The Bette Davis Project: That Certain Woman (1937)

That Certain Woman (1937)


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

Reaction & Thoughts:

This is a remake of Gloria Swanson’s popular 1929 hit The Trespasser, which had introduced Swanson to the sound era. Both movies were written and directed by Edmund Goulding (Grand Hotel and Dark Victory). I haven’t seen the Swanson film, but I didn’t like the Davis version much.

That Certain Woman is filled with characters that do things that only make sense in a daytime soap opera. However, Davis’s charisma scrubs this soapdish clean of sudsy silliness until all that remains is something that isn’t totally worthless. That’s what the lady did best when she was confronted with less than perfect material — through the sheer force of her presence, Davis makes this melodrama watchable.

After the studio’s disastrous attempt to turn Davis into a movie star with Ex-Lady, Warner Bros. tried again with slightly better results. Goulding was instructed to give Davis the “star treatment.”.Although she didn’t care for the script, Davis liked the attention showered on her by Goulding. Cinematographer Ernest Haller’s (Dark Victory) 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 — Jezebel did the trick — but this film (finally) put her on the right path.

Goulding spent so much time working on Davis that he probably just forgot that he had other characters in the movie. Fonda’s and Hunter’s roles are hopelessly boring. Crisp, as the 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:

Essentially, That Certain Woman is a corny, dated melodrama. It’s also the least successful of the four films Davis made with director Goulding. The film is, however, elevated a few notches by Davis’s good work. B&W, 93 minutes, Not Rated.


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