The Great Lie recycles the same plot as an earlier Bette Davis movie, The Old Maid, only this time Davis is the one raising the kid that isn’t hers and lying to everyone about it. The Great Lie‘s great sin though isn’t reusing a story full of silly sacrifice and artificial drama, but that it is so damn gimpy in doing so!
The object of everyone’s affection is Pete Van Allen, who is played by another vet from The Old Maid, George Brent. Pete is an aviator as well as being a bit of a souse. We know all this because he got married when he was blitzed and then went on a week long bender with his new bride, the very nasty Sandra. Yes, this is one of those situations where the guy marries the mean skank, even though there is a good-hearted woman (Maggie) down in Maryland wallowing in self- pity over being dumped by Pete.
The Great Lie even goes so far as to give Mary Astor one of those very butch “I’m a coach for a women’s college basketball team” haircuts to get the point across that we aren’t supposed to like her. Well, that and the fact that she’s so career-minded that she’s willing to sell her kid so that it doesn’t interfere with her piano concerts.
Never trust a woman who has aspirations beyond motherhood. That’s one of the life lessons I’ve picked up from old movies. The other one is to never to date Bette Davis and another women at about the same time.
After a week long bender with his new wife, Pete is told by his lawyer that there was a little foul up and that his new wife’s divorce from her last husband isn’t really final until next Tuesday and that his marriage is bogus and they’ll need to be remarried next week at the earliest.
Pete then goes down to Maryland to see Maggie. She’s upset by Pete’s marriage, but she still loves him and tells him that he needs to sober up and that he should take some vague job in Washington flying planes for the government.
After Sandra rebuffs his plans to remarry her, he goes back to Maggie and they get married! Then he goes to work flying secret missions over the Brazilian jungle which gives him a good place to crash and get lost for about a year.
While Pete is MIA in the jungle, Maggie discovers that Sandra is pregnant with Pete’s baby, presumably from that week of drinking and humping when they were almost married.
Sandra says that she was going to use the kid to steal Pete back, but with Pete becoming headhunter chow, that plan is shot to hell. You can practically see the 25 watt light bulb dimly glow over Maggie’s head as she proposes that Sandra sell her the kid.
Of course Sandra agrees to this dimwitted plan and the next thing we know, Maggie and Sandra are hunkered down out west where they can have the baby without anyone knowing whose it is.
There’s some unintentionally amusing moments out west when Bette is monitoring Sandra’s bad habits and telling her that while its okay to have an ounce of brandy a day while pregnant and to try and not smoke an entire pack of cigarettes before lunch, that she can’t eat pickles or onions. Pete, it sounds like your kid is in good hands!
Once Sandra has the kid, Maggie raises it as her own. (She wants the kid so that she’ll have something of Pete’s. Can’t she just roll around in his clothes or something?)
Then Pete gets rescued from the jungle, comes home and settles in to help raise their child. Sandra shows up and makes lots of snarky comments about Maggie and her kid and then threatens to tattle to Pete on her about the kid and that then Pete will take her back and ditch the lying Maggie. Because, you know, guys are attracted to dames who sell their kids to someone without a second thought.
Maggie just goes ahead and tells him toward the end of the movie (why didn’t she just tell him when he got back?) and we see Pete sitting there rehashing everything that had just gone on. (So that’s why you made all those snarky comments? And so that’s why Maggie was upset when you showed up? And that’s why I’m in a remake of a movie I was in a couple of years ago?)
The movie doesn’t even make a pretense of having a dramatic ending. Maggie just tells Pete and whimpers. Pete tells Sandra to take the kid and leave, and then he comforts Maggie.
Sandra still doesn’t want the kid, so she leaves and Pete, Maggie, and Pete, Jr. live happily ever after, while the audience is fearful that there may still be another Bette Davis movie lurking around out there with yet another version of this plot.
A very unaffecting and emotionally remote affair, summed up perfectly when Pete is pretty much indifferent to the fact that Sandra is threatening to take the kid. Maggie keeps up the lie for no reason, Sandra must be at least mildly retarded to think that by taking back a kid she doesn’t want she is going to get Pete back, and Pete must be rethinking his newly reduced intake of alcohol.
This is a movie that takes an already dopey premise and is somehow unable to even muster up the fake emotionalism that at least The Old Maid was capable of. A bizarrely-bland twist on an already bizarre concept.
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