Housewife (1934)

Housewife (1934)


A well-respected office manager, William Reynolds (George Brent, Front Page Woman), has a good job, a dutiful wife (Ann Dvorak, Three on a Match) and a beautiful young child. All hell breaks loose after William’s ex-girlfriend, Patricia Berkeley (Bette Davis), suddenly re-enters his life. William and Patricia soon begin a torrid love affair, which threatens to destroy his marriage.

Reaction & Thoughts:

“I’ve done alright. I suddenly found out I had some brains and decided to use them.”

Adrian Lyne’s Fatal Attraction (1987), 1930s style. There is no dead rabbit, but Housewife, written by Robert Lord (One Way Passage) and Lillie Hayward (Disney’s 1959 The Shaggy Dog), and directed by Alfred E. Green (The Jolson Story), is essentially the same ugly tale of marital betrayal.

Sadly, Housewife is pandering to very real mainstream biases. The message of the movie is clear: Career-minded women are evil, cheating husbands and homemakers are saints. As I previously suggested, Lyne’s highly popular 1980s thriller repeated the same infantile ideas about gender roles fifty years later.

Personally, I found the overly-ambitious mistress much more likable than the supportive wife, and I instinctively knew that’s not how I was supposed to feel. Housewife ends with a truly ridiculous courtroom sequence: The passive wife and philandering husband are praised to high heaven while the ambitious career woman is humilated and ridiculed — have a barf bag handy while watching the finale, you’ll need it.

Bette Davis acts the hell out of her cardboard character. Davis apparently hated the script but did the best she could under the circumstances. Notwithstanding the bad script, Davis manages to give a convincing performance.

Davis has, of course, great chemistry with George Brent, who plays a truly unlikable guy — he’s to blame for the chaos, not the mistress. Ann Dvorak is a fine, fine actor, really, but she is forced to play a hopelessly boring character. The cast also includes Ruth Donnelly (Mr. Deeds Goes to Town), Robert Barrat (Captain Blood), Hobart Cavanaugh (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) and John Halliday (The Philadelphia Story).

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Housewife left a bad taste in my mouth — the film dumbs down situations instead of judiciously exploring important problems. The actors are fine but the script is no good. It’s very short so it isn’t a huge waste of time. B&W 65 minutes, Not Rated.

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