Dennis Morgan

In This Our Life (1942)

In This Our Life 1942

Sisters Stanley (Bette Davis) and Roy Timberlake (Olivia de Havilland) both come from a prominent family, but lead very different lives. Roy is the more humble and sensible sister and is married to Peter (Dennis Morgan) while Stanley is very selfish and is much more wild than Roy. Stanley isn’t a particularly likable person, but her uncle William (Charles Coburn) adores her and loves giving her expensive gifts and foots the bill for her reckless lifestyle. Stanley is engaged to Craig (George Brent), a lawyer, but the night before they are to be married, Roy runs off with Peter, marries him, and they leave for Baltimore.

Roy isn’t one to wallow in self-pity so she gladly divorces Peter and channels her energies into her work. One day, she runs into Craig and the two of them hit it off and start seeing each other. Craig is a very good man; an honest lawyer and even gives a job to Parry Clay (Ernest Anderson), the son of the Timberlake family’s maid Minerva (Hattie McDaniel), so he can put himself through law school. Meanwhile, Roy and Peter’s marriage is a complete disaster. Roy is still incredibly selfish and Peter doesn’t approve of her spending habits; they’re both completely miserable. Eventually, it drives Peter to kill himself, just as Roy and Craig decide to get married.

Stanley comes back home and it isn’t long before she’s bored and wants to leave. However, she needs money to leave and she can’t get it from her father or her uncle, so she tries talking to Craig to see about getting money from Paul’s insurance policy early. She invites him to come join her for dinner one night and when he stands her up, she gets raging drunk and tries to drive home. Along the way, she hits a child, who dies. Stanley’s car is pretty recognizable to people around town so it isn’t long before the police come to see her. Desperate to avoid accepting responsibility, Stanley tries to pin it all on Parry, but she doesn’t realize how protective Roy is of Troy.

In This Our Life is a really overlooked movie. With lesser stars and a lesser director, it easily could have become a completely forgotten film. But Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland are both so perfect for their roles in it, plus the supporting cast is fantastic, as is John Huston’s direction. Together, they all took what easily could have been a mid-rate melodrama and made it something memorable. Stanley is exactly the type of character Bette Davis reveled in playing and Olivia de Havilland made the perfect calm, yet strong, contrast to Davis. If you’re a fan of Davis or de Havilland, there’s a lot to love about this movie. In This Our Life is also very noteworthy for having a rather progressive representation of African-American characters, which is indeed refreshing to see in a 1940s-era film. Definitely keep an eye out for this on the TCM lineup; it’s well worth a watch.

The Hard Way (1943)

The Hard Way PosterAfter the death of their mother, Helen Chernen (Ida Lupino) does her best to raise her younger sister Katie (Joan Leslie). They live in the dismal industrial town of Greenhill, which doesn’t offer many prospects for a bright future. Helen never made it out of Greenhill, but she’s bound and determined for Katie to have a better life. When Katie catches a performance by Paul Collins (Dennis Morgan) and Albert Runkel (Jack Carson) at a vaudeville show, it inspires her to become to go into showbiz herself. Later that night, Katie announces her new ambition to her friends and acts out part of Runkel and Collins’ act, which happens to be witnessed by Runkel and Collins themselves. They’re impressed with her talent and invite her to join the act. Albert is immediately smitten with Katie and they are soon married.

With Katie on the road with Runkel and Collins, Helen tags along to manage Katie’s career and constantly tries to get Katie more time in the act. Eventually, Helen gets Katie her a gig of her own. It’s just a small role initially, but Helen makes sure she gets a promotion by sabotaging the rehearsal of experienced actress Lily Emery (Gladys George). Opening night is a smashing success and opportunities abound for Katie, but when Albert calls to congratulate her, Helen starts trying to drive them apart. It isn’t long before Katie becomes more famous than Albert and when Albert realizes that he can no longer get work on his own without using Katie’s name, he kills himself, sending Katie into an alcohol-fueled downward spiral.

When Katie’s behavior causes a theater producer to find a replacement for her in his show, Helen insists on producing the show herself. One night, Katie runs into Paul, who has moved onto a career as a bandleader. They start seeing each other and Katie is the happiest she has been in years. When they decide to get married, Katie is ultimately left to choose between Paul or Helen.

