Movie Review

That Certain Woman

"From Gangster's Moll to Gangster's Widow with just one bullet."
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That Certain Woman Movie Poster

US Release Date: 09/15/1937

Directed by:Edmund Goulding

Starring

Reviewed on: April 9th, 2003
Bette Davis in That Certain Woman.

Bette Davis in That Certain Woman.

During the heyday of the big Hollywood studio system - from the twenties to the forties - stars churned out movies at an impressive, and by today's standards, unheard of pace. For exampleThat Certain Woman was Bette Davis' 34th movie since making her debut in 1931 in The Bad Sister. It was Henry Fonda's 10th movie in just two years and the first of his two movies with Davis. Donald Crisp, playing Fonda's father, had been making movies since 1908 and continued working until his final role as Grandpa Spencer - once again playing Henry Fonda's father - in Spencer's Mountain in 1963.

That Certain Woman is Mary Donell (Davis), formerly Mrs. Haines, a gangster's widow now working for a respected law firm. She becomes the love interest of her married boss (Ian Hunter) and spends much of her time fending off unwanted press attention from her marriage to the notorious, slain gangster. She meets, falls in love with, and marries Jack Merrick (Fonda), the son of one of the firm's most important clients (Crisp). Enraged at his son's choice of a bride, Jack's father shows up on their wedding night and forces his spineless son to get an annulment. But wait. Mary is pregnant from their one night of love. She gives birth to Jack's son, unbeknownst to him of course. Meanwhile Jack has remarried a more socially appropriate woman. But wait. After a car accident the new wife is unable to bear children. Yes, this melodrama is over the top. Bette Davis is in her best martyr mode, self-sacrificing everything for the sake of her son's future. But will there be a surprise happy ending?

That Certain Woman is pure Hollywood schlock but with an unforgettable cast and passionate direction from Edmund Goulding. The always-reliable Bette Davis proves once again that she was the most ambitious actress in Hollywood (with the possible exception of Joan Crawford). She wasn't called the fifth Warner Brother for nothing. And the young Henry Fonda exhibits all the charm necessary to have made him the perfect actor to play Jay Gatsby.

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