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The Great Lie (1941)

The Great Lie. Feature film. (1941, 108 mins) IMDB

...Do you really want to know what the great lie is?...


'm not a big fan of Bette Davis and this film didn't do anything to change my opinion. Given the title the obvious question for a viewer is what is this great lie? Well, it's not a great lie from today's point of view, but I suppose in the forties it was a big deal.

Davis plays Maggie who is a wealthy heiress living on a large farm in Maryland. She's in love with pilot Peter Van Allen except she's rebuffed his marriage proposals in the past. When the movie starts, Van Allen has married a well-known concert pianist, Sandra Kovak. Kovak is a prima dona. Someone who lives for the moment with parties and drinks and bitches all the time. They got married on a whim and before you know it, there's turmoil. It turns out her divorce wasn't finalized in time and their marriage isn't valid. This gives Maggie a way back into Van Allen's life and she takes it. They get married, but before you know it, he's part of some government flying program that takes him to South America and he's lost and presumed dead in the Amazon. Without this step in the story, the great lie can't happen.

Maggie is now a widow. Sandra is pregnant with his child but legally not married to him etc. A plan is sprouted. The two will go away, have the child and return with Maggie saying it's her child with Van Allen. Sandra agrees and goes back to playing the piano and drinking cocktails. Maggie raises the children and surprise of surprise, Van Allen survived his ordeal and returns home. Now the great lie is in place until Sandra comes to visit and turns the happy family life upside down.

From today's point of view, this story line wouldn't even make it into a movie-of-the-week. So much has changed in 65 years.

To get to the point where Sandra threatens to reveal the truth and wants the baby back, you have to understand what happened before and they show us what happened before--that was act I & II, but in doing so, the narrative is jumpy and disjointed. The story doesn't flow. I think they tried to take a small idea and stretch it into a full length feature and it just doesn't work. This film is terribly flawed.

Being made in 1941 means maids and servants. Black folk who talk like they is illiterate. Yessum. It gets a bit much and I'm glad it's gone.

I'm sure others will say they loved this film, to which I say this is not a film I need or want to watch again.

Posted 2009/01/27 at 18h45ET in Movie Commentary.


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