A young woman (Stanley Timberlake) dumps her fiancée (Craig Fleming) and runs off with her sister's (Roy Timberlake) husband (Peter Kingsmill). They marry, settle in Baltimore, and Stanley ultimately drives Peter to drink and suicide. Stanley returns home to Richmond only to learn that her sister Roy and old flame Craig have fallen in love and plan to marry. The jealous and selfish Stanley attempts to win back Craig's affections, but her true character is revealed when, rather than take the rap herself, she attempts to pin a hit and run accident on the young black clerk (Parry Clay) who works in Craig's law office.
Bette Davis ... Stanley Timberlake
Olivia de Havilland ... Roy Timberlake
George Brent ... Craig Fleming
Dennis Morgan ... Peter Kingsmill
Charles Coburn ... William Fitzroy
Frank Craven ... Asa Timberlake
Billie Burke ... Lavinia Timberlake
Hattie McDaniel ... Minerva Clay
Lee Patrick ... Betty Wilmoth
Mary Servoss ... Charlotte Fitzroy
Ernest Anderson ... Parry Clay
William B. Davidson ... Jim Purdy
Edward Fielding ... Dr. Buchanan
John Hamilton ... Inspector
William Forrest ... Forest Ranger
"In This Our Life" dared to point out some issues not discussed by the Hollywood of the 40s. It shows a great director, John Huston, working at the top of his craft on the interesting adaptation by Howard Koch.
Stanley, the girl at the center of the story has it all. She is the favorite niece of the man who was responsible for ruining her father, a gentle soul beaten by the Great Depression. Stanley is a spoiled woman who couldn't care less who she hurt, let alone that is her own sister the one that will suffer because of her actions.
On the other hand, Roy, the good sister, is all kindness; she is just the opposite of Stanley. When Stanley decides she wants Peter, Roy's husband, she doesn't hesitate one second. She takes him and runs away to a life that proves not to be all what she imagined it would be.
Life intervenes in Stanley's life in tragic ways. First with Peter, the man he shouldn't have taken away from her sister, and then when trying to get back with Craig, she causes the death of a young girl when driving under the influence. This would have been a sobering experience for anyone, but Stanley is beyond repentance. Stanley, is a coward who will do anything to get away with murder.
Stanley was a role tailor made for Bette Davis. Her take on this impudent girl is perfect. Ms. Davis shows how good she is in small details that convey her understanding of her character. Ms. Davis reflects all the emotions Stanley is going through with her expressive eyes. One look at her and we know what this woman is capable of.
Olivia de Havilland makes an impression by playing the good sister, Roy. Ms. de Havilland is an actress that always played convincingly in everything she did, as is the case here. Her inner strength is her best asset. Roy is loyal to the point of sacrificing her own happiness and lets her sister take what she loves most.
The strong cast behind the principals is equally excellent. Dennis Morgan is Peter, the man blinded by Stanley. He will leave his adoring wife for a woman he ends up detesting. George Brent, is the kind Craig, the man jilted by Stanley who finally finds love again with Roy. Charles Coburn plays Uncle William with his usual panache. Frank Craven is Asa, the man cheated out of his fortune. Ernest Anderson makes an impression as Parry, the young black man with ambitions to improve himself. Hattie McDaniel only has a couple of key scenes where she shines. Billie Burke and Lee Patrick are seen in minor roles.
The musical score by Alfred Newman enhances the film. Ultimately it's John Huston who shows a clear understanding for the material and who gets excellent performances out of everyone.
Bette Davis is perfectly cast here as a model sociopath - attractive, seductive, fawning - but always focused on her own needs and desires to the ultimate detriment of the feelings of others. I won't rehash the plot here. Although Davis gives a stellar performance, I feel she is overshadowed by the strong and intelligent performance of co-star, Olivia de Havilland. The entire cast works well together and Huston's direction is solid and brisk. The obvious lecherous physical attraction between Uncle William (Charles Coburn) and Stanley (Davis) is well handled. Two of their scenes together are brilliantly acted - in the middle of the film where Davis is trying to wheedle money from her uncle to relocate and close to the end when he is dying and she cruelly rejects him for choosing not to help her. Their ease with each other and playful repartee seems almost improvisational.
I was most impressed with the assured performance of the young African American actor, Ernest Anderson, who plays Parry - and does a beautiful job. This fine young actor made only 19 films, which stretched between 1942 (this was his first) and 1970, most of them "uncredited." Note he appeared again with Davis in WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? He lived to be 74 so must have either done little acting or primarily appeared on stage or television. It is sad that the racial prejudice rampant in the film seemed to have affected his own acting career- a poignant irony.
This is a grand melodrama and both fun and entertaining to watch. The script is pure Tennessee Williams plotting - without the poetry. A must for fans of either Davis or deHavilland.
