Nan Reynolds (Ann Dvorak) is a traditional housewife, raising her son and caring for the home while her husband works.
Mr. Reynolds, Bill (George Brent), is very unhappy with his job. He gets no respect from the higher-ups, who shoot down every one of his ideas. His salary is pretty small, too, adding to his disappointment.
When Bill’s company hires highly-paid Pat Berkeley (Bette Davis) as a copy writer, Nan and Bill’s lives are changed. Pat is an old friend of the couple, and she used to hold a torch for Bill. Seeing Pat’s success, Nan encourages Bill to start his own ad business, where his first gig is to create a campaign for Paul Duprey (John Halliday) with Pat’s help.
Alfred E. Green directs 1934’s Housewife. The film aired on TCM in August as part of Bette Davis’ Summer Under the Stars day.
Housewife is part business drama and part romantic drama. Bill is trying to succeed in starting his own ad business after quitting a job that was getting him nowhere, but he’s also getting mixed up with Pat, potentially destroying his marriage.
The most frustrating thing about this film is that at 69 minutes, it’s way too short to tell a compelling story without a serious overhaul of the script. A great story can be told in an hour. Heck, a great story can be told in five minutes! But neither side of this particular story — business or romance — is fleshed out well enough here. Bill and Nan’s history with Pat adds a layer of interest to the story, and could have made for a great drama.
I also found the ending highly unsatisfying. I would have had trouble caring about the outcome if not for Ann Dvorak’s character of Nan. She’s a smart woman, giving her husband all of his greatest ideas. In return, she gets very little credit and respect, Bill occupied by spending most of his time with Pat. In a perfect world she’d dump Bill and become a kick-ass ad woman, but of course that could never happen in a film called Housewife from ’34, haha.
On the plus side, there are a few tense scenes between Dvorak and Davis that I really enjoyed. The performances across the board are finely executed — the cast just isn’t given good enough material to work with.
I hate to say it, but I think this is my least favorite of all of the many Bette Davis films I’ve seen! Luckily, I don’t seem to be alone in this opinion. Upon the film’s release, Frank Nugent of The New York Times wrote that “the dramatic punches are not merely telegraphed, but radioed. And the most unexpected element of the film is the bewildering regularity with which the unexpected fails to happen” (as quoted in Gene Ringgold’s The Films of Bette Davis).
As for Bette, her only comment on the film in the book Mother Goddam was: “Dear God! What a horror!”