she really does seem to be afflicted with frail nerves) to the international locations of the cruise sequences. It’s a film about people learning to appreciate the moment, and to find the sheer pleasure in being themselves despite the negative weight being pushed on them by others. Even when its soap-operatic plot fails to cross the decades (including the outcome of a muted romance that would never play the same way today), it’s themes of self-possession and accomplishment is universal. The film is most famous for a cigarette-lighting scene that started a major trend among Americans during the forties (my dad still talks about it).