The brilliance of much of the acting and the splendor of the production can help you miss the rather labored quality of the story, and some unfortunate casting doesn't help much. Why on earth does the magnificent Bette Davis' beautiful and thrilling Julie Marsden want anything to do with that stiffnecked fool Preston Dillard, especially as embodied by the appalling Henry Fonda?
Davis and Bainter are good, but the movie itself isn't quite up to par. And the way it halfheartedly acknowledges the blatant sexism and racism of its situation, before just going ahead and embracing them fully, is pretty off-putting.
The costume design and Davis' performance are both excellent but that isn't enough to save it. A bad melodrama with a horrible ending. It doesn't help that the genre itself, the over-the-top Southern drama, isn't engaging to me in the first place.
Warner Brothers' answer to "Gone with the Wind" may lack the epic scale and grand cinematic of that film, but it is a fine Southern drama in its own right. The story is quite compelling, and it even makes some poignant examinations of the attitudes and politics of the period. The acting is solid throughout, headlined by Bette Davis' incredible performance as the multi-layered central character.
Wyler made Davis a legend by working with her in this film. Thats enough of a reason to check it out. Unfortunately, the story is a bit dated and Fonda feels woefully miscast. Davis' performance alone adds an additional star to this slight misstep in the great Wyler's career. 4 stars