August 01, 2015

#SUTS - In This Our Life

TCM's Summer Under the Stars features a star a day every day in August. August 2 features the films of Olivia de Havilland beginning at 6 a.m. and ending at 6 a.m. the next morning. I'm pleased to be taking part in the 2015 TCM Summer Under the Stars Blogathon. Please check out Journeys in Classic Film and read some great articles by Kristen and also follow the links to other interesting material on the classic stars featured this month on TCM.

TCM is showing In This Our Life on August 2, 2015 at 6:00 p.m. It's one of my favorite Olivia de Havilland films. Bette Davis has the showier part but she's outdone by Olivia de Havilland, whose quiet, understated work anchors the film and ultimately makes the greater impression. It's terribly fine film acting, and immensely satisfying to watch.

About the Novel In This Our Life

In This Our Life was a 1941 novel by Ellen Glasgow. Glasgow was born in Richmond, Virginia in 1873. Although her family was very well-off, due to poor health she was educated at home, where she read widely in philosophy, politics and the classics. During her teens, Henry George's book Progress and Poverty converted Glasgow to Fabian socialism, and she became highly skeptical of the social values of her native American South.

Ellen Glasgow

Glasgow published her first work, The Descendant, in 1897. She went on to publish sixteen more novels, which taken as a whole present in fiction a social history of Virginia since 1850. Many of her works have feminist overtones, and reject the outworn code of Southern chivalry and masculine superiority. Indeed, Glasgow is now seen as one of the most valuable chroniclers of the American South for the period between the American Civil War and World War II. Among her best-regarded novels are Barren Ground (1924), The Romantic Comedians (1926), and The Sheltered Life (1932). In 1942, she won the Pulitzer Prize for her novel In This Our Life (1941).

Glasgow died in 1945, having spent parts of her later life involved with the female suffrage movement. Her obituary in TIME magazine called her "a really important figure in the history of American letters; for she has preserved for us the quality and the beauty of her real South."

First Edition Dust Jacket

In This Our Life is an analytical study of the feeling of kinship as it is manifested in the Timberlake family, decayed aristocrats living in Virginia. The story of how two marriages are wrecked and a great wrong done to an innocent black man, Parry Clay, is told largely as it is viewed by Asa Timberlake. Asa is sixty years of age and is the husband of Lavinia Fitzroy Timberlake, a hypochondriac. They are the parents of two daughters with masculine names (the odd naming is never explained). Stanley is utterly selfish and feminine. Roy is courageous and gallant but confused and unhappy.

The title is a quote from the sonnet sequence Modern Love by George Meredith: "Ah, what a dusty answer gets the soul/ When hot for certainties in this our life!"

About the Film In This Our Life

In This Our Life is a 1942 American drama film, the second to be directed by John Huston. Raoul Walsh also worked as director, taking over when Huston was called away for a war assignment after the United States entered World War II, but he was uncredited. The cast includes established stars Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland as sisters and romantic and life rivals.

Directed by John Huston (credited) and Raoul Walsh (uncredited)
Produced by Hal B. Wallis
Written by Howard Koch and based on the novel by Ellen Glasgow
Music by Max Steiner
Cinematography by Ernest Haller
Edited by William Holmes
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date: May 8, 1942
Running time: 97 minutes


Bette Davis as Stanley Timberlake Kingsmill
Olivia de Havilland as Roy Timberlake Fleming
George Brent as Craig Fleming
Dennis Morgan as Peter Kingsmill
Frank Craven as Asa Timberlake
Billie Burke as Lavinia Timberlake
Charles Coburn as William Fitzroy
Ernest Anderson as Parry Clay
Hattie McDaniel as Minerva Clay
Lee Patrick as Betty Wilmoth
Mary Servoss as Charlotte Fitzroy
William B. Davidson as Jim Purdy
Edward Fielding as Dr. Buchanan
John Hamilton as Inspector
William Forrest as Forest Ranger

In case you haven't seen the film, I'm not going to spoil it for you by giving an in-depth plot summary.
TCM says: A neurotic southerner steals her sister's husband then vies with her for another man.
Leonard Maltin says: Fine drama of neurotic family with husband-stealing Davis ruining sister de Havilland's life and eventually her own; Davis at histrionic height. Based on Ellen Glasgow novel. Walter Huston has cameo role as bartender in one scene.


Olivia de Havilland plays true to form as Roy, the good sister. Her quiet and understated portrayal of Roy is reminiscent of her role as Melanie Wilkes in Gone with the Wind. Bosley Crowther said, "Olivia de Havilland gives a warm and easy performance as the good sister who wins out in the end."

Bette Davis is sensational as Stanley Timberlake and at her wicked, over the top, best. She is absolutely smashing in her portrayal of the amoral Stanley, the woman the viewer loves to hate.

Billie Burke is marvelous as the emasculating, harpy, invalid mother. Frank Craven is credible as the patient and weary father. Charles Coburn is terrific as the uncle who spoils Stanley and seems to want more than a niece/uncle relationship with her. Dennis Morgan plays the errant and handsome surgeon to perfection, while George Brent is tailor made for the role of Stanley's long suffering suitor, who ultimately finds happiness with Roy. Ernest Anderson, as the young black man, and Hattie McDaniel, as his mother, are terrific.

Interesting Facts

In This Our Life is one of the few films of the era in which an African-American male is not portrayed as a Stepin Fetchit caricature. The film was praised in 1942 for offering a positive portrait of a black character (Ernest Anderson), though by modern-day standards this treatment still comes off as condescending.

Bette Davis aided the project by finding the right person to play Parry Clay. John Huston had reviewed some African-American actors but was not satisfied with any. One day when Davis was in the studio commissary, she noticed Ernest Anderson working there as a waiter. She believed he had the right look and presence for the role and encouraged Huston to screen test Anderson. The director did, and cast the young man. Anderson won the 1942 National Board of Review Award for his performance.

Warner Bros. was named to the Honor Roll of Race Relations of 1942 because of its dignified portrayal of African-Americans in this film. However, scenes in which Ernest Anderson's character was treated in a friendly fashion were cut for showings in the South to avoid offending those viewers. The film was initially disapproved for export by the Office of Censorship in Washington, D.C., because it suggests that the Negro's testimony would be totally disregarded by the jury when it was disputed by a white person, which, in the South at the time and for long afterwards, was true.

Bosley Crowther of The New York Times felt "the one exceptional component of the film" is the "brief but frank allusion to racial discrimination" which "is presented in a realistic manner, uncommon to Hollywood, by the definition of the Negro as an educated and comprehending character."

Both Bette Davis' and Olivia de Havilland's characters have masculine given names -- "Stanley" and "Roy," respectively. Interestingly, the film never hints that there is anything unusual about their names, nor does it offer any explanation.

The Ellen Glasgow novel, for which Warner Bros. paid $40,000 for the screen rights, portrayed William Fitzroy's incestuous desire for his niece Stanley, as well as racist attitudes in the society. Recommended by the director John Huston, the screenwriter Howard Koch believed he had to tone down these elements to satisfy the current Motion Picture Production Code.

Barack Obama's mother, Stanley Ann Dunham Obama Soetoro, was named "Stanley" not after her own father, Stanley Dunham, but after the Bette Davis character in the movie In This Our Life. President Obama's maternal grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, saw the movie while pregnant with Obama's mother, and thought the name sounded sophisticated for a girl.

In This Our Life was directed by John Huston, and if you watch closely during the roadhouse sequence you'll spot Huston's father, Walter, as a bartender and most of the cast of Huston's The Maltese Falcon as atmospheric extras.

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