Olivia de Havilland, who died on July 26 at age 104, is best known for her role as Melanie Hamilton Wilkes in Gone with the Wind. Yet the actress appeared in nearly 50 other feature films and won two Academy Awards. Here, a sampling of her movie roles.
The Adventures of Robin Hood 1938 Directed by William Keilghley, Michael Curtiz. One of the first and most exuberant of endless Robin Hood iterations. (Kevin Costner’s Prince of Thieves is the contemporary version to see, especially because of Alan Rickman and Morgan Freeman.) A romantic swashbuckler with the marvelous Errol Flynn as Sir Robin of Loxley, Olivia de Havilland- Lady Marian Fitzwalter, Claude Rains – nefarious Prince John, Basil Rathbone – greedy Sir Guy Gisbourne, and Melville Cooper – the frustrated Sheriff of Nottingham.
You know the story: Robin and his brave, rag-tag men based in Sherwood Forest protect the over-taxed people of Saxony while King John is fighting The Crusades, prevent Prince John from taking the throne, and save Marian from coerced marriage to a brutal rotter. De Havilland gives the part substance. Originally James Cagney was cast as Robin. Imagine! Stunt men and bit players, padded with balsa wood on protective metal plates, were paid $150 per arrow for being shot by a professional archer. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Gone With the Wind 1939 Adapted from the novel by Margaret Mitchell. Directed by Victor Fleming. You probably know this one backwards, but if it’s been awhile, make some mint juleps (recipe), put your feet up and enjoy the opulent production.
As the American Civil War rages, spoiled plantation belle Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) pursues Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard) even after he marries his good-to-the-bone cousin Melanie Hamilton (Olivia de Havilland). Scarlett, in turn, is courted by and eventually marries dashing Rhett Butler (Clark Gable, for whom the production waited over two years) who loves her through petulance, selfishness, and cruelty.
George Cukor was initially tapped to direct the film, then replaced by Fleming perhaps because of Gable’s discomfort with the director’s homosexuality. When the change was discovered, De Havilland and Leigh stormed into Louie B. Mayer’s office in favor of Cukor. De Havilland later admitted that during production if she felt less than confident about a scene, she’d telephone Cukor. Later she learned Leigh did it as well. Ten Academy Awards.
Most recently, the classic was objected to for “whitewashing slavery,” presenting servitude as relative contentment and slaves more interested in protecting their masters than resolving the struggle of their people. Even when released, GWTW was said to have “offered up a motley collection of flat black characters that insulted the black audience.” Under pressure, an introduction has apparently been added explaining context. Rent on Amazon Prime.
The Strawberry Blonde 1941 Directed by Raoul Walsh. 1890s. Barbershop quartets, handlebar mustaches, the glimpse of an ankle. One evening in the park, dental student Biff Grimes (James Cagney) and best friend/hustler Hugo Barnstead (Jack Carson) meet strawberry-blonde Virginia Brush (Rita Hayworth) and her girlfriend Ann Lind (Olivia de Havilland). Virginia has dollar signs in her eyes, while Ann is true blue. The men vie for Virginia. Biff loses and proposes to Ann on the rebound.
Their marriage would be solid were it not for Biff’s unshakable feeling he’d been left with the short end of the stick. Ann is aware, but loves him. Assuming his friend is on the level, he gets naively involved in one of Hugo’s crooked businesses and ends up taking the fall. He earns his dentistry diploma in prison and returns home to faithful Ann. Don’t worry retribution has its day.
Sentimental and winning. One of Cagney’s amiable pugnacious characters, rather than yet another tough guy. De Havilland plays good-hearted with tender sincerity. A lovely score of classic period songs. “The Band Played On” is heard throughout the movie and is even featured as a sing-a-long right before the final credits. Rent on Amazon Prime.
In This Our Life 1942 Based on the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Ellen Glasgow. Directed by John Huston, then Raoul Walsh. Richmond, Virginia. What was once the Fitzroy and Timberlake Tobacco Company is now William Fitzroy’s by means of underhanded, if not illegal scheming. Asa Timberlake (Frank Craven) has adjusted even under his wife’s (Billie Burke) constant, chiding blame. Brother-in-law and former partner William Fitzroy (Charles Coburn) has grown rich and pompous.
