Scenes from a Marriage: The Catered Affair (1956)

Announcement

When Jane Hurley (Debbie Reynolds) announces that she’s engaged to Ralph Halloran (Rod Taylor), her boyfriend of three years, at the beginning of the 1956 Richard Brooks-directed film The Catered Affair, her parents’ reactions are decidedly restrained. “Well, Jane, that’s very nice,” replies her mother, Aggie (Bette Davis), in the midst of making breakfast. Her father, Tom (Ernest Borgnine), who’s just come home after driving a taxi all night, doesn’t respond at all until prodded by his wife, and then he merely echoes her words: “Jane, that’s very nice.” To be fair, Jane herself is rather subdued in delivering the news, and as she explains, their reasons for getting married now are largely practical: “Well, what finally decided us was Ralph’s got this friend, you know, in California, but his wife’s pregnant, so he asked Ralph if he knew somebody who could drive his car out for him ’cause he can’t drive it out himself, you know, ’cause his wife’s pregnant, so Ralph thought quickly and decided we could make a nice honeymoon out of a nice trip to California like that.” For them to take advantage of this opportunity, the wedding will have to take place in only a few days’ time, a no-frills, ten-minute affair, without a reception or any guests beyond the bride and groom’s immediate families. That’s how Jane wants it, and her parents are fine with the idea — at least at first.

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Just a Game?: Lo Scopone Scientifico (1972)

Game

“We live in a squatter’s shack that’s overrun with rats. Every time it rains, the firemen must take us away by boat. Your dad was injured during the war. He can’t work any more than he does; otherwise, he’d be a hard worker … You must understand that our only hope is winning some money from that old lady.”

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Bad, Bad Bette Davis: In This Our Life (1942)

Stanley Driving

In a movie career that spanned six decades, Bette Davis played everything from a Cockney waitress (in Of Human Bondage) to a Bronx housewife (in The Catered Affair) to Queen Elizabeth I (twice, in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex and The Virgin Queen). My first exposure to her was through the 1946 film A Stolen Life, in which she has a dual role as a pair of twins — one good, one bad. (This, of course, is not to be confused with 1964’s Dead Ringer, which has her portraying two bad twins.) As I delved into her filmography, I quickly realized that I much preferred Bad Bette to Good Bette. Admittedly, that’s an oversimplification, and many of her roles fall somewhere between the two extremes, but I never get tired of watching her misbehave, and 1942’s In This Our Life offers ample opportunity to do just that.

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Eating Up the Whole Earth: The Little Foxes (1941)

Regina

Regina Hubbard Giddens (Bette Davis) is a ruthless woman. It’s natural enough: Her family made its fortune by cheating and exploiting people, both in business and in marriage — which, to them, is nothing more than another commercial transaction. Now she and her brothers, Ben (Charles Dingle) and Oscar (Carl Benton Reid), are the most powerful citizens in their small town deep in the American South, but that’s not enough for them. They hope to make a deal with William Marshall (Russell Hicks), a Chicago businessman, to build a local cotton mill, and if it’s successful, they’ll all become fabulously wealthy. Regina declares that once she has her share of the profits, she’ll go to Chicago with her teenage daughter, Alexandra (Teresa Wright). “I’m going to live there,” she tells her brothers. “I’m going to take Alexandra with me. And I’ll give big parties for her and see that she meets the best people and the right young men too. And later on I’ll take trips to New York and Paris and have what I want, everything I want.”

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