I’m proud to announce that I’m participating in the ‘Great Villain Blogathon’, which is hosted by Speakeasy, Shadows And Satin and Silver Screenings’. For my contribution I have chosen to exhibit a piece on Stanley Timberlake from “In This Our Life”, which is played by Bette Davis.
During the annals of cinema history there has been a plethora of unethical characters showcasing the silver screen, whether they are vicious, corrupt, mercenary or just downright evil, they are still self-centered villains, who find pleasure in the dysphoria of others. One of these villains is Stanley Timberlake, a spoilt, selfish and an unsympathetic person with an impenitent aura.
Bette Davis spices up the screen with enormity in her commendable portrayal of Stanley Timberlake, the troubled and contentious daughter of Asa and Lavinia Timberlake ( Frank Craven and Billie Burke ), who reside in Richmond Virginia.
It’s the eve of Stanley’s wedding to Craig Fleming ( George Brent ), and Asa Timberlake has just lost his portion of the tobacco company to his wife’s brother, William Fitzroy ( Charles Coburn ). He returns home to discover that Stanley is out on another night of reckless driving, and is not present when her uncle William visits to discuss business, and to give Stanley a cheque for her wedding. When she does arrive, she demands that he hand her the check straight away, and then whisks off to her bedroom, cancelling out on a date with Craig, and ignoring her sister’s pleads to try on the gown she has just finished knitting for the ceremony the next day.
The following day altercations arise when it is discovered that Stanley has run away with her sister Roy Timberlake’s ( Olivia De Havilland ) husband Peter ( Dennis Morgan ) and retreat to Baltimore, where they plan to elope. After Stanley and Peter marry, Roy decides to retain a positive attitude while Craig is swept into a downward spiral of depression.
A few months pass, and Craig is still despondent, until he encounters Roy, who encourages him to leave his past behind and move on with his life. Craig takes Roy’s advice, and soon after the two become infatuated by each other, and start dating. Back at work in his law office, Fleming employs Parry Clay, a young black man, who is referred to him by Roy. Parry proves to be efficient in his new position and a great resource to Fleming. William Fitzroy, Lavinia’s brother and Asa’s former partner in a tobacco business, doted on his niece Stanley and gave her expensive presents and money, but was very upset when she ran off. He says he will throw Fleming some of his legal business if he agrees to stop representing poor (black) clients. When Fleming refuses, Roy Timberlake is impressed and decides to accept his proposal of marriage.
In Baltimore, problems strike when Stanley’s marriage becomes rocky. Stanley is an excessive spender, and is using all their money for her own indulgences. To cure his problems, Peter starts drinking heavily, eventually getting caught in the abyss of alcoholism. Days later, Peter commits suicide, and leaves Stanley shaken. Once the news reaches the rest of the family, Roy travels to Baltimore to collect Stanley and together they return to Richmond, where the tensions start all over again.
Troubles ensue when Stanley tries to steal the happiness of her sister by winning back Craig. During a visit to Fleming’s office, Stanley invites Craig out to dinner that evening, but when Craig fails to appear at the restaurant, Stanley becomes violently drunk, causing affliction to the other patrons, until she decides to leave the restaurant. Speeding away, Stanley is involved in a hit and run when she hits a mother and daughter, severely injuring the woman and killing the child. In a panic she flees from the scene.
The next morning, the police turn up at Stanley’s house and question her for the incident the night before, where Stanley retorts that she’s innocent and frames Parry, insisting that she lent him her car. The police asks her where they can find Parry, and upon receiving his exact location, they go and take him to prison where he is to serve a jail sentence. Minerva Clay tells Roy that her son was home with her all evening. Stanley refuses to admit her responsibility although Roy arranges for her to see Clay at the jail. Later Fleming tells her he has already questioned the bartender at the restaurant and knows Stanley left drunk. Fleming plans to take Stanley to the district attorney, but she escapes to her uncle’s house and pleads for his help. Having just discovered he has only six months to live, Fitzroy is too distraught to do anything. Stanley showing no remorse, implores him to help her get out of this latest dilemma, but when he tells her that he’s dying, she annunciates that he’s lived his life, and she has her life ahead of her, so why not think of her, before yelling “You can die for all care, “Die”.
Minutes later, the police arrive at the uncle William’s place, and Stanley eludes by speeding off in her car, resulting in one of the most horrific finales in cinema history.
Bette Davis, who certainly didn’t shy away from playing villains, had enough beef in her to be able to execute the part really well. Out of all the villains Bette has portrayed on the screen, Stanley in my opinion, is definitely her most evil. Stanley has it all. She is the favorite niece of the man who was responsible for ruining her father, a gentle soul beaten by the Great Depression. She is a spoiled woman who couldn’t care less who she hurt, or who she betrayed. Her uncle, who loves her very much, doesn’t receive Stanley’s affection in return. All she wants from her uncle is money so she can run away and live a life of luxury. On the other hand, Roy, the good sister, is all kindness; she is just the opposite of Stanley. When Stanley decides she wants Peter, Roy’s husband, she doesn’t hesitate one second. She takes him and runs away to a life that proves not to be all what she imagined it would be, while Roy continues on with her own life.
Life intervenes in Stanley’s life in tragic ways. First with Peter, the man she shouldn’t have taken away from her sister, and then when trying to get back with Craig, she causes the death of a young girl when driving under the influence. This would have been a sobering experience for anyone, but Stanley is beyond repentance. Stanley, is a coward who will do anything to get away with murder, even if it’s framing a poor innocent colored guy, whose mother happens to be the families maid.