In This Our Life
In This Our Life is not a "for the ages" classic of the Golden Age of Cinema, but as a highly effective and entertaining melodrama, it more than fits the bill. Howard Koch's screenplay is a trifle predictable, but it's well structured and provides the requisite juicy roles for its pair of female stars. It also provides a number of little surprises -- a sympathetic and (for the time) non-stereotypical portrayal of a black character and two characters living not only in sin but adulterously so -- that give it some distinction. The script's main drawback is its initial lack of focus; it doesn't seem to quite know exactly what its story is and where the real conflict will lie. Ultimately, this doesn't really matter, for John Huston knows where it's going, and he shepherds the story along very efficiently, throwing in a little social commentary here, heightening the atmosphere there, tossing in a hint of the unsavory elsewhere. Although he doesn't really know what to do with the male actors (save for Charles Coburn and Frank Craven, each of whom is just right in entirely different ways), he handles the women in exactly the right way, including Billie Burke as the coddling, neurotic mother. It's Bette Davis, of course, who gets the showiest role, and she sinks her teeth into it and plays it for all it's worth. It's a great Davis performance, but she's still outdone by Olivia de Havilland, whose quiet, understated work anchors the film and ultimately makes the greater impression. It's terribly fine film acting, and immensely satisfying.