In This Our Life: A Forward Thinking Film For 1942

In This Our Life: Starring Bette Davis

In This Our Life: I sought out this movie thanks to an essay by Stanley Crouch, which focuses on the unusually progressive racial politics of the film, and offers it as a counterpoint to Gone With the Wind, which Crouch apparently hates. I admit that I still haven’t seen Gone With the Wind, but I think Crouch is probably overreaching here, and the plot points he focuses on don’t even come up until two-thirds of the way through In This Our Life. Still, he’s right that it has a surprisingly forward-thinking take on racism for a movie from the 1940s, and that along with some excellent acting from Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland raises it above your typical overheated melodrama.

Davis plays a spoiled Southern girl named Stanley, who is, essentially, the world’s worst person. Over the course of the movie, she steals her sister’s husband and then drives him to suicide; uses her wealthy uncle’s obvious sexual attraction to her to milk him for money; drives drunk and kills a little girl with her car, then flees the scene and blames the crime on her family’s innocent African-American servant; tries (and fails) to seduce her sister’s next boyfriend; and listens to music far too loudly. Davis is, of course, excellent at playing this sort of amoral manipulator, and she does a great job of making Stanley’s charisma and sex appeal obvious even as she does increasingly unforgivable things. The scenes between Bette Davis (article) and Charles Coburn as her pervy uncle are squirm-inducing and make their sexual subtext clear without breaking any content restrictions of the time period.

In This Our Life Starring Olivia de Havilland

In This Our Life Starring Bette Davis & Olivia de Havilland

This was only John Huston’ s second film as a director, after The Maltese Falcon (article), but he displays an impressive level of control over the material, striking the perfect balance between Davis’ magnetic harridan and de Havilland as her saintly sister, who eventually has to listen to her conscience and plot her own sister’s downfall. Although de Havilland’s Roy is nearly flawless compared to Davis’ Stanley, the actress imbues her with a real sense of vulnerability, and there’s a distinct horror as we see Stanley’s next brazen act coming straight for poor, innocent Roy. We manage to feel both for the selfish murderess and the downtrodden doormat, all the way until the inevitable doomed end.

Josh Bell is the film editor of Las Vegas Weekly, and has written about film and TV for About.com, FilmCritic.com and other publications. He blogs about movies, TV and comic books at Signal Bleed.

What’s your favorite Bette Davis film? Sound off in the comments!

  • tony payne

    In my view Bette Davis was the greatest female movie star of all time. I am fortunate to have a collection of her most memorable films and it is very difficult to select one that stands out best. However, if I’m pushed then it would be Now Voyager with Paul Henreid about Charlotte, the dowdy spinster who embarks on a doomed love affair. The last scene in which Jerry (Paul Henreid) lights up two cigarettes and Charlotte says “Oh Jerry, don’t lets ask for the moon.We have the stars!” is indelible. It has a marvellous cast and a haunting love theme from Max Steiner. Maybe Dark Victory as a close second?

  • bogart10

    DAVIS IS ALWAYS “DAVIS”…AND IN THIS FILM WE FIND IT REAL EASY TO DISLIKE HER….AGAIN…..REMINDS ME OF MY EX WIFE…..THE GREAT UNDERPLAYER IN THIS FILM IS DE HAVILLAND….LIKE JOAN CRAWFORD IN “WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE” OR HERSELF LATER IN “HUSH, HUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE”, AFTER DAVIS CHEWS UP ALL THE SCENERY, THESE LADIES ALMOST WALK AWAY WITH THE FILM….BUT OF COURSE NOBODY BEATS DAVIS IN THE END.

  • JUanita Curtis

    Haven’t seen this film in a long time – it doesn’t seem to be shown on TV like some of her better known films. Is it available on DVD would love to see it again?
    I agree with Tony – Now Voyager is probably Bette at her best and in her most sympathetic role

  • Brian Greene

    An exciting picture this was (is)! :)

  • hyedenny

    “…her wealthy uncle’s obvious sexual attraction to her…” This author clearly has issues and is projecting his own sick ideas into this plot. Also, the fact that Stanley tries to blame the accident on the “African-American” (nee black) servant has very little to do with race or racism, and a lot to do with Stanley’s weak moral character.

    The author needs to keep his political delusions and sexual insecurities to himself and concentrate more on the performance. This is a POOR plot summary of a great movie!