Today I had the pleasure of seeing the person I could classify as my very first “best friend.” All those who followed had impossible shoes to fill, but then again, what compares fairly to the absolute honestly of a childhood friendship with the kid across the street? Just back from Mozambique with her husband, she asked me the question I was trying to answer before I met up with her: when was the last time we saw each other? Neither of us could remember, but it couldn’t have mattered less; within seconds we were back at that unknown place where we left each other the last time. Immediately discussed were the hours our young selves spent in and around my pool or playing She-ra in her room, and I realized what good fortune I had to have begun my definition of “friendship” through this remarkable individual. Despite the details of this film’s plot and off-screen drama, this short piece is dedicated to my first and best old acquaintance.
Old Acquaintance stars Bette Davis and Miriam Hopkins in their second film together as loving enemies. Bette Davis is a talented but less-than-successful author of whom her best friend since childhood (Hopkins) is horribly jealous. When she too starts writing and hits the jackpot with a series of romance novels, years of loving tension between the two start to spill out. When Miriam Hopkins goes too far, Bette Davis walks calmly across the room, takes her friend by the shoulders, and shakes her with the hatred that only love can produce before throwing her down into a chair. As if trying to exorcise a demon, those reliable Bette Davis eyes pop out wonderfully and would have made me duck had the film been shown in 3-D. Every time I see that scene, without fail one phrase from the scratchy voice of an older Bette Davis plays over and over in my head: “Miriam Hopkins . . . she was a reeeaaal bitch!”
As much love as I have for Bette Davis, I wouldn’t say this is one to put at the top of your to-do list. For me, knowing how much these two actresses disliked each other is what gives the film its true power. Far from the typical Bette Davis dynamic, it turns out that Miriam Hopkins has the more interesting role, since her character is terribly easy to dislike. It is worth it, however, solely for the satisfying release we all feel when Bette Davis finally gives her that much-needed shake. I’m always happy to bring my old acquaintance to mind, a unique and wonderful friendship that will never “be forgot.”