The Devil’s Child-With Bette Davis’ “In This Our Lives”(1942)-A Film Review
By Senior Film Critic Sandy Salmon
In This Our lives, starring Bette Davis, Olivia deHavilland, George Brent, Dennis Morgan, directed by John Huston, 1942
Some people are born under the sign of the devil, the sign of 666. They may not want to do the devil’s bidding, may want to be as sweet as sweet can be but are organically incapable of doing anything but leaving storm, stress and chaos behind them, And that is just for starters on their “good” days. In the film under review, In This Our Lives, we run up against the devil’s spawn, the devil’s daughter, although born of woman (who might have aided mightily in that daughter’s recklessness come to think of it).
Maybe I am being too harsh, maybe that fallen daughter could not help herself but let’s see how the whole thing played out. One Stanley Timberlake, she of the old-time Timberlake fortune gone bust through a meek father and a scheming uncle’s shady doings, played by Bette Davis, she of the “Bette Davis eyes” and “put her hands in her back pockets Bette Davis style” is engaged to mild-mannered people’s lawyer Craig, played by mild-mannered butter would not melt in his mouth George Brent. One Roy Timberlake Fleming, Stanley’s sister, played by Olivia de Havilland and in possession of no Bette Davis eyes is married to an up and coming surgeon Peter Fleming, played by emotional volatile and morose Dennis Morgan. The sisters and Fleming live in the old Timberlake house along with neurotic, bed-ridden of woman born Ma and sedate Pa Timberlake brewing up a witch’s cauldron in a hothouse atmosphere which may have fatal to some parties in more than one way. (By the way don’t be thrown off by the masculine names, Stanley and Roy in an Elizabeth, Mary, Katherine age these most unlike sisters for they both are seriously into the menfolk. Some serious psychanalysis could be worked through figuring out why those names and the effects of cruelty, of childhood taunt, but that is that is for the secular types to fathom. I’m sticking with the devil’s bargain theme.)
Here’s where the devil’s daughter, where the sign of 666 takes off and leads all parties astray. Mantrap Stanley lures Peter away for Roy leaving Craig somewhere short of the altar. One moonless night (it had to be moonless to do such dastardly work) the pair blew town, lived together for a time and then got hitched got married. All while the fickle Stanley decided she was bored and needed some distraction driving the emotional volatile and morose Peter up a wall. Needless to say the jilted Roy and Craig are crestfallen but still for a while carry the torch for their respective jilters. Needless to say already that Stanley-Peter marriage was not made in heaven.
Get this though, follow me please, Roy and Craig have a chance meeting which eventually leads them to tie the knot, get hitched, you know married. Bingo though in the meantime that marriage not made in heaven leads the remorseful Peter to kill himself. Chalk one up for Stanley’s devilish charms. After Stanley cries for about ten minutes she is off again to taunt/lure Craig into going back with her. No dice but not for a lack of trying. He was supposed to meet her at some gin mill but was a no show. She got drunk to contain her rage and then left the joint, got into her car, and sped away. Sped away in a residential area and wound up killing a child and grievously wounding the mother. Then sped away leaving nothing but a hit and run mystery to be solved.
Here is where the devil’s child idea really gets a workout in a sequence of scenes that could have taken place in 1877, 1919, 1942 the year of the film, and today, 2017, as well. See spoiled rotten Stanley was not built for jail cells and to be some hard-ass prisoner’s honey. So she lays the blame on a young up and coming black kid, the son of the Timberlake’s old-time maid, who was studying to be a lawyer under Craig’s tutelage. She claimed on a stack of seven sealed Bibles (like any devil’s disciple would) that she had left the car with the kid to be washed. Claimed she had not been out of the house all evening. The kid like many, too many, generations on young black men sensed his was doomed-his word against a white woman’s in America in 1877, 1919, 1942. 2017.
All her tales were bullshit of course but she had everybody going for a while including lawyer Craig. But she doth protest too much. In her frenzy to get out from under she was ready to sell the black kid, Craig, Roy, her old man, her scheming uncle, anybody to get in the clear. Also no go. See she had left a telltale address on Craig’s calendar where they were to meet at a certain hour at that bar. Craig checked and the bartender vividly remembered her. Expecting to be taken to her well-deserved jail cell she broke from the house and fled by car to parts unknown. The cops in hot pursuit. During the ensuing car chase she made a fatal turn and that was that. A home inside the gates of hell-also well-deserved. Now tell me that she wasn’t born under the 666 sign-huh.