Old Acquaintance: Top Bette Davis in Melodrama

John Van Druten’s play,  upon which Vincent Sherman’s film is based, had its premiere at the Morosco Theatre, New York on December 23. 1940, staged by Auriol Lee.  The play. which starred Jane Cowl, Peggy Wood and Kent Smith, was not s huge commercial success; it ran for only 170 performances.

In 1924, newly successful author Kit Marlowe returns to her home town as part of a lecture tour, and to visit her childhood friend Millie.  Millie, who has married Preston Drake and is pregnant, surprises Kit when she discloses she has also written a romance novel. Millie asks Kit to present her book to her publisher.

Eight years later, Millie has become a successful writer based on a string of romance novels. Visiting New York, on the eve of the opening of a play written by Kit, the Drake’s marriage is not going well. In an interview with a reporter, Preston, an architect and engineer, seems to feel inferior to his wife’s success. In a private moment with Kit, Preston professes his love for Kit.

When Millie mentions Preston’s drinking habit to Kit, Kit replies “people drink for escape”. Moments later, as the three converse, Preston and Kit get into a serious argument (with Millie displaying what some might interpret as ‘manic’ behavior) and Preston leaves Millie ‘for good’. Kit tracks down Preston and tries to convince him to return to Millie, but he tries to convince Kit that he is in love with her. Kit tells him she can not reciprocate, as she could not do that to Millie. They kiss goodbye and part.

Ten years pass, and World Word Two in on. Kit is on a radio show espousing the good of the American Red Cross, and Preston, now a major in the Army, hears her. He calls the radio station to suggest they meet for a drink. They do, but Kit also has her much-younger beau, Rudd Kendall, and Preston’s almost-18 year-old daughter, Deirdre, whom Preston has not seen in those ten years, join them. Preston tells Kit he is engaged, and Kit is happy for him. Preston and his daughter become reacquainted. The next morning Rudd (again) presses Kit to marry him, but she puts him off, promising an answer in a few days, and he leaves. Rudd, feeling reproached and rejected, then ‘hooks-up’ with Deirdre.

Preston meets with Millie to ask for ‘joint custody’ of Deirdre, but also incidentally discloses to her that he was once in love with Kit. Expecting a reconciliation, an outraged Millie throws him out. Millie then rants and raves to Deirdre about how Kit is a Judas and a Jezebel (the writers tongue-in-cheek reference to Davis’s 1938 film). Millie also discloses that Kit is to marry Rudd, causing Deirdre much distress, and Deirdre leaves. Then

Kit and Millie have an argument, and that night, Kit, after having decided to marry Rudd, finds out from him that he is now in love with Deirdre. Kit tracks down Deirdre, calms her, and returns her to Rudd. Kit then returns home to find Millie, and they reconcile. Millie tells Kit about her new book, dealing with the travails of two women friends, and Kit suggests Millie title the book “Old Acquaintance”.

Cast

Bette Davis as Katherine “Kit” Marlowe

Miriam Hopkins as Millie Drake

Gig Young as Rudd Kendall

John Loder as Preston Drake

Dolores Moran as Deirdre Drake

Phillip Reed as Lucian Grant

Roscoe Karns as Charlie Archer

Anne Revere as Belle Carter

The film was remade by gerorge Cukor in 1981 as Rich and Famous, with Jacqueline Bisset and Candice Bergen.