Irish Film Institute -THE OLD MAID



U.S.A.| 1939. BLACK AND WHITE. 95 MIN.

Based on an Edith Wharton novel, The Old Maid is a study of female sacrifice in nineteenth century America. Bette Davis’s heroine secretly gives birth to an illegitimate daughter and, to avoid social disgrace, allows her to be adopted by her married cousin (Miriam Hopkins). As time passes, the unsuspecting child becomes drawn to Hopkins and alienated from her so-called aunt, Davis’s old maid who, to preserve the deception, has tended to treat the child with severity.

The tension mounts impressively, and Edmund Goulding, always one of Davis’s most sympathetic directors, gives her one great scene, when, on her own and her face partially in shadow, she pretends to talk to her daughter as the loving mother she would like to have been before slipping back into the harsh persona of old maid, the role imposed on her by society’s values.

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