Bogart and Davis Support Fox in The Bad Sister

Bogart and Davis Support Fox in The Bad Sister
Humphrey Bogart and Bette Davis would eventually make six films together, but when they appeared in the Pre-Code drama The Bad Sister, neither received top billing.

That honor, and the title role, went to stage actress Sidney Fox.

Fox, an endearing actress with an unfortunately short-lived career, was performing in New York when she was discovered by producer Carl Laemmle, Jr. who signed Fox to a multiyear contract with Universal Studios. The Bad Sister was her first film.

The film is interesting to watch for three good reasons: Davis, Bogart, and Fox. Davis and Bogart as they were up-and-coming, and Fox who began her career on stage and was making the transition to motion pictures.

For his part, Bogart had a few films under his belt at the time, but was far from being a star. In The Bad Sister, he has the small but pivotal role of Valentine Corliss. Corliss is the handsome con man that woos the money-hungry “bad sister” and leaves her penniless. His presence is not menacing, but certainly suspect, and his time on screen is fairly brief.

This was Davis’s debut film, and her role was slightly larger. She plays dowdy Laura Madison, the undeniably "good sister," rather than the beautiful and determined, bad sibling.

There is not much depth to Laura, but knowing the deliciously evil characters Davis would eventually play, watching her portray the demure sister is a fascinating study in physicality. With few lines, Davis convincingly portrays a young woman whose heart is shattered, but is too weak to fight for what she wants.

Davis and Fox are a fascinating duo. As for talent in this film, the two are evenly matched.

Davis, who reportedly hated her performance and her appearance in the film, went on to successfully play some of the strongest and most memorable characters in the history of motion pictures.

Fox, on the other hand, began her career in the theatre, followed up The Bad Sister with a handful of unsuccessful films, and sadly died from an overdose of sleeping pills at the young age of thirty-one.

As for the film itself, many Pre-Code themes play out as a lecture in morality. The Bad Sister is no exception.

The story centers around the schemes of Marianne Madison, the bad sister played by Fox. Marianne craves social position and a wealthy, handsome, socially prominent husband. She is completely self-centered, and effortlessly steals her drab sister’s true love because of his social status. She continues to take advantage of her loving family, spending the family’s assets on expensive clothes.

Once her father’s disposable income is depleted, Marianne begins committing crimes in order to acquire the things she believes she deserves.

This is where Fox is the most captivating. A natural beauty, she shines as the conniving sister, using her good looks and charm to manipulate others.

Eventually, Marianne finds redemption from her wicked ways, and watching Fox play the various layers of her character’s development is pretty impressive. Especially since her promising career never got the foothold it deserved.

*NOTE: I watched this film at my own expense. The the run time was just over an hour.

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