New England artist Kate Bosworth (Bette Davis) returns to her hometown and falls in love with a local engineer, Bill Emerson (Glenn Ford, 3:10 to Yuma). To Kate’s amazement, Bill falls in love with Kate’s twin sister instead. An unexpected twist of fate gives Kate another shot at happiness.
Reaction & Thoughts:
“Lonely people want friends. They have to search very hard for them.”
Most film scholars and movie buffs see movies as a reflection of the director’s sensibilities. Sometimes producers and writers get credit for being the driving force behind a movie. On the other hand, actors are often seen as “hired-help.” This is exactly why A Stolen Life is such a fascinating anomaly — this is the rare movie that is essentially exploring the psyche of its leading actor.
Directed by Curtis Bernhardt (My Reputation and Payment on Demand) from a screenplay by Catherine Turney (No Man of Her Own), A Stolen Life is undoubtedly Bette Davis’s most personal movie. She not only produced it but also worked closely on the screenplay. Davis poured her most inner thoughts into the script so the film reflects the actress’s personal philosophy that drove her life and career.
This introspective work provides a peek into what made Davis tick. I’d argue that the twin sisters constitute two sides of Davis. In my opinion, they represent Davis’s life-long struggle between romantic aspirations and professional ambition. The struggle is, of course, presented from the perspective of a woman, but anyone who has tried to balance love-life with career is bound to get something out of the movie.
A Stolen Life is also one of the best studies of unrequited love that I’ve seen. I’ll put it right up there next to Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948), Splendor in the Grass (1961), Death in Venice (1971) and François Truffaut’s The Story of Adele H. (1975), a handful of well-regarded classics about one-sided love.
Davis’s excellent “performances” hold the film together. The twins are almost identical-looking characters. She differentiates the sisters by using small gestures; it’s all very subtle, very clever. You really believe you are watching two actors (you know exactly which one is which at all times). The then state-of-the-art special effects help create the illusion (the visual effects team received an Oscar nomination).
Glenn Ford is fine as Davis’s love interest. Davis seems, however, to have better chemistry with Dane Clark (The Pride of the Marines), who plays a starving young artist. And in case you still doubt that this was a very personal project, Davis did marry “a starving young artist” after she completed the film. The cast also includes Charles Ruggles (Bringing Up Baby) as the twins’ cousin and Walter Brennan (The Pride of the Yankees) as a plain-spoken lighthouse keeper.
A Stolen Life was beautifully shot in Laguna Beach, California (a stand-in for New England) by Ernie Haller (Jezebel and Dark Victory) and Sol Polito (The Petrified Forest and The Letter). Max Steiner’s (Now, Voyager) music score is great too.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
A Stolen Life was a remake of the now obscure and hard-to-find 1939 British film Stolen Life, with Elisabeth Bergner and Michael Redgrave. Davis took the story and made it her own. It’s an underrated classic movie — A Stolen Life is an engaging and compelling dissection of its mercurial star. B&W, 109 minutes, Not Rated.