However, as sometimes happens in a Wyler movie, the film ultimately belongs to the ladies. Mary Astor, playing a character a little older than she was at the time, gives a beautiful understated performance, possibly the best of her long career. Meanwhile, Ruth Chatterton is phenomenal. In 1936 she was forty four her popularity on the decline. Her character is almost too close to the bone for comfort. In fact, I’m not sure if any movie or any actress has captured the dread of aging with such power and precision.
More than any artist in the history of Hollywood, because of his naming of names at the HUAC and the lives and livelihoods that were destroyed because of his testimony (including his own Best Supporting Actress Kim Hunter), what you think of Elia Kazan’s body of work depends on whether you can separate the artist from the art. I am very much in favor of this. After all, some of the world’s greatest pieces of art were created by some pretty despicable people. Which is why I always list Kazan as one of my all-time favorite directors with only a trace of cognitive dissonance.
However, he only came into his own in his fifties (love late bloomers) at the relatively relaxed atmosphere at RKO Pictures. where his supreme gift for contrasting shadows and light (chiaroscuro) was essential to the look of RKO’s seminal film noirs such as “Out of the Past” and the feel of Producer Val Lewton’s horror movies like “Cat People” and “The Seventh Victim”.