That Certain Woman (1937)

That Certain Woman (1937)


Ex-Gunmoll Mary Donnell (Bette Davis) is now living a quiet life as a secretary to a wealthy attorney (Ian Hunter, The Adventures of Robin Hood). Mary falls in love with one of her boss’s clients, Jack Merrick (Henry Fonda, The Grapes of Wrath), but the man’s powerful father (Donald Crisp, Juarez) tries to destroy the relationship.

Reaction & Thoughts:

“Money! I’ve got loads of it, and I’m one of the unhappiest men in the world!”

That Certain Woman is a remake of Gloria Swanson’s popular 1929 melodrama, The Trespasser, the movie that introduced Swanson to the sound era. Both films were written and directed by Edmund Goulding (Grand Hotel and The Razor’s Edge). I haven’t seen the Swanson film, but I didn’t like the Davis version much — it’s a dated melodrama with very few redeeming qualities.

That Certain Woman doesn’t make much sense. The film resembles a daytime TV soap opera. But Davis’s charisma scrubs this soapdish clean of sudsy silliness until all that remains is something that isn’t totally worthless. Through the sheer force of her presence, Davis makes this melodrama watchable.

Warner Bros. instructed director Goulding to give Davis the “star treatment.” Cinematographer Ernest Haller’s (Dark Victory and All This, and Heaven Too) careful lighting and Orry-Kelly’s (Mr. Skeffington) gowns make Davis look both beautiful and glamorous. She had to wait a little longer to become a bona fide superstar, but this film (finally) put her on the right path.

Director Goulding spent so much time working on creating a star vehicle for Davis that he probably just forgot that he had other characters in the movie: It’s sad to see good actors like Henry Fonda and Ian Hunter play such poorly written characters.

Donald Crisp, as Fonda’s bigoted father, plays the only character that resembles a real human being. The rest of the cast is okay: Anita Louise (The Story of Louis Pasteur) is lovely as a socialite and Sidney “Charlie Chan” Toler plays a detective. With Katharine Alexander (Dance, Girl, Dance) and Hugh O’Connell (My Favorite Wife).

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Despite a great cast and good production values, That Certain Woman is definitely one of Bette Davis’s lesser movies. It was also the least successful of the four films Davis made with director Goulding. That Certain Woman is, however, elevated a few notches by Davis’s considerable talents. B&W, 93 minutes, Not Rated.

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