Fortunately, I stumbled upon this film airing early one morning on TCM. Bette Davis is quite wonderful, and contrary to what some posters have stated, she actually underplays what could have been an hilarious, scenery-chewing role. DeHavilland is, likewise, outstanding as the initially timid individual, who must cope with the devastating actions of her selfish sister.
Supporting performances are directed well by Houston, with young Ernest Anderson standing out as the wrongly accused black man. It is disappointing that the remainder of his career consisted mainly of parts such as waiters, doormen, porters, etc.
Max Steiner's score is a bit overpowering at times, but he was at the top of his game in the early 40s. The Warner back lot works effectively as Virginia, and the absence of fake/forced Southern accents actually lends credibility to the performances.
As others have stated, I will now seek out the original source material, especially after having learned of its honors. I am curious as to the source of a previous claim that the film was a critical and financial bomb on release.
IN THIS OUR LIFE is like the forgotten serious drama in Bette Davis' best years at Warner Brothers. Reputedly she did not care for it, but I find that hard to believe. In here half-autobiography, MADAM GODDAMN, Bette mentions that she liked the positive image of Ernest Anderson's character of Parry Clay. For this is the first film I know of where an African-American character is a bright young man who plans to attend law school and become a lawyer. That was (by itself) quite a jump.
Actually it has more to it than that plot development. Davis and Olivia de Haviland are sisters Stanley and Roy Timberlake, children of Asa and Lavinia Timberlake (Frank Craven and Billie Burke). Craven is an industrious ant, but he's never had the push that his over-bearing brother-in-law William Fitzroy (Charles Coburn) has shown over the years (and pushed down Craven's polite throat). Coburn's Fitzroy is interesting for another reason. Before he got his Oscar for his comic turn in THE MORE THE MERRIER, Coburn was cast in all types of role, like the cynical medical investigator Carlos Finley in YELLOW JACK or Lord Dyce, the opponent to Henry Stanley (Spencer Tracy) in STANLEY AND LIVINGSTON, or the German scientist working on a cancer cure in IDIOT'S DELIGHT. Here he had one of his villains. Fitzroy has little time for his decent but (in his opinion) lightweight brother in law Timberlake. But he loves being with his niece Stanley (which she is fully aware of). The scenes of Coburn and Davis are quite nicely subtle, with his touchy-feely actions obviously meaning more than that of an uncle to his niece.
The plot deals with how Roy has been dating with Craig Fleming (George Brent), while Stanley has been pursued by Peter Kingsmill (Dennis Morgan). But Stanley, alluring and totally amoral, is determined to steal Fleming (who has better future opportunities than Kingsmill) from her sister. The movie concentrates on the sibling rivalry, which for most of the film Davis's Stanley is winning. But towards the conclusion things begin to unravel for her, and she is involved in a car accident (a hit and run) which causes a fatality. Opportunistically, Stanley points the finger of blame at young Parry Clay.
The performances and direction (by John Huston in his second feature) are actually good. Set in the state of Virginia, Huston actually makes more of the material than perhaps was expected in 1942 Hollywood. When Parry is arrested for the hit and run charge, he is visited by Fleming as his attorney - and for the first time (again) that I recall in a Hollywood film we hear a disgusted African-American explain why he has no faith in the system that snatches him up on suspicion (one thinks today of the issue of racial profiling by police forces - problems have not changed much in sixty years). And as things blow up in Stanley's face, she finds that her last chance for escape (her uncle, Fitzroy) is a far weaker reed than she or her uncle ever expected.
It lacks the pizazz of OF HUMAN BONDAGE, DARK VICTORY, MR. SKEFFINGTON, THE LETTER, JEZEBEL, and THE LITTLE FOXES especially with it's soap opera plot. But Davis does good work as the selfish Stanley, supported by a good cast led by de Haviland as her sister and rival. Not a "10" perhaps, but certainly an "8" is thoroughly deserved - especially in a film changing racial images and displaying unwholesome family sexual desires.
A modern source includes Humphrey Bogart, 'Mary Astor (I)', Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Ward Bond, Barton MacLane and Elisha Cook Jr. as patrons of the Southside Tavern, where director John Huston's famous actor/father Walter Huston was a bartender in a cameo role. There were only six other men at the bar, none of whom remotely looking like any of these actors. There were no women in the tavern except for Bette Davis. These actors were just not in the film.
Jack Mower is listed in studio records as an actor in this film, but he was not seen in the print.
Warner Bros. was named to the Honor Roll of Race Relations of 1942 because of its dignified portrayal of African-Americans in this film. However, scenes in which Ernest Anderson's character was treated in a friendly fashion were cut for showings in the South to avoid offending those viewers. The film was initially disapproved for export by the Office of Censorship in Washington, D.C., because it suggests that the Negro's testimony would be totally disregarded by the jury when it was disputed by a white person, which, in the South at the time and for long afterwards, was true.