Not one of the all-time-greats, but The Hard Way is a really strong drama that deserves a bit more recognition. The entire cast absolutely hits it out of the park. Ida Lupino was absolutely glorious as the cold, steely, ruthless Helen.  Joan Leslie is likable and fresh, Jack Carson and Dennis Morgan were great, and Gladys George totally owned her brief role. This is exactly the sort of material director Vincent Sherman excelled at working with. Definitely keep an eye out for The Hard Way; it’s well worth your time.

Christmas in Connecticut (1945)

After spending 18 days floating on a raft after a submarine attack and six weeks in a hospital recovering, the only thing Jefferson Jones (Dennis Morgan) can think about is a good meal.  While he’s in the hospital, he starts flirting with his nurse Mary (Joyce Compton) in hopes of getting that good meal, but Mary ends up falling in love with him and wants to get marry him.  When Jefferson says he doesn’t want to get married, Mary assumes it’s because he’s never had a proper home.  Determined to give Jefferson the best traditional, down home Christmas ever, she writes to Elizabeth Lane (Barbara Stanwyck) and asks if he could spend Christmas with her.  Elizabeth writes a magazine column about living on her farm in Connecticut with her husband, baby, and all of her delectable recipes and is the envy of housewives all across the country.  What America doesn’t realize is that Elizabeth really lives in Manhattan, isn’t married, has no children, and can’t cook to save her life.  She tries to get out of it, but her publisher Mr. Yardley (Sydney Greenstreet) realizes this event would make a spectacular publicity stunt and makes her go through with it.  And to top it all off, Mr. Yardley invites himself along to this event!

Elizabeth and her boyfriend John Sloan (Reginald Gardner) frantically rush to create the life that she’s talked about in her articles.  They get the Connecticut farm, borrow a baby, bring along Felix (who actually creates all of Elizabeth’s recipes), and even arrange to finally get married.  As for the wedding, they arrange for a judge to come by the farm before Jefferson is supposed to arrive, but Jefferson arrives earlier than expected, so the wedding has to wait.  With Jefferson around, Elizabeth realizes she’s completely incompetent at actually living up to her image.  She can’t bathe the baby, change its diaper, or flip pancakes, but she’s able to fake it enough to make Jefferson start to fall in love with her.  Elizabeth also falls in love with Jefferson and gladly accepts all the events that delay her marriage to John.  The only person who knows how she feels about Jefferson is Felix, who helps create some of those wedding delays.

Jefferson really does have the perfect Norman Rockwell Christmas, but the charade becomes harder and harder to keep up.  First, they weren’t able to use the same baby for both days and the two babies look nothing alike.  Mr. Yardley starts talking to John and tells him he wants Elizabeth to have another baby because it’d be good for his magazine sales.  When everyone is invited to a community dance, Jefferson and Elizabeth sneak away from the festivities and sit in a horse-drawn sleigh, but much to their surprise, the horse starts taking them for a ride.  They flirt during their impromptu sleigh ride, but then the police find them and accuse them of stealing the sleigh and bring them to jail for the rest of the night.  Meanwhile, back at the farm, the mother of the borrowed baby comes to pick up her baby.  When she finds everyone asleep, she just takes her baby and leaves, but Yardley sees her and thinks she’s kidnapping Elizabeth’s baby.  Elizabeth and Yardley come home the next morning to a bunch of reporters who don’t understand why she’s not more concerned about her kidnapped baby.  Realizing her goose is cooked, she tells Mr. Yardley the truth and is fired, then she breaks up with John.  As she’s packing to go home, Mary drops by unexpectedly and announces that she’s married Jefferson’s shipmate instead.  Felix makes one last attempt to push Jefferson and Elizabeth together and succeeds.  They decide to get married, because Jefferson loves her even if she can’t really cook.

Christmas in Connecticut is absolutely essential viewing for me every year at Christmas time.  It’s so funny and thoroughly charming.  If it weren’t for the fact that it’s a Christmas movie, it’s one of those movies I’d probably watch frequently year-round.  The cast is perfect.  When I saw this for the first time, I’d already seen movies like Ball of Fire and The Lady Eve, so I already knew Barbara Stanwyck could do very well with comedy, but I couldn’t help but be impressed by how delightful she was here.  I also thought it was interesting to see Sydney Greenstreet in a comedy because when I think of Sydney Greenstreet, I think of Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon, not exactly lighthearted stuff.  Dennis Morgan was very charming and S. Z. Skall as Felix brought lots of comedy.  Truly a wonderful movie.