Oscar Movies: The Great Lie–Mary Astor as Best Supporting Actress

Though made at the peak of her career, 1939-1944, The Great Lie is not one of Bette Davis’ best medlodramas, a cycle that includes “Dark Victoiry,” “The Old Maid,” “The Little Foxes,” and “Now, Voyager.”
Over the years, Edmund Goulding’s soap opera has achieved some notoriety for being a presposterously plotted melodrama, for featuring the classy lady Mary Astor in her one and only Oscar Award (as Best Supporting Actress), and for the petty fights on the set between the two stars.
Bette Davis plays Maggie Patterson, a feisty southern belle in charge of a Maryland fertile plantation, who’s in love with an irresponsible pilot, Peter Van Allen (George Brent). We are led to believe that after their engagement, Maggie broke up with him because of his booze, reckless ways. 
Maggie is not the only woman in Peter’s wife. The “other” woman is a glitzy New York socialite, an accomplished concert pianist, Sandra Kovac (Mary Astor). Turns out that the love bird can’t marry, because Sandra’s divorce is not final. Just when Maggie wins Peter over as a husband, after he begs for forgieveness and promises to change, Sandra discloses that she is pregnant with his child. When his plane crashes, he’s presumed dead, and the two femmes scheme a deal, according to which Sandra will bear the baby in secrecy while Maggie pretends that the child is her own.
Predictably, Peter suddenly shows up, further complicating the already etangled web ot relationships. Maggie refrains from telling Peter the truth, but when Sandra returns from an Australian concert tour, she insists that Maggie tell her hubby about the baby’s origins.
The movie was dismissed by most critics. The N.Y. Times Bosley Crowther wrote: “The story is such a trifle that it hardly seems worth the while.” But he predicted that “women will probably love it, since fibs are so provocative of fun.” He was right: “The Great Lie’ was popular at the box-office, appealing to female viewers, who for a change, saw Davis play the good, maternal, noble heroine.
Astor’s performance was described by some critics as “dazzling,” and the rave revoews gave the actress’ career tremendous impetus, sending her to the top where she belongs.  One reviewer wrote: “The fascinating character she draws is brittle, selfish, spoiled, her playing is beautiful, and so is she.”
Oscar Context:
Mary Astor received the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her part, in a year in which she also excelled in the movie The Maltese Falcon, opposite Bogart.
In her acceptance speech, Astor thanked the composer Tchaikovsky.
Warner Bros.
Produced by Hall B. Wallis in association with Henry Blanke.
Directed by Edmund Goulding.
Screenplay: Leonore Coffee, based on the novel “January Heights,” by Polan Banks.
Camera:Tony Gaudio.
Score: Max Steiner.
Costumes: Orry-Kelly.
Art direction: Carl Jules Weyl.
Running time: 102 Minutes.