Old Acquaintance (1943)

Old Acquaintance PosterThere’s only one reason anyone would ever seek out this semi-obscure Bette Davis movie (one of only about 19 that she made during the 1940s alone!) and that can be summed up in one semi-questionable word: catfight! What began a few years before in The Old Maid comes to a throat-throttling head as Bette finally has it out with arch foe Miriam Hopkins.

And by the time Bette gets around to choking the life out of her late in the film, you’re inclined to think that she was peeved that Miriam’s hammy and clueless performance was ruining the movie.

Miriam’s inability to tone down her shrill antics isn’t the sole reason that you end up wishing that she and Bette had just set up a boxing ring on the set of The Old Maid and hashed it out over the lunch hour between set up shots four years before this mess, it’s just the most glaring.

There’s also the way the characters are written. For example, Miriam’s character, Mildred Drake, goes from self-absorbed whiner to obnoxious success to shrieking, bug-eyed harridan. Not only was I wondering why I should care what happened to her, I was wondering what Bette Davis’ character, Kit Marlowe, was doing putting up with this for several decades.

Mildred’s long-suffering husband Preston wins over the audience by default just by walking out on her after nine years of her treating him like crap.

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Bette’s Kit is an author, who while not necessarily a commercial success, is a darling of the critics and she comes back to her hometown one day and hooks up with childhood pal Mildred.

During this trip home, Mildred reveals to Kit that she too had written a novel. Whereas Kit writes serious fiction about how cruddy life is, Mildred writes trashy love stories with happy endings and is thus a best selling author in no time.

Mildred’s success never seems to bother Kit, but I’m guessing that’s because Kit knows that Mildred’s husband Preston is not-so-secretly in love with her and as we all know, it’s that being able to steal your best friend’s man is the great equalizer in just about every aspect of life.

Flash forward to 1932 and Preston and Mildred have a daughter named Deidre. Mildred is a rich author while Kit is trying her hand at the theater and everyone is in New York to see her first play open up. We quickly see that while Kit is still fairly well-adjusted (though man-less and therefore maybe not-so-well-adjusted according to Mildred) and likes hanging out with Deirdre and taking her shopping and doing girl stuff like that, Preston and Mildred have hit a bit of a rough patch.

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She’s a money hungry material wench and he’s a drunk. He’s a drunk only so that he can tolerate her odiousness, so it’s not really so much a substance abuse problem as it is another of Mildred’s personality flaws. He’s also open about his feelings for Kit.

Though Kit is too good a friend to give her best friend’s man the five finger discount, that doesn’t stop Preston from running off. Heck, this Mildred is such a disagreeable pill that her husband ran off with himself!

Then, as so often happens in these multi-decade melodramas, WWII muscles onstage for the third act like some high profile character actor. It’s been another nine years and Preston is a major in the army listening to a radio broadcast being given by none other than Kit Marlowe! If this movie went another nine years, this chick would have her own variety show on the Dumont Television Network!

After a quick phone call, a meeting at a local club is arranged. Kit and Preston have a warm reunion and Kit introduces Preston to her new boyfriend. He’s about ten years younger than Kit and his hunk credentials, though not helped by his relatively slight physical build, are bolstered by his soap opera name, Rudd Kendall.

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He’s constantly pressuring the reluctant Kit to marry him, but she begs off because she’s kind of creeped out by their age difference. The creepiest thing though in the entire movie was that since the characters have to age, that meant the use of a little make up and some different hair styles to show the ravages of time on these folks. This resulted in Bette having a big white streak in her otherwise dark hair and gave her the look of an overly-articulate Bride of Frankenstein!

Both Kit and Mildred end up literally at each other’s throats once Preston admits that he’s always loved Kit and that Kit always loved him as well.

While the ending was supposed to be melancholy with Mildred lamenting that she was going to have to change the ending of her latest novel since it was based on both of her and Kit and she would have to write her first unhappy ending, it actually came off as a bit funny: You’re both middle-aged and the men that you’ve given your hearts to have just pink-slipped your respective asses and you’re busy musing about how your latest potboiler is going to be affected? Simply the perfect capstone to a film wildly uneven in pitch (it convulses unappealingly between comedy and drama) and characters either too unbelievable or annoying to care about.

© 2013 MonsterHunter

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