When I saw the clip below from THE GREAT LIE (1941), I had to see the entire movie right away.
Why is Davis SO hell bent on monitoring Astor’s intake of booze and sandwiches?
After all, Sandra, Astor’s character, is HUNGRY. “I’m not one of you anemic creatures who can get nourishment from a lettuce leaf — I’m a musician, I’m an artist! I have zest and appetite — and I LIKE FOOD,” Sandra rails. “I’ve been lying awake in there thinking about FOOD!”
With an almost nonchalant grace, Davis’s Maggie pulls off one of the most striking double slaps in cinema history.
What fun these actresses must have had creating this scene. I can imagine them on set, sharing a satisfying cigarette after filming, as if they just had sex. (Together, Davis and Astor rewrote much of the original script, and Astor won the 1942 Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her performance.)
All in all, THE GREAT LIE is a treat, full of goofy plot twists and turns. Watching Davis play the “good girl” counterpoint to Astor’s paryting diva is worth the entire 108 minutes. The drag on the whole movie is George Brent’s dud character and wooden performance. The character of Pete, played by Brent, doesn’t deserve one iota of either women’s attention. Every time he appears on screen, he does something worthy of a big sigh and a dose of disdain, like demanding that Sandra cancel her piano concert to marry him — even though they could probably go to City Hall after her concert, right?
In a nutshell (spoiler alert), both of the gals love Pete. He’s dumped Maggie to marry Sandra, then finds out that their marriage isn’t legal (due to Sandra’s delayed divorce). He has regrets, sees a way out, reconnects with Maggie, and goes off to the jungle. When the women think that he’s died in a plane crash — and Sandra realizes she’s pregnant and on her way to ruining her career as a concert pianist — the women conspire: Sandra will have the baby and give it to Maggie who will raise it as her own.
Hence, THE GREAT LIE.
But there is a GREATER, BIGGER, JAW-DROPPING LIE in this film. It’s a simple statement spoken by the doctor who is tending to Sandra as she goes through labor. While Sandra writhes and moans, Maggie waits outside, pacing, looking much like the traditional expectant father. On a break, the doctor says to Maggie: “A woman without a baby is like a man without a right arm.”
WHAT??? That’s SO not true, Doc! And could you come up with a worse metaphor?
Not only does the doctor imply that a man without an arm is worthless and devoid of all prospects (pity his poor patient in that sticky situation), but in his position of authority, the doc also gives voice to a big ball of hooey.
Certainly, being a mother may be one of the most fulfilling roles of a woman’s life.
But is a woman without a baby crippled? dysfunctional? broken? useless?
Of course not.
And that’s the BIG, BIG LIE in THE GREAT LIE.
To be sure, cultural messages upholding and reaffirming the positive role of motherhood resonate in film. On the opposite side of the spectrum, we all know about the cold-hearted and childless spinsters and stepmothers who appear in everything from traditional fairy tales to contemporary cinema. But I’ve not often caught such a specific line in a movie that so directly carries the message of “Procreate or Fail.”
Can you cite any other specific lines like that in movies? I want to make a list of them. Bad metaphors, big lies, and all.
Gloria Bowman is a writer, storyteller, blogger, movie lover, freelance editor,
and author of the novel, Human Slices.
Access her blog at www.gloriabowman.com; on Twitter @GloriaBow.