In This Our Life (1942)

“I’d rather do anything than keep still!”

Synopsis:
When the spoiled daughter (Bette Davis) of a failing businessman (Frank Craven) steals the husband (Dennis Morgan) of her sister (Olivia de Havilland), de Havilland and Davis’s fiance (George Brent) begin a romance — but Davis can’t seem to keep herself out of trouble. Will her doting uncle (Charles Coburn) come to her rescue?

Genres:

Review:
John Huston’s directorial follow-up to The Maltese Falcon (1941) was this adaptation of Ellen Glasgow‘s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, featuring Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland as quibbling siblings years before their most famous such work together, Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964). As noted in TCM’s article:

In the gallery of Bette Davis’ “bad girl” roles, it would be difficult to pick the baddest. But Stanley Timberlake in In This Our Life (1942) is definitely a contender.

Indeed, David is pretty much entirely unsympathetic here: she does nothing but wreak havoc on those around her, and the best thing that can be said about her is that her selfish and cruel actions allow de Havilland and Brent to find one another. Just when it seems she can’t be any more problematic, her refusal to accept responsibility for a reckless act threatens to ruin the tenuous trajectory of an African-American law student (Ernest Anderson) who represents everything Stanley (Davis) is not. Thankfully, she meets a fitting ending.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Solid direction by Huston

  • A refreshingly humane subplot about an African-American character (Ernest Anderson)

Must See?
No, though it’s worthy viewing for fans of the co-stars.

Links:

One Response to “In This Our Life (1942)”

  1. A once-must (at least, though those who take to it will want a re-visit), as a prime example of a ’40s potboiler (up there as one of the best). Admittedly, ‘ITOL’ is something of a guilty pleasure for me as well – because it could come off to some as ‘a bit much’. It’s not really typical of Huston’s work (and, yet, somehow it’s not all that removed from it either; he would do this kind of pic again years later with ‘Reflections in a Golden Eye’ – and similar elements can be found in certain other films).

    The film production was troubled (see link) – and I’d be curious to check out the original novel (which apparently is significantly different) but I believe, for what it is, it stands on its own merit as unique in the period.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_This_Our_Life

    As per my post in ‘The ’40s-’50s in Film’ (fb) – a post written right after watching three Davis films in a row:

    “It ain’t no use in this world.”

    ‘In This Our Life’ (1942): 3 Bette Davis movies in a row – from around 75 years ago – and all they remind me of is current events! ‘The Old Maid’ highlighted the hierarchy of white privilege; ‘Watch on the Rhine’ brought up fascism; now ‘In This Our Life’ showcases the Republican mentality (if not its politics) and Black Lives Matter! There’s a juicy scene between Davis and Charles Coburn in which CC reveals to her how he (her uncle) managed to ruthlessly swindle her father out of what he had worked so hard for in his business – and Davis loves hearing about it!… but she ends up wanting more for herself than what her uncle offers her… she’s as thoroughly rotten as the greedy Republican mindset but even *that* isn’t enough for her. Davis then goes on to pin a manslaughter charge on a young black character – who is one of the best representations of a young black boy ever to grace the screen in the ’40s! …..John Huston directed the bejesus out of this flick, keeping it hopping as only a potboiler should. Some say Davis is way over the top here – but I don’t think that’s true. After all, she’s playing a brazen spoiled vixen and she knows it. That’s hardly something to be played with a… soft sell.

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