Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Old Maid (1939)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Old Maid (1939)

In director Edmund Goulding's family-based, melodramatic mother-daughter tear-jerker set during the Civil War period (and after), adapted from Edith Wharton's 1924 novella, and Zoë Akins' 1935 Pulitzer Prize-winning play, with a magnificent Max Steiner score:

  • in the film's opening set in the early 1860s in Philadelphia, PA, Delia Lovell Ralston (Miriam Hopkins) spurned cad, ex-fiancee, and impulsive playboyish suitor Clem Spender (George Brent) who had returned after a two year, heavy-drinking absence in Paris; instead, she proceeded marry socially-respectable but stuffy munitions manufacturer James "Jim" Ralston (James Stephenson)
  • Delia's worried wall-flower cousin Charlotte Lovell (Bette Davis), who had always liked Clem and served as a bridesmaid at Delia's wedding, commiserated and slept (off-screen) that evening with Delia's rejected, hot-headed and ex-beau when she spent a late night with him - and became pregnant

Delia's Marriage Announcement to Socially-Respectable James Ralston

On Her Wedding Day, Delia Spurned Ex-Beau Clem Spender

Worried Charlotte Returning Late at Night After Commiserating - and Sleeping With Clem
  • soon after on the next day, Lt. Clem Spender departed from the train station (after leaving a tearful Charlotte) to fight as a Union soldier in the Civil War; he died on the battlefield at the Battle of Vicksburg in 1863
  • meanwhile, Charlotte secretly became an unmarried mother, and journeyed West to have her baby; about 4 years later in 1866 in Philadelphia, Delia was now the mother of two children with James
  • Charlotte returned and refurbished the family's home stables as the Charlotte Lovell Nursery for War Orphans - a day orphanage for over 20 children of working mothers; there, she could secretly hide her dreadful and scandalous secret and care for her illegitimate daughter - love child and "foundling" Clementina "Tina" (Marlene Burnett as young child) (named after Clem!)
  • on the day of Charlotte's wedding in June of 1866 to be held at the Ralston mansion, she was about to marry Joseph "Joe" Ralston (Jerome Cowan), Jim's brother (Delia's husband); she became concerned about giving up her nursery to be dutiful and obey her future husband; she decided to confess to Delia the existence of her love child in the nursery: "I will not give up my own baby....I call my own baby my baby...I had to hide her. What else could I do?"; Delia was worried that Charlotte's fiancee would not accept the news of an illegitimate child: "What reason could I give?...He'd never forgive you. You know it. If it comes to that, what decent man do we know who would?"
  • Charlotte admitted her sinful decision to sleep with Clem - a man she had loved since childhood: "I loved him. I'm not pretending it wasn't a sin. He was lonely and unhappy before he went away...he never knew. You see, he never came back. He never will"; Delia suddenly realized that Charlotte had sexual relations with her cast-off suitor Clem who died at Vicksburg, and had named her 'Tina' after him; Delia was sarcastically spiteful: "Our little Charlotte with her good deeds. Her haven for destitute children. Twenty children to hide one child," causing Charlotte to wish she had never divulged her secret
Charlotte's Confession on Wedding Day about Having Raised Clem's Illegitimate Daughter - "Foundling" Tina

"I call my own baby my baby"

Delia Stunned at the News of Charlotte's Baby

Delia - Realizing Charlotte Had Been Impregnated By Her Ex-Suitor Clem
  • the conniving and selfish-minded Delia, who still loved Clem, became spiteful; she set about to derail Charlotte's wedding to her fiancee Joe, by divulging Charlotte's secret for the sake of the Ralston's reputation: ("Better lose him than deceive a man into a marriage. A man you don't even love");
  • Charlotte vowed: "I'll be a good wife to him. He'll never be sorry he married me" - but Delia was intent on cornering Joe (and his brother Jim, her husband) and insisting that he not marry her: "Charlotte isn't entering into this marriage honorably...She can't marry you. She can't marry anyone now"; instead of revealing the real reason, Delia stressed the common rumor that Charlotte was "sick" and "unhealthy" after a trip West five years earlier, when she had contracted "lung trouble" and was now coughing: ("That sickness has come back on her. That's why she can't ever marry anyone"); even Delia's husband concurred: "You can't marry her. It wouldn't be a marriage. You'd both be miserable and you wouldn't dare to have children. You'd better face it, Joe" - Joe called off the marriage without ever knowing about Charlotte's illegitimate child

