The Bad Sister

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The Bad Sister
Bad Sister poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Hobart Henley
Produced by Carl Laemmle, Jr.
Written by Edwin H. Knopf
Tom Reed
Raymond L. Schrock
Based on a novel by Booth Tarkington
Starring Conrad Nagel
Sidney Fox
Bette Davis
Zasu Pitts
Humphrey Bogart
Music by David Broekman
Cinematography Karl Freund
Edited by Ted J. Kent
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release dates
  • March 29, 1931 (1931-03-29)
Running time
68 minutes
Country United States
Language English

The Bad Sister is a 1931 American Pre-Code drama film directed by Hobart Henley. The screenplay by Edwin H. Knopf, Tom Reed, and Raymond L. Schrock is based on the 1913 novel The Flirt by Booth Tarkington, which previously was filmed in 1916 and 1922.

The film marks the screen debut of Bette Davis and Sidney Fox, who was billed over Davis. It also features Humphrey Bogart and Zasu Pitts in supporting roles.

This film has been preserved in the Library of Congress collection.[1] [2]


Naive Marianne Madison, bored with her routine life, falls for dashing con artist Valentine Corliss, who has come to her small town looking for fresh marks to swindle. He soon charms her into faking her wealthy and prominent father's name on a letter of endorsement, which he presents to the other local merchants, who willingly give him merchandise. He prepares his escape, but not before conning Marianne into becoming his wife.

Following their wedding night in a sleazy hotel, Valentine abandons Marianne. She returns home and begs forgiveness from her jilted fiancé Dick Lindley, but having seen Marianne for who she really is, he turns his attention to her shy younger sister Laura.


The film originally was called What a Flirt and then Gambling Daughters before being changed to The Bad Sister just prior to its theatrical release.[3]

Bette Davis, nervous about her appearance in her first film, consulted with studio makeup chief Jack Pierce, who "surveyed me critically, almost resentfully," she recalled for an interview in the April 1938 issue of Good Housekeeping. "Your eyelashes are too short, hair's a nondescript color, and mouth's too small. A fat little Dutch girl's face, and a neck that's too long," he told her. He suggested a different shade of lipstick and advised her to use eye shadow, but their meeting left Davis feeling anxious and lacking self-confidence. After seeing the completed film, producer Carl Laemmle, Jr. commented, "Can you imagine some poor guy going through hell and high water and ending up with her at the fade-out?" [3]

Davis was required to change a baby in one scene, and the fact the infant was a boy was kept secret from her. When she undid the diaper and saw male genitals for the first time in her life, she was so embarrassed her face reddened enough to look deep gray on screen.[3]

Davis and her mother attended a preview of the film in San Bernardino. The actress was reportedly so distressed by her performance that they left before the final credits. Certain her Hollywood career was over, she cried all the way home.[3]

Cast (in credits order)[edit]


  1. ^ Catalog of Holdings The American Film Institute Collection and The United Artists Collection at The Library of Congress p.11 c.1978 by The American Film Institute
  2. ^ The AFI Catalog of Feature Films:Bad Sister
  3. ^ a b c d Stine, Whitney, and Davis, Bette, Mother Goddam: The Story of the Career of Bette Davis. New York: Hawthorn Books 1974. ISBN 0-8015-5184-6, pp. 8-11

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