The Bette Davis Project: Housewife (1934)

Housewife (1934)Synopsis:

William Reynolds (George Brent, Front Page Woman) is living the American dream. He has a good job, a dutiful wife (Ann Dvorak, Three on a Match) and a beautiful young child. What could go wrong? Well, when William’s ex-flame Patricia Berkeley (Bette Davis) enters the picture all hell breaks loose. William falls hard for Patricia to the horror of his wife and friends.

Reaction & Thoughts:

Adrian Lyne’s Fatal Attraction, 1930s style. There is no dead rabbit or Friday the 13th-like ending, but Housewife, written by Manuel Seff and Lillie Hayward, and directed by Alfred E. Green, is essentially the same ugly misogynist tale of marital betrayal. The message of the movie is clear: ambitious women are evil, cheating husbands and homemakers are saints.

Personally, I found Davis’s character much more likable than Dvorak’s doormat-like wife, and I instinctively knew that’s not how I was supposed to feel. But the film is pandering to very real mainstream biases. And we can’t blame 1930s audiences for having infantile ideas about gender roles. I still remember how Glenn Close (the star of 1987’s Fatal Attraction) told an interviewer that women are always thanking her for helping them “keep their men in line” — as if people aren’t responsible of their own actions. The world is one strange place.

The film ends with a truly ridiculous courtroom sequence; the passive wife and the philandering husband are praised to high heavens while the ambitious career woman is ridiculed. Have a barf bag handy while looking at the finale, you’ll need it.

Davis acts the hell out of her cardboard character. She hated the film, but did the best she could under the circumstances. Davis, of course, has great chemistry with Brent (he had trouble concentrating because of his impeding divorce to actress Ruth Chatterton, Dodsworth). Poor Dvorak, she’s a fine actor, really, but she’s forced to play a hopeless character.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Housewife left a bad taste in my mouth. I just can’t recommend it. The cast also includes John Halliday (The Philadelphia Story), who plays a slimy Don Juan. B&W 65 minutes, Not Rated.

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