Delia to Joe: "Charlotte Isn't Entering Into This Marriage Honorably"

Joe Calling Off the Marriage: "Charlotte, I release you"
  • with her marital plans ruined, Charlotte retreated into seclusion ("shut...away from the world"), reappearing only six months later when a letter informed her about Jim's (Delia's husband) serious horse-riding accident
  • while speaking to Joe at the Ralston mansion about her health, Charlotte realized that he had been talked out of marriage to her - due to Delia's spreading of false fears; she glared at Delia with contempt for robbing her of romance, but Charlotte misinterpreted Joe's words and thought that Delia had informed Joe of her illegitimate child: "I've just found out from Joe about Tina...When you found out about Clem, you hated me, didn't you? I could have gone to Joe myself and told him. He loved me. He might have let me keep Tina. But you lied to make sure I wouldn't have a chance, didn't you? He wanted to see me, but I refused because I was so ashamed. It was wicked of you"
  • then came the tragic news of Jim's death from a skull fracture; Charlotte (with Tina) accepted the widowed Delia's awkward living arrangement invitation - to move into the large Ralston mansion: (Delia: "But why should you, because you're guilty of a child's existence, allow your remorse to color her life? It's your duty to put her into a normal life with toys and games and companions. You'll always do your best for her, but here she'd have everything....Whatever you do will be of your own free will, but it isn't fair to bring up that child alone and you know it"); at first, Charlotte rejected the idea, but finally agreed; Delia would take care of 'Tina' - acting as her mother, while Charlotte was to be regarded as Aunt Charlotte for her unknowing, patronizing niece
  • fifteen years later (signaled by a montage), Aunt Charlotte appeared - now with wisps of gray hair, and acting like a serious, bitter, sullen, stern-faced, spinster-like 'old maid'; her daughter - free-spirited teenaged Tina (Jane Bryan as young adult) was romantically interested in her handsome young boyfriend Lanning Halsey (William Lundigan) from a prominent family
  • in a brief scene, Charlotte was dancing alone in an upstairs bedroom (while a dance was in progress downstairs), to the tune of "My Darling Clementine" - she realized that she was growing old, sat down and exclaimed, "Oh Clem"
  • Tina delivered disrespectful words to Delia (her "Mommy") about how Aunt Charlotte was critical, cruel, old-fashioned, and unfair - and a 'ridiculous, narrow-minded old maid': "You think Mommy spoils me but she doesn't. She understands me while you don't. Mommy knows what it is to be young and have people fond of her. While you, you've never been young"; shortly later, Charlotte explained to Delia how she was "deliberately" creating the impression for Tina that she was an "old maid" rather than acting like her real mother
  • an anguished Charlotte eavesdropped in horror behind a drawing-room door to the whispered love and kisses of Tina for Lanning when they returned late from a date, and Tina expressed her devotion: "That's the first (kiss), and I'll never kiss anyone but you, ever!"; Charlotte appeared and reprimanded Tina for encouraging Lanning to enter the house: "Any man would've done the same had she permitted it"; Tina was exasperated with Charlotte: "You've driven Lanning away...I'll never forgive you, never!"
  • during the dramatic confrontation, Tina chastised Charlotte: "You've got to know that I'm sick of your spying, fault-finding and meddling.... she's just a sour old maid who hates me because I'm young and attractive and in love, while she's old and hideous and dried up and has never known anything about love"
