1941 was an outstanding year in film. Amongst the 10 Best Picture nominees was Suspicion, The Little Foxes, The Maltese Falcon, the eventual Best Picture winner How Green Was My Valley and the film that is believed to be the best film of all time by many critics, Citizen Kane. While all of these films were duking it out for Best Picture honors, one of the films that received only one Oscar nomination and one win was The Great Lie. The film, directed by Edmund Goulding, stars Bette Davis as Maggie, a socialite Southern belle who falls in love with irresponisble, boozing pilot Peter Van Allen (George Brent). Maggie is vying for Peter’s affections with Sandra Kovac (Mary Astor), a sharp-tongued and ambitious concert pianist. Maggie ends up marrying Peter, but Sandra later reveals to Maggie that she is pregnant with his child. When his plane goes down over the Amazon and he’s presumed dead, the two women decide to strike a deal where Sandra has the baby in secret and Maggie pretends the child is her own. But when Peter is predictably rescued and returns home, Maggie can’t bring herself to reveal her lie to her resurrected husband. As the lie unravels, the two bitchy divas do battle with one another until the bitter end.
Mary Astor, winner, (180) is on point in her role as the entitled pianist Sandra Kovac. Astor turns in a dazzling performance that matches Bette Davis scene for scene. She overcomes the film’s soap opera-ish tendencies by going for broke in her role as a woman who lives by the words, “a piano, brandy and men.” Although this film won Mary Astor the Best Supporting Actress Oscar, she is better remembered for her unnominated work the same year in the role of Brigid O’Shaughnessy, the murderous femme fatale in The Maltese Falcon.