The Bette Davis Project: The Sisters (1938)

The Sisters (1938)


The film is about the trials and tribulations of three Montana sisters — Louise (Bette Davis), Helen (Anita Louise, Anthony Adverse) and Grace (Jane Bryan, Kid Galahad) — at the turn of the 20th Century. Louise faces the most trouble — she falls in love with ne’er-do-well sportswriter, Frank Medlin (Errol Flynn, The Adventures of Robin Hood), and almost immediately her life goes topsy-turvy.

Reaction & Thoughts:

The Sisters is a predictable, but fun period piece with fantastic production values — great sets by Carl Jules Weyl and beautiful costumes by Orry-Kelly (Les Girls and Some Like it Hot) — and fine performances.

Directed by Anatole Litvak (All This, and Heaven Too and Anastasia) from a screenplay by Milton Krims based on the novel by Myron Brinig, The Sisters has a daytime soap opera vibe, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. For me, at least, what really matters is whether or not a story is told in an effective manner, and in that regard, the film is a success. The plotline moves swiftly enough that you won’t mind spending ninety minutes with these characters.

The best part of the film is the recreation of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Granted, it is nowhere near as spectacular as in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s San Francisco (1936). What makes the scene stands out is the fact that director Litvak allegedly didn’t tell the actors that the tremor was coming so what you see on the screen is genuine fear. And you can tell that no doubles were used in the sequence — now, that’s something you don’t see everyday!

Davis gives a fine performance as the self-sacrificing Louise. The role calls for Davis to be tender and feminine and she effectively conveys those qualities. Flynn gives an uncharacteristically subdued and nuanced performance. Flynn and Davis have different styles yet they look good together.

The top-notch supporting cast includes Donald Crisp (Jezebel), Beulah Bondi (It’s A Wonderful Life), Harry Davenport (All This, and Heaven Too), Alan Hale (Captain Blood), Laura Hope Crews (Gone with the Wind), Lee Patrick (The Maltese Falcon), Patric Knowles (The Wolf Man), and Mayo Methot (Marked Woman). Susan Hayward (Tulsa) supposedly has a bit as a telephone operator (I didn’t see her though).

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Overall, The Sisters is a glossy, entertaining melodrama — it’s a fun film. B&W, 90 minutes, Not Rated.


2 responses to “The Bette Davis Project: The Sisters (1938)

  1. That’s a good point how the plot line moves swiftly, so it never gets draggy to watch. Another half hour might have been too much. But I really enjoyed it and was surprised at how good Davis and Flynn’s chemistry was together.

    That’s very interesting that the actors did not realize when the tremors were coming. I’ll have to look for that next time.

    Liked by 1 person

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