  • the fact that Tina had "no position, no name" because she was a "foundling" caused Delia to be allowed by Charlotte to legally adopt Tina to provide her with legitimate social status: ("the Ralston name and part of the Ralston fortune"), so that she would be "desirable" as a marital partner with Lanning: (Delia: "If Tina's to be happy, her position must be made unassailable, financially and socially")
  • Charlotte and Delia faced each other in a quarrel on the stairs on the eve of Tina's wedding day in June 1881, when Charlotte threatened to divulge the truth of Tina's identity and parentage to her: "We'll see which one of us is her mother...You made me an old maid. You divided my child from me. You adopted her. You even took away my legal right to her. You taught her to call you mother. Well, tonight, just tonight, she belongs to me. That's not too much to ask. Tonight, I want her to call me mother"
Charlotte to Delia: "Tonight, I want her to call me mother"
  • however, once Aunt Charlotte entered Tina's bedroom, she was conciliatory and kind in a very tearjerking sequence - she couldn't bring herself to destroy her daughter's happiness; she offered tender words to Tina at her bedside, offering congratulations and explaining her strict and critical love, instead of divulging Tina's true parentage: "I just came in to say good night and to wish you happiness. God bless you, my child....If I've been severe with you at times, I haven't meant it. I love you very much"
  • in a rapprochement scene with Delia, Charlotte accepted the fact that both Clem and Tina loved Delia more than they did her: "If she never really belonged to me, perhaps it's because her father never really belonged to me either. They're both yours. He loved you and she loves you too. You're the mother she wants. Go in to her, Delia. It's not your fault or mine. Don't feel sorry for me. After all, she was mine when she was little"
  • to assuage Charlotte, Delia informed Tina that Charlotte, her old maid aunt, had sacrificed her own happiness by refusing to marry a man who did not want to raise Tina as his own: "She didn't marry a man who loved her very much and who would have given her everything she wanted...Because she wouldn't give you up. That's why she's an old maid" - and then she made a very special request of Tina - before leaving on her honeymoon, she must save her very last kiss for Charlotte: "You remember and try to make her glad tomorrow of the choice she made without letting her know I told you so...When you go away tomorrow at the very last moment, you understand, after you've said goodbye to me and to everybody else...just as Lanning puts you into the carriage, lean down and give your last kiss to Aunt Charlotte, will you?...Don't forget, the very last"
  • the final scene was of the new bride's last kiss given to her special Aunt - fulfilling the special request of Delia - never knowing that Charlotte was her real mother; the very satisfied Charlotte caressed the cheek that Tina had just lovingly kissed
Delia's Special Request of Tina - The Last Kiss for Aunt Charlotte After Her Wedding

Delia Lovell Ralston (Miriam Hopkins)

Charlotte Lovell (Bette Davis)

Clem Spender (George Brent)

Charlotte's Tearful Goodbye to Lt. Spender at Train Station

Lt. Spender's Death in Civil War

Charlotte: Head of Day Orphanage/Nursery with 'Tina'

Charlotte Realizing How Joe Had Been Duped by Delia About Her Not Being Marriageable

Charlotte Glaring at Delia with Contempt

Tina to Delia: "Goodnight, Mommy!" Tina to Charlotte: "Goodnight, Aunt Charlotte"

Tina (Jane Bryan as young adult)

Charlotte Dancing Alone Upstairs - Realizing She Was Old

Tina's Frustration with Aunt Charlotte's Severe Criticisms

Eavesdropping on Lanning and Tina

Tina's Chastisement of Charlotte For Being "Hideous and Dried Up"

Charlotte At Tina's Bedside: "If I've been severe with you at times, I haven't meant it. I love you very much"

Charlotte to Delia: "Don't feel sorry for me"

Delia to Tina: "That's why she's an old maid" - With A Very Special Request


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