Is Bette Better When She's Bad?
John Huston Toughens Up In This Our Life (1942)
Capitalism gets a black eye as repped by ruthless grabber Coburn, while George Brent stands in for filmland fantasy that our best lawyers prefer assisting needy to having clients that pay (no such animal). There's racial grievance aired in closer-to-bone terms than was customary before such became fashionable after the war. I finally had to check writer credits to see how so much politics got in, and sure enough, Howard Koch, who'd have blacklist trouble later, and who knows, maybe the source novel by Ellen Glasgow was as social-minded (anyone read it?). In This Our Life was a 40's message carrier way ahead of Doug Sirk and his similarly freighted melodramas to come in a following decade. Huston undoubtedly took pen to some of scripting, as was his wont. Result is vinegar beyond even hothouse
Associate producer David Lewis (see his book, The Creative Producer, edited by James Curtis) illuminates Life's backstage. He recalled John Huston's indifference to both the project and novel from which no workable screenplay could derive. Star temperaments were rife, De Havilland wanting to play the "bad" sister, Davis unwilling to be anything but that. Trouble was, BD had eight years on ODeH and looked it, so how to credibly steal away the latter's screen husband (Dennis Morgan)? It's a problem even more acute to modern viewing. Not helping was Kewpie lips painted on
Lewis said Huston would go through paces and deliver up routine product as ordered by employers, figuring to focus on isolated properties he knew had merit (like The Maltese Falcon or Treasure Of The Sierra Madre). The producer attributed Huston's attitude to a "restless nature," that the director "did his best (or worst) to put action and drama" into In This Our Life. However low he regarded the piece, Huston did light a fire under the
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Decorous to Delirious