The Timberlakes have two daughters. The younger, Stanley (Bette Davis), is a spoiled hellion who connives to secure whatever she wants from her lascivious uncle. Roy (Olivia de Havilland), is an interior designer and good woman. We meet them all just before Stanley’s wedding to lawyer Craig Fleming (George Brent). Instead she runs off with Roy’s husband Doctor Peter Kingsmill (Dennis Morgan). Men are stupid in this film. Almost from the get-go, Stanley shows her true character repeatedly, yet is forgiven.
Roy and Craig are crushed. She rallies, throwing herself into business. He ends up unshaven on a park bench. Her common sense and warm nature attract Craig who pulls himself together to date her. Meanwhile selfish, pleasure-oriented, free-spending Stanley makes Peter’s life miserable.So miserable, we’re told he commits suicide. (One can only wonder whether the book implies murder.) Roy, who’s now agreed to marry Craig, is devastated, but goes to fetch and comfort her sister.
A month later in Richmond, unable to stand faking distress any more, Stanley reverts to old behavior. She even tries to get Peter back. Tragedy stands in for comeuppance. Foreign release was refused by the wartime Office of Censorship because the film dealt truthfully with racial discrimination. Everyone plays signature characters. Best Actress Academy Award for De Havilland. Rent on Amazon Prime.
The Heiress 1949 Adapted from the play by Ruth and Augustus Geotz, itself inspired by Henry James’ novel Washington Square. Directed by William Wyler. Catherine Sloper (Olivia de Havilland) is a plain, shy woman past the shelf life for marriage. She’s acutely aware of being a constant disappoint- ment to a stern father (Ralph Richardson, chillingly unfeeling). The girl’s only pleasure is recent visitor, Aunt Lavinia Penniman (Miriam Hopkins). Sympathetic and perceptive, she encourages her niece to be more social.
At a ball to which she’s dragged, Catherine meets and is shown much attention by handsome wastrel Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift). Dr. Sloper is convinced the young man can only want his daughter for her money, while Lavinia encourages the match whatever its basis. Catherine is taken abroad assuming Morris’ attraction will fade. It does not. Nonetheless, whether to test Morris or because she wants to rid herself from any attachment to her father, when she returns, the young woman tells her intended she’ll disinherit herself.
Lavinia helps the couple plan an elopement, but Morris never shows up. Dr. Sloper dies. Catherine inherits. Years later Morris comes back to New York, broke and apparently remorseful. Once again he approaches Catherine. De Havilland herself instigated adapting and filming the play for her. Paramount requested the screenplay make Morris less of a villain in order to capitalize on Montgomery Clift’s box office appeal. A perfectly cast, compelling drama. Best Actress Academy Award. Rent on Netflix.
Light in the Piazza 1962 Based on the novel by Elizabeth Spencer. Directed by Guy Green. Meg Johnson (Olivia de Havilland) has taken her pretty, 26 year-old daughter Clara (Yvette Mimieux) to Italy. The young woman is innocent and sensitive, affected by everything. Her mother is extremely protective. Clara catches the eye of 23 year-old Florentine Fabrizio Naccarelli (George Hamilton). Mrs. Johnson tries her best to keep the two apart, but bows to her daughter’s feelings.
We learn that all Clara’s suitors disappear when it’s discovered she’s mentally a child. Mr. Johnson wants to put his daughter in an institution. Her mother is appalled. She comes to believe Clara might, with the Italian, secure a warm, wealthy home where little is expected.
Mother and daughter meet Fabrizio’s father, Signor Naccarelli (Rosano Brazzi). The family are lovely people. Conservative Catholics, they ask Clara to convert. The wedding is planned, but at the last minute the Italians discover an impediment. Mrs. Johnson assumes her in-laws-to-be have discovered Clara’s “issue.” In fact, it’s something else entirely. Deftly and sympathetically handled all around. Hamilton campaigned for the role. Rent on Amazon Prime.
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