Old Acquaintance, 1943. 6/10

Bette Davis and Miriam Hopkins go twelve rounds, err, 110 minutes as old friends Kit (Davis) and Millie (Hopkins). Davis gets to play a ‘nice guy’ for a change. Their feud involves success and accomplishment. Millie has a family, but Kit has ‘class’ as a critically-acclaimed writer, so Millie decides to beat Kit at her own game.

On the home front, Millie’s marriage to Preston (John Loder) goes by the boards; Preston covets Kit, and Millie blames her for leading him astray. Actually, though, Kit wants Rudd Kendall (Gig Young). But he fancies someone closer to his own age, Millie’s daughter Deidre (Dolores Moran). Sounds complicated, and melodramatic; all of this plays out over a span of twenty years.

Things start off in the 1920s on a breezy, almost carefree note, but it quickly becomes clear that Millie is very selfish. She won’t calm down until Kit tells her that she’s sort of jealous of her; if Millie can’t be the center of attention or remain on a pedestal something just isn’t right. But maintaining her position proves to be a smart career choice. She’s soon planning to have an “English governess” and a “French maid” once she hits the big time with own writing career. A book entitled Ermine and Calico just has to be a best seller–it is.

By this time, about a decade later, Kit is pretty much a favorite auntie to Millie’s daughter Deidre (Dolores Moran). Preston is more or less shuffled to the side, involved in drink. He’s sharp enough to wonder how Millie and Kit ever became friends. Millie admits she doesn’t like people–yet gets defensive when Kit complains to her that she’s neglecting Preston “I make him a definite department in my life” Millie explains, as though he were a commodity or employee.

Even when everyone’s being nice to her, she finds something to complain about. He can’t take her attitude anymore, and leaves. “There’s something essentially lacking in her nature” as Kit puts it. He confesses his love for Kit; but she won’t betray Millie. As usual, despite Kit’s support, Millie’s histrionic about the break-up, but instantly looks at an upside–always calculating. She at least has a good reason to be upset.

Suddenly, it’s the ’40s. Kit has Rud Kendall (a very young Gig Young); he gets inadvertently tossed at Deidre, who’s a lot younger, but Kit’s a touch too old for Rud, anyway. There’s Lucien (Phillip Reed), Deidre’s designated boyfriend. Kit kind of toys with Rud, not really taking his proposal seriously. In a way, he seems as adrift as Preston (and looks like him too). She gives him such a generic send off “When the war’s over…there will be such a wonderful world”. True, but that hardly sounds like a comment to a lover.

He gets a head start on his wonderful world by hanging out with Deidre. They’re actually good together–two outsiders, onlookers to the Millie/Kit cauldron. After all this time, Millie still can’t take advice or bad news; she dismisses Preston’s current relationship as “vain”, as though it’s somehow not important. At least she doesn’t mess with Kit’s decision to give in to Rud.

Until Preston comes calling, that is. Millie’s floored both because she thought she was getting him back, and even more so when he admits he was in love with Kit. She immediately assumed that Kit, “that Jezebel,” seduced him. If that’s not enough, she inadvertently crosses up Deidre by telling her about Rud and Kit.

“If that weren’t so stupid, it would be funny” Kit tells her, leading to a long-overdue de luxe comeuppance. But Rud, having changed his mind, runs aground with Deidre, her mom having torpedoed his ship, so to speak. All that Kit can do is try to ‘square’ things for Deidre, so she goes on a mission to rescue her from Lucien.

Well, we could say that everything works out. Rud and Deidre’s ship was repairable. An additional ornament is Millie’s non-apology to Kit “If (‘IF’?) I said anything…” The ultimate artificiality is saved for the ending. Millie’s once again freaking out–not because of love, or any other feeling, or any actual person, but it means her having to rewrite the ending for her latest book. Events don’t cooperate by five-tailing with the real life ‘friendship’ that the book’s based on.

I’ve decided that this story must be somewhat tongue-in-cheek. Maybe that’s implied in the title–its nostalgic overtones and all–Kit and Millie are better seen as strictly acquaintances, not friends. At best, Millie was a fair-weather friend whom Kit should’ve dumped after high school. She’s messed up every relationship she had, and tried to mess with everybody she could get close enough too.

That’s the way the original story was written, I suppose. But despite very good performances all around, Old Acquaintance never really takes off. It’s not sarcastic enough to really show up Millie’s very flawed character, and, because she basically churns up everything in her path, it’s more tragic than romantic. A good character study, though.

Farmermouse don’t like all the fussin’ about, but he likes all those taxicab rides; six taxies for this one. 6/10.

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