Old Acquaintance, 1943, Warner Bros. Starring Bette Davis, Miriam Hopkins. Directed by Vincent Sherman. B&W, 110 minutes.
Kit Marlowe (Bette Davis), a critically successful author, has returned to her hometown to see her closest childhood friend, Millie Drake (Miriam Hopkins). Millie has big news: she and her husband Preston (John Loder) are expecting.
It’s during that visit that Millie shows Kit her own manuscript and asks if she will take it to her publisher. Kit willingly does so, and Millie’s career of writing popular fiction begins.
Eight years and eight of Millie’s books later, the two are both in New York for the opening of Kit’s play. However, Millie and Preston don’t make it to the theatre, as he has packed his bags and walked out on his marriage.
That night he confesses to Kit he has long been in love with her, feelings Kit admits she reciprocates, yet refuses to act on. The stage is set for conflict and confrontation in the years ahead, by which time Millie’s daughter is grown and ready for romance of her own.
Old Acquaintance is melodramatic fare done well. Davis plays the sensible, even-keeled Kit with her usual flair (although it could be argued she was at her best playing less likeable characters). For her part, Hopkins unequivocally took on the part of Millie, a self-centered woman whose intellect is clearly inferior to her friend’s.
In real life, the friction between the two woman was sharp, as Davis was alleged to have had an affair with Hopkins’ now ex-husband, Anatole Litvak. Hopkins was notoriously temperamental, and Davis was no mild-mannered pushover. The two had starred together in an earlier tearjerker, The Old Maid. While both were said to have been reluctant to share the screen again, each agreed the other was the right actress for their respective roles in Old Acquaintance.
Edmund Goulding was set to direct the play and had completed the pre-production work, such as set and costume design, when he had a heart attack and was forced to bow out. The job then went to Vincent Sherman, who later recalled the movie “wasn’t what I was used to doing, but it was a good film.” Sherman and Hopkins got along well right from the start, but it took a little more convincing for Davis to accept him.
Old Acquaintance received no Academy Award nominations, and it really wasn’t Oscar fare. It did, however, do very well in the box office. It was a time when so-called “women’s films” were highly popular, and the soap opera aspect of the story played well for audiences.
Based on the popular play by John Van Druten, who wrote the screenplay with Goulding and Lenore Coffee, it is easy to see how well this story would be told on stage. It is a tale perhaps meant more for Broadway than Hollywood, but it makes a decent film.