Kit Marlowe (Bette Davis) is a critically acclaimed author of books that don’t sell well. Kit’s best friend Millie Drake (Miriam Hopkins, Trouble in Paradise) has exactly the opposite problem: Millie’s best-selling books are ridiculed by critics. The writers’ friendship is constantly put to the test over a period of almost two decades.
Reaction & Thoughts:
“Cheer up, there’s always what’s left of the ice.”
Old Acquaintance reunited the stars of The Old Maid (1939) for another acting match, and just like in the first movie, there is something irresistible about seeing these two actors interact together — Bette Davis and Miriam Hopkins are technically and stylistically different, yet they have insanely good on-screen chemistry.
Directed by Vincent Sherman (Mr. Skeffignton and The Adventures of Don Juan) from a screenplay by John Van Druten and Lenore J. Coffee (The Great Lie), based on Druten’s 1941 Broadway play of the same name, Old Acquaintance is a story of love, guilt, remorse, unfulfilled dreams, and, of course, friendship.
What I liked most about the movie is that the narrative was built around the complex relationship between two friends. Thanks to sharp writing and good characterizations, you understand why these two women remain friends for such a long time. Being a man, I also liked the idea of seeing success and failure through women’s eyes, bringing attention to issues that don’t normally affect me.
Although Davis and Hopkins disliked each other in real life, Old Acquaintance is full of warmth and humor. You don’t doubt for a second that they are life-long friends, and that’s great acting in itself. As I said before, the ladies have different acting styles that complement each other and that makes the whole thing compelling to watch.
The apparent problems behind-the-scenes — Hopkins, in particular, allegedly worked very, very hard to upstage her co-star — seemed to have helped the movie. You can feel the tense atmosphere, which is something that works for the movie, not against the movie. The two temperamental actresses have a series of confrontations that are nothing short of amazing and very entertaining. Old Acquaintance ends on a surprisingly happy note, but the joyful finale is believable.
Davis is very good. She would later say that Kit was very much like herself. Davis also inadvertently created a fashion fad: in one scene, she wears nothing but men’s pajama tops. The fashion statement was quickly emulated by many women.
Hopkins gives a brilliant performance. She brings a gorgeous self-absurdness to the part of the novelist of trashy books. Interestingly, this is Hopkins’s very last starring role; she went to Broadway and returned to the big screen in supporting roles. The cast also includes John Loder (How Green Was My Valley), Gig Young (They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?), Dolores Moran (Silver Lode) and Anne Revere (National Velvet).
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
Bette Davis’s Kit says, “There comes a time in every woman’s life when the only thing that helps is a glass of champagne.” And sometimes the only thing that helps fight the doldrums is a good, intelligent, fun movie like this one. Remade in 1981, starring Jacqueline Bisset and Candice Bergen. B&W, 110 minutes, Not Rated.