The first time I ranked all the winners in this category, Mary Astor made it to position number 58 but this time I was less generous. The last time I appreciated a certain level of entertainment that she showed in her role but this time I found myself only being distracted by her over-the-top acting that consisted mostly of camp effects than anything else.
In The Great Lie, Mary Astor played Sandra Kovak, a famous pianist, a temperamental diva – and the secret mother of Pete Van Allen’s (Bette Davis’s husband) baby. The Great Lie is one of those typical, melodramatic movies from the 40s – in fact, even worse and only the involvement of actresses like Bette Davis and Mary Astor helped to get this picture some serious reputation. But even those two actresses aren’t able to turn The Great Lie into something better. I admit that the movie does entertain – it’s the kind of movie that makes Bette Davis-fans scream with joy while all fans of old Hollywood movie-acting also won’t be disappointed. It’s a two-hour-long bitch-fight between two skilled actresses – surely more than enough people are willing to love this movie just for this. But I am not among them.
Her biggest success and probably the reason why the movie achieves a level of entertainment is her chemistry with Bette Davis – her acting choices may too often be exaggerated but these two actresses still know how to work together. A rather astonishing fact is that Mary Astor was not overshadowed by Bette Davis – but the reason is less Mary Astor but rather Bette Davis who is surprisingly pale and boring as the loving wife. Mary Astor has the juicier part, that’s for sure, but she, too, suffers from a lack of screen presence and rather negligible acting.
incredibly over-the-top screaming scene are a complete failure. Again, I won’t deny that Mary Astor’s performance works extremely well in the context of the whole movie – but that theatrical, over-the-top style is just not for me, especially when that’s all the actress has to do. There is no real character, no real emotion, it’s mostly just being a bitch.
It’s a thankless part that Mary Astor tried too hard to fill with life – but some successful line deliveries to Bette Davis or some more powerful quiet moments can’t make up for all the over-the-top choices she did in The Great Lie.