Sunday, March 31, 2024

Bad Sister

Directed by
Hobart Henley
Written by Raymond L. Schrock, Tom Reed, Edwin H. Knopf from a novel by Booth Tarkenton
Starring Conrad Nagel, Sidney Fox, Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, Zasu Pitts, Charles Winninger, Slim Summerville, David Durant
IMDB Entry

It's often fun to see the early efforts of big name movie stars. Bad Sister shows two of the best.

Marianne Madison (Sidney Fox) is the bad girl of the title, a wild young woman who is out for a good time. She sees several men, most notably, the physician Dr. Lindley (Conrad Nagel), who asks her to marry him. But she puts it off when the charming Valentine Corliss (Humphrey Bogart) comes to town, promising much. He says he's a businessman planning to build a factory in their town. He flatters Marianne's father (Charles Winninger) into investing, and he convinces others to join him as soon as he gets a letter from back East confirming Corliss's bona fides. Meanwhile, Marianne's sister Laura (Bette Davis) is secretly in love with Lindley. Corliss sweet talks Marianne into forging a letter from her father approving of the deal, and several businessmen invest. Then Corliss convinces Marianne to elope with him and quickly abandons her. It's discovered that he was a con man.

This was Bette Davis's film debut. She  hated her performance and thought at first it would kill her career before it started. The role is pretty bland and the production company criticized her "plain" appearance. Luckily, she kept working until she had a break with Of Human Bondage a few years later.

Bogart's role was his third. He makes a good villain; modern audiences can probably see his true colors early on, but he comes off as smooth and trustworthy, just like a con man has to be. 

This was also Sidney Fox's first film. She was the mistress of studio head Carl Laemmle Jr., which probably had something to do with her casting. However, she does a respectable job overall. Sadly, she only appeared in a handful of films after this and died in 1942 after an overdose of sleeping pills. Lead actor Conrad Nagle had started out in the silent days and continued to act regularly into the late 50s.

The great ZaSu Pitts provides comic relief as Minnie, the family's servant and cook and Charles Winninger and Slim Summerville also had long careers.

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