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:

“… sometimes a man goes from wanting too much, to wanting nothing.”

Warners’ 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.

Meticulously directed by Anatole Litvak (All This, and Heaven Too) from a screenplay by Milton Krims based on the novel by Myron Brinig (Confessions of a Nazi Spy), The Sisters has a bit melodramatic, 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 narrative 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, the sequence is nowhere near as spectacular as the scenes of destruction in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s San Francisco (1936). What makes the scene stand 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!

Bette Davis gives a fine performance as the self-sacrificing, goody-two-shoes Louise. The role calls for Davis to be tender and feminine and she effectively conveys those qualities. Errol Flynn gives an uncharacteristically subdued and nuanced performance. He is very, very good as a flaky newsman who turns to alcohol to try to cope with stress. Flynn and Davis have different styles yet they look good together.

The top-notch supporting cast includes Donald Crisp (How Green was My Valley), Beulah Bondi (It’s A Wonderful Life), Harry Davenport (All This, and Heaven Too), Alan Hale (The Adventures of Robin Hood), Laura Hope Crews (Gone with the Wind), Lee Patrick (The Maltese Falcon), Patric Knowles (The Wolf Man) and Mayo Methot (Marked Woman). Susan Hayward (I’ll Cry Tomorrow and I Want to Live!) supposedly has a bit as a telephone operator but I didn’t see her though.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Overall, The Sisters is a glossy, affecting, entertaining melodrama — it’s a fun film. The movie was a great change of pace for Bette Davis. The film also gave Errol Flynn a chance to flex his acting muscles — he is surprisingly good in a role in which viewers didn’t expect him to pull off. B&W, 90 minutes, Not Rated.

2 responses to “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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