Review: The Great Lie (1941)

The Great Lie

Rating

Director
Edmund Goulding
Screenplay
Lenore J. Coffee (Novel: Polan Banks)
Length
108 min.
Starring
Bette Davis, George Brent, Mary Astor, Lucile Watson, Hattie McDaniel, Grant Mitchell, Jerome Cowan, Charles Trowbridge, Thurston Hall, Russell Hicks, Virginia Brissac, J. Farrell MacDonald, Addison Richards, Sam McDaniel
MPAA Rating
Approved

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Review
Bette Davis takes on one of her few non-bitchy roles as a caring southern woman whose love has married a self-centered concert pianist and left her behind. Yet, the man, played by George Brent, still loves her and when he discovers that his marriage to Sandra Kovak (Mary Astor) has been nullified by a technicality. But after Sandra decides to do anything to get him back, including claiming she’s pregnant, matters get worse between her and Davis. And when Brent is lost over the Amazon, flying for the U.S. government, the two must put aside their differences to prepare for a birth.

Davis playing a kind-hearted person was certainly a stretch, but she does so with a touch of sassiness that carried a bit of her familiar traits. However, relinquishing the most tantalizing part to another permitted Astor to shine against Davis and show her up in the film. Although Davis would give many greater performances later in her career, the moment was most certainly Astor’s.

But aside from Astor, much of the film has a certain blandness. Epitomized in the performance of George Brent, whose performance is wooden and feels utterly immaterial, despite being a key element of the plot. The film never really takes off, fails to connect in a meaningful way and drifts aimlessly for large chunks, becoming cognizant of its power in small chunks, largely when Davis and Astor are on the screen together. In the end, The Great Lie is not really all that great and isn’t terribly dishonest.
Review Written
August 30, 2010

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