Review: The Old Maid (1939)

Bette Davis’ performance elevates this “women’s picture” set during the Civil War. When circumstance forces an unmarried woman to give up her illegitimate daughter, she poses as the child’s strict aunt to stay in the girl’s life.

The Old Maid is a perfect example of the classic weepy chick flick from the ’30s. It’s a beautifully mounted production with particularly stunning costumes from the 1860s-80s and a built-in rivalry between the two leads, spitting enemies Davis and Miriam Hopkins.

Bette Davis wasn’t particularly thrilled with her performance as the old maid, but she makes the most of her role, impressively transforming from an exuberant young woman into a sour spinster. The scene in which she imagines herself chastising her daughter after the teenager has stayed out late with a boy is particularly effective, as Davis first speaks from the heart as a loving mother and in a beat, switches into her adopted demeanor of the harsh and bitter aunt her daughter has come to despise. [**** out of 5]

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