The Great Lie

dir. Edmund Goulding

TIFF Cinematheque - Hollywood Classics

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Bette Davis stars opposite Mary Astor (who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance) in this tale of two women who discover that they are married to the same man.
"There are some things a woman has to lie a man!" blared the advertising campaign for this drama of deception, which proved that one of the great lies about Davis was that she was incapable of genuine warmth. Prompted to play a "nice" role after her cold-blooded murderess in The Letter, Davis — who loved to compete with other show-stealers — battled studio and director to give the second female lead in The Great Lie to her friend Mary Astor, with whom she conspired to bring class and acid to a script they both deemed low and soapy. The imperious Astor proved a capable challenger as a world-famous concert pianist who discovers that her marriage is invalid and that she is pregnant. The deal she strikes with the noble competitor for her (ex-)husband's affection, played with surprising maternal reserves by Davis, leads to the "great lie" of the title. Proving once again Davis' credentials as casting director, Astor, whose performance won her the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, not only delivers her crisp, bitchy lines with great flair — The New York Times said she "provides a beautiful contrast of cold and poisonous conceit" to Davis — but, a pianist herself, does a brilliant job of miming at the keyboard in the concert sequences.