In This Our Life (1942): John Huston’s (Uncharacteristic) Femme Melodrama, Starring Bette Davis and Olivia De Havilland as Rival Sisters

After making a splashy debut with his 1941 feature directing debut, The Maltese Falcon, John Huston directed In This Our Life, a somehow uncharacteristically female-driven melodrama.

The screenplay by Howard Koch is based on Ellen Glasgow’s 1941 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same title.

The cast included two of Warner’s most established stars, Bette Davis, two time Oscar winner, and Olivia de Havilland, two-time Oscar nominee, cast as sisters and rivals in romance and life.

Ultimately, In This Our Life is a minor work, just a footnote in the otherwise rich careers of the three main talents involved

Vet Raoul Walsh also worked as director, taking over when Huston was called away after the U.S. entered World War II, but he was uncredited.

This film was the third of six films that de Havilland and Davis made together, ranging from the late 1930s to the horror film, Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte, in 1964.  The two women, who were a decade apart in age, were known to be friends off-screen.

The film was disapproved in for foreign release by the wartime Office of Censorship, because it dealt with racial discrimination, a subject that was still taboo in mainstream Hollywood films.

Set in Richmond, Virginia, Asa (Frank Craven) and Lavinia (Billie Burke) gave their two daughters male names: Roy (Olivia de Havilland) and Stanley (Bette Davis), a practice that was well ahead of its time.

When the tale begins, Asa Timberlake has lost his share of a tobacco company to his former partner William Fitzroy (Charles Coburn), who his wife’s brother.

Roy, an interior decorator, is married to Dr. Peter Kingsmill (Dennis Morgan), and Stanley is engaged to progressive attorney Craig Fleming (George Brent). The night before her wedding, Stanley runs off with Roy’s husband Peter. While Fleming, still in love with Stanley, is depressed, Roy tries to be upbeat, with a positive attitude toward life. Roy divorces Peter, and he and Stanley marry and move to Baltimore.

When Roy encounters Fleming again, she encourages him to move on with his life, and they begin dating in earnest.  Roy, the more liberal, kind, and open-minded of the siblings, recommends the young black man Parry Clay (Ernest Anderson) to Fleming, and the latter hires him to work in his law office while he attends law school. Clay is the son of the Timberlakes’ loyal family maid, Minerva Clay (Hattie McDaniel).

Uncle William Fitzroy, Lavinia’s brother, has been doting on his niece Stanley, showering her  with expensive presents and money, but he is now  upset with her misconduct.  Ultra conservative, he offers Fleming some of his legal business if he agrees to stop representing poor black clients. When Fleming refuses, Roy is impressed and the two get closer.

In Baltimore, Stanley and Peter’s marriage suffers from his heavy drinking and her excessive spending, leading to arguments, fights, and eventually to Peter’s suicide.

Roy forgives her sister, who is shaken and in bad shape, and takes her back home.  But after she recovers, Stanley decides to win back Fleming. While discussing her late husband’s life insurance with Fleming, Stanley, in a seductive mood, invites him to join her for dinner.  He fails to come and Stanley, intoxicated and upset, leaves.  Driving carelessly,  she he hits a mother and her young daughter, severely injuring the former and killing the child, In shock and panic, Stanley drives away.

The police find Stanley’s car abandoned and go to question her. Stanley insists that she had loaned her car to Parry Clay the night of the accident, but Minerva says that her son was at home. Stanley refuses to admit her responsibility, even when Roy arranges for her to see Clay at the jail, where he is held as suspect.

Fleming plans to take Stanley to the district attorney, but she escapes to her uncle’s house and pleads for his help. Having just discovered he has only six months to live, Fitzroy is too distraught to do anything, and the selfish Stanley leaves in contempt.

In a chase scene, trying to escape the police, Stanley crashes her car and gets killed, thus clearing the way for a happy marriage between Roy and Fleming.


During the chase scene, there are some close-ups of Davis’ foot on the pedal, driving hysterically, bearing resemblance to the much better-shot drive scene of Lan Turner in Minnelli’s 1952 melodrama, The Bad and the Beautiful.


Bette Davis as Stanley Timberlake Kingsmill

Olivia de Havilland as Roy Timberlake Fleming

George Brent as Craig Fleming

Dennis Morgan as Peter Kingsmill

Frank Craven as Asa Timberlake

Billie Burke as Lavinia Timberlake

Charles Coburn as William Fitzroy

Ernest Anderson as Parry Clay

Hattie McDaniel as Minerva Clay

Lee Patrick as Betty Wilmoth

Mary Servoss as Charlotte Fitzroy

William B. Davidson as Jim Purdy

Edward Fielding as Dr. Buchanan

John Hamilton as Inspector

William Forrest as Forest Ranger