Warner Archives continues mining its voluminous vaults for some more films which are new to DVD. Here for discussion- and thanks to the WA for the review copies- are The Rich are Always with Us and Housewife, from 1932 and 1934, respectively. This could also be viewed as a coupling of Alfred E. Green directorial efforts, although that would be of course much less marketable than the approved approach of early examples of films from the lengthy career of Bette Davis. The depth of the archives is noted with the fact that at this stage in their history they still are releasing films from some of the greatest actors of history.
Both are from the period when Bette Davis wasn’t the star which she would become. In fact in neither is she the lead star, or even the leading lady. In The Rich are Always with Us, Ruth Chatterton is the lead. For myself, I wasn’t very familiar with Ms. Chatterton’s work, except to know that she was often mentioned by Bette Davis as a kind benefactor during her early days at Warners. Chatterton’s delivery is easy and natural, or at least appearing as such. In what was still a fairly early “talkie” it is very good to see such a conversational tone- much opposed to the usual stilted and robotic mannerisms of most stars of the time as they became acquainted with the addition of sound to the motion picture industry.
What most will not remember is that the iconic scene in Now Voyager where George Brent (who made 11 films with Davis and was married to Ruth Chatterton at the time of The Rich are Always With Us) lights two cigarettes and passes one to the demure Davis first appeared in The Rich Are Always With Us. You learn something every day they say.
By the time of the unimaginatively titled Housewife (1934), Bette Davis has come up a bit in the ranks at Warners, but still plays second fiddle to Ann Dvorak and yet again, George Brent.
Sadly, neither film is wondrous, although The Rich are Always With Us is most definitely the stronger of the two. Cleanly bracketing the start of FDR’s long tenure in the White House, it is interesting to note the tone of each picture.
The Rich are Always with Us, made first, in 1932 (during the Herbert Hoover administration) and some of the bleakest days of the Great Depression, is a tale of the entitled elite of Park Avenue. In this sense it is somewhat escapist in setting, if not in plot. Housewife, made in 1934 and in the early days of FDR’s first term, when things at least had started to turn around- or at least someone was making visible efforts to turn them around- is bleak, desolate, and frankly depressing in most regards. So in both cases the picture is the flip side of historical reality of the time.
Both Housewife and the earlier The Rich are Always with Us are besotted with somewhat similar themes – of love torn between multiple people. The Rich are Always with Us become almost a bacchanal as adultery becomes the theme of the day. Granted this was in the pre-code era. Housewife as well has George Brent torn between Bette Davis and Ann Dvorak.
Both films are great to have in your collection and show some signs of restoration – though admittedly slight. Both come with the moniker “Remastered Edition” on the slipcases. Both are extremely watchable and have good sound for the age of the sources. I’d suggest watching both prior to purchasing if you can- or unless you know you’re a Bette Davis completist. I’ve said it before, but I don’t know what the average Warner Archives title sells, but it is really tremendous the effort put into putting these classics out- even admittedly lesser ones.
And I say that for one primary reason. Neither showcase Bette Davis, though Housewife does a marginally better job in this regard. Housewife, and to a lesser extent The Rich are Always with Us, would later become characteristic of the “B” pictures Davis would grow increasingly weary of working on for Warners.
So at the end of the day, if you want Davis’ best, these aren’t for you. This isn’t All About Eve. If you want to see some of her early work as she was coming into her own, then highly recommended. And again, on a closing note, The Rich are Always with Us, is recommended purely for exposure and appreciation of Ruth Chatterton.