Average review score based on 3 user reviews
It's hard to say what is the of best of Bette Davis' films. This one is so melancholy, though Davis herself was anything but depressing. Davis' leading lady character is Charlotte--a Southern Belle aristocrat for the Confederates during the Civil War. Davis had to really act this part because she's a Northeasterner who clearly would have been an abolitionist for the Unions!
Charlotte has a rivalrous, dominating older sister, Delia (Miriam Hopkins), with whom she repeatedly butts heads over significant life changing events. Delia always prevails over Charlotte. Delia prefers to marry an aristocrat even though both she & Charlotte love a rouge man (George Brent). Though the film only gives implied hint to it, apparently after Delia dumps him Charlotte & he have a sexual relationship before he goes to war & dies. (A consistent theme throughout the film is being self-sacrificial. Doubtlessly, Wharton intended for it to be because that is how that generation behaved & expected each others to).
Abruptly, the scene cuts to Charlotte's boarding home for war orphans. (If you blink during this film you'll miss this sharp scene switches). However, one of the children is no orphan at all. She's Charlotte's secret daughter (Jane Bryan) whose father died fighting for the Confederates. (Southern supremacism in the form of classism becomes the next apparent theme as Charlotte's child is mistreated as if being an orphan [when she's actually not] is a lower caste & status).
Delia's rich husband dies leaving her with a plantation & two young children to raise. Domineering Delia convinces her melancholy younger sister to pretend her own little girl is truly a war orphan & give her to Delia to raise "properly," so that the girl can have aristocratic status by proxy! Charlotte never marries & always remains Aunt Charlotte to all 3 children that call Delia their mother.
It's a torturously depressing movie to experience while witnessing Charlotte clearly resent Delia & become embittered, staunch & old. (Davis never did that! Thank goodness). Always Aunt Charlotte becomes a classic stereotypical cold, callused spinster while Delia thrives upon mothering all 3 children. (Wharton conveys that a woman's happiness, femininity, beauty & mental health depended upon breeding & raising children in the private home sphere. So sexism is another of her key themes strung loosely throughout the show. Men could be unmarried & sexual, put on a white shirt, walk down the street & maintain their same status. A woman AND "her" child (mind you, not "his" bastard or illegitimate child) could not, as seen through Charlotte. The sexism is revealed through that sexuality, reproduction & status double-standard). Because of the tensions between the matriarchal sisters, Charlotte's own daughter grows up hating & mistreating "Aunt Charlotte" even more than Delia.
"The Old Maid" was directed by Edmund Goulding & released in 1939. I'm still obliged to rate it as excellent, even though I don't particularly like the film. In fact, I find myself despising the supremacism depicted by Wharton oh so poignantly. Because of the Southern supremacism, the show triggers my political dander way up. I want to scream at the power imbalances that make it seem as if simply being wealthy is cause to believe a person is higher statused! Sexism is also quite clear in the title because women are only happy when they are maternal & married. The end scene has a slight moment of relief~
Bette Davis, George Brent, Miriam Hopkins and Jane Bryan were all my favorite actors and their performances were excellent as usual for which reason I gave this movie a good rating. The story about selfishness and jealousy shows how far one will go without an application of conscience and the sad consequences that developed. The first time I saw this movie several years ago it had an entirely different ending showing Bette Davis being completely shut out of her daughters'life. The ending shown on this version was a happier one but not necessarily true to life. This is the fourth classic movie I've acquired in which the ending has been changed - a disappointing process.
Excellent movie with very talented stars. It is a joy to watch for all ages. All of Bette Davis movies seem to hold the attention of all.