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Warner Home Video presents
Old Acquaintance (1943)

"There comes a time in every woman's life when the only thing that helps is a glass of champagne."
- Kit Marlowe (Bette Davis)

Review By: David Krauss   
Published: June 02, 2006

Stars: Bette Davis, Miriam Hopkins
Other Stars: Gig Young, John Loder, Dolores Moran, Philip Reed, Roscoe Karns, Ann Revere, Esther Dale
Director: Vincent Sherman

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 01h:50m:13s
Release Date: May 30, 2006
UPC: 012569753372
Genre: drama


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ BA-B+ B+

DVD Review

Maybe you have to be a woman to truly appreciate Old Acquaintance, Vincent Sherman's seriocomic examination of a longstanding female friendship. Though this glossy adaptation of John Van Druten's play contains fine performances and top-flight production values, it doesn't sink its teeth into me like similar Bette Davis vehicles. It's quite possible my Y chromosome blocks the movie's feminine vibes, but that old bugger never keeps me from bawling over Judith Traherne's brain tumor in Dark Victory or pitying troubled spinster Charlotte Vale in Now, Voyager. Those multi-dimensional Davis heroines battle serious issues, but the obstacles the cardboard characters face in Old Acquaintance pale by comparison, and the stifling air of triviality that hangs over the film prevents this perennially popular woman's picture from capturing our fancy today.

Like many adapted plays, Old Acquaintance is foiled by a stilted, contrived script that lacks the vital ring of truth so essential to successful, engrossing drama. Talky and bland, it dutifully chronicles the parallel lives of polar opposites Kit Marlowe (Davis) and Millie Drake (Miriam Hopkins), who become best friends in their youth, and, preposterously, remain such, despite Millie's self-absorption, petty jealousies, and infantile manipulations. For reasons never made clear, serious Kit sticks by her shallow, ungrateful friend even at the expense of her own happiness, and though we can respect the deep bond they share, it's impossible to understand it.

Both women are writers (though we never see them practice their craft)—Kit pens meaningful, critically acclaimed novels that achieve only a modicum of success, while Millie churns out vapid bestselling potboilers with clockwork regularity. As a trailblazing feminist, Kit lives alone, pursues her career, shuns convention, and indulges in an eyebrow-raising affair with a younger man (Gig Young). Yet she still quietly yearns for the comfy family life the frivolous Millie possesses but doesn't appreciate. Millie, on the other hand, so deeply envies Kit's talent, intellect, and ability to connect with others—most notably her husband (John Loder) and daughter (Dolores Moran)—she often bullies and denigrates her bosom pal. As the years go by, Millie and Kit weather personal upheaval, dashed romantic dreams, and spats galore, yet somehow their relationship stays rock solid. (It must be a chick thing.)

Old Acquaintance proved to audiences of its day that women couldn't have it all—they could either forge a career or settle down with a husband and family, but they couldn't do both. Times have changed, of course, but the film wins points for addressing such a potent, progressive theme, especially in an era when most American females were contented homemakers who couldn't imagine a more foreign dilemma. Sadly, though, the meandering buildup to a rather tepid climax diminishes the impact of the message. In addition, depicting the empty early years of Kit and Millie's friendship (to which Van Druten only alludes in his stage play) makes us tire of the two women (and the movie) before the meat of the drama transpires, and even an actress as mesmerizing as Davis has trouble reeling us back in.

Two decades before her celebrated feud with Joan Crawford, Davis locked horns with Hopkins in a pair of films, and it's fun to watch the rivals duke it out on screen. The two openly loathed each other, and Miriam reportedly tried every scene-stealing trick in the book to snatch focus from Bette. Davis retaliates by out-performing the stylized Hopkins, who overdoes the already caricatured Millie. Yet Bette, too, seems more affected than usual, slightly exaggerating her clipped line deliveries and allowing her mannerisms free rein.

Such larger-than-life performances, of course, are the main attraction of Old Acquaintance. And although this particular woman's picture doesn't appeal to this particular man, there's little doubt it will continue to move and inspire both new and faithful female viewers for years to come.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Believe it or not, Old Acquaintance is just now making its home video debut, and Warner celebrates the occasion with a sparkling full-frame transfer that showcases the film's chic look. Terrific clarity, nicely varied gray levels, and light grain lend the image a warmth and lushness that help compensate for the shallow plot. Now and then, a few specks and scratches intrude, but they rarely disrupt the smoothness of this silky presentation.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Frenchyes


Audio Transfer Review: The mono track is equally clean, with only a slight bit of hiss still audible. Davis' clipped speech patterns and Hopkins' whining are always easy to decipher, and Franz Waxman's string-laden score avoids distortion even as it occasionally overwhelms the action on screen.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 27 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Vincent Sherman and author Boze Hadleigh
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual
Layers Switch: 43m:41s

Extra Extras:
  1. Vintage short, Stars on Horseback
  2. Classic cartoon, Fin'n Catty
Extras Review: The best supplement on the disc is an audio commentary by director Vincent Sherman (who turns 100 years old in a few weeks) and Boze Hadleigh, author of Bette Davis Speaks. Hadleigh dominates the track, and his remarks are engaging and insightful, as he relates Old Acquaintance to both the social tenor of its time and other films of the period. Sherman makes only sporadic contributions, but his memories are razor sharp, and he shares them in a charming, frank manner. He recalls the rivalry between Hopkins and Davis, Miriam's tireless attempts to upstage Bette, how Davis threw herself into every aspect of production (and threw herself at him, too!), and how he became involved in the project after original director Edmund Goulding fell ill. It's always a treat to hear from a primary source, and the fact that most of the actors and technicians from Hollywood's Golden Age are no longer with us makes Sherman's participation extra special.

The 10-minute featurette, Old Acquaintance: A Classic Woman's Picture, comes next, and spends more time dissecting the "woman's film" genre than directly addressing the David-Hopkins movie. Still, it's a satisfying and informative effort, and features snippets from other popular "weepies" of the period. Stars on Horseback runs seven minutes, and follows a California blacksmith as he visits such famous clients as Davis, Joel McCrea, George Tobias, Olivia de Havilland, and Dennis Morgan, while the six-and-a-half minute Looney Tunes cartoon Fin'n Catty depicts a violent battle of wits between a goldfish and housecat. At one point, the Now, Voyager theme underscores the action, which explains why Warner chose to include this animated short on a Bette Davis disc.

The film's original theatrical trailer rounds out the extras package.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

One of the first true chick flicks, Old Acquaintance courts its target audience with a vengeance, but the film's old-fashioned message might frustrate today's liberated woman. Davis and Hopkins provide the requisite femme fireworks, but the creaky script often sabotages their efforts. On the occasion of its long-awaited home video debut, Warner supplies a transfer worthy of a champagne toast, but unfortunately, Old Acquaintance has lost most of its fizz.

 


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