Old Maid, The: Goulding Melodrama, Starring Bette Davis and Miriam Hopkins

Directed by Edmund Goulding, The Old Maid is one of Bette Davis’ best-known melodramas, in which she stars with Miriam Hopkins, her rival on screen and off.

Casey Robinson’s script is based on Zoe Akins’ 1935 Pulitzer-Prize winning play, which was adapted from the 1924 Edith Wharton novella, The Old Maid: the Fifties.

Set during the Civil War, the story focuses on Charlotte Lovell and her cousin Delia, whose wedding day is disrupted when her former fiance Clem Spender returns after two-year absence.
Delia marries Jim Ralston, and Charlotte comforts Clem, who enlists in the Union Army and is later killed in battle.  Before his death, Charlotte discovers she is pregnant with Clem’s child, and in order to escape the stigma of an illegitimate child, she goes out West to have her baby, a daughter she names Clementina (or “Tina”).

After the war, Charlotte and Tina relocate to Philadelphia, where Charlotte opens orphanage. Delia is the mother of two children, and Charlotte is engaged to marry Joe Ralston, her cousin’s brother-in-law.

On her wedding day, Charlotte tells Delia that Tina is her child by Clem, and Delia stops Joe from marrying Charlotte by telling him that she is in poor health. The cousins are estranged, but when Jim is killed in a horse riding accident, Delia invites Charlotte and Tina to move in with her and her children. Tina, still unaware that Charlotte is her birth mother, assumes the role of Delia’s daughter and calls Charlotte her aunt.

Fifteen years pass, Tina is engaged to wealthy Lanning Halsey, and resents Charlotte’s interference in her life. When Delia offers to adopt Tina and give her reputable name and prominent position, she gladly accepts. Charlotte intends to tell Tina the truth  is unable to do so.

Charlotte confronts Delia and reveals she resents the fact both Clem and Tina loved Delia more than they her. Delia tells Tina that Charlotte sacrificed her own happiness by refusing to marry a man who did not want to raise Tina. Delia urges Tina to kiss Charlotte last when Tina prepares to depart with her husband. Tina complies, and her gesture leaves Charlotte happy, willing to share the rest of her life with Delia as  friend rather than adversary.