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DE-LOVELY DE HAVILLAND

 

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, July 31, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: Golden-era movie star Olivia de Havilland died this week at the age of 104. She was one of those people that movie historians refer to when they say, ‘they had faces then.’ Four years ago, when de Havilland turned 100, I wrote this column that was published in the Deseret News on July 1, 2016, and which seems a fitting tribute as she is remembered for her singular career in cinema.

Beginning in 1967, two-time Oscar-winner Olivia de Havilland became pigeonholed as “the last woman standing,” if you will.

The label initially appeared after the death of Vivien Leigh, when many newspapers noted that de Havilland, who played opposite Leigh in the enduring 1939 classic “Gone With the Wind,” was now the sole survivor of that film’s star quartet (with Clark Gable and Leslie Howard having previously passed on).

Over the next few decades, interviews with de Havilland and articles about “Gone With the Wind” continued to refer to her to as the film’s last surviving star.

Not that it’s a bad thing to be remembered as the guileless, beloved and doomed Melanie Hamilton in the biggest box-office hit of all time (in inflation-adjusted dollars), and which earned de Havilland her first Oscar nomination (she lost to fellow “GWTW” player Hattie McDaniel).

But however enchanting and memorable she made the character with her signature mix of warmth and intelligence de Havilland’s career should not be defined by any single role.

As de Havilland turns 100 years old today — some 77 years after the debut of “Gone With the Wind” (by now she has likely outlived the entire cast) — let’s remember that she was already a popular star when she landed that plum role.

And let’s celebrate this renowned Hollywood centenarian by looking back at some of her other memorable movie roles — most of them available on Blu-ray, DVD or various streaming sites.

Stardom actually came to de Havilland in 1935 with “Captain Blood,” which offered her a breakout role, and she ran with it. This was her first year in the movie business and her fourth picture, at a time when actors were under contract to studios and churning out one movie after another.

     

From left, Hattie McDaniel, Olivia de Havilland, Vivien Leigh, 'Gone With the Wind' (1939)

In 1935, de Havilland made four movies, then two each in 1936 and ’37, and then four again in 1938 and five in 1939. And many of her earliest works remain popular today.

“Captain Blood” was the first of eight successful pairings with Errol Flynn (the film also made him a star) and six of these movies preceded “Gone With the Wind”

No less than four are still considered bona fide classics — the aforementioned “Captain Blood,” “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” “Dodge City” and “The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex.” In the first three, de Havilland is the love interest, but she gives the characters depth by making them forceful, charming and grounded. (Two other de Havilland pictures from this period are also worth seeing, “Anthony Adverse” and “The Charge of the Light Brigade.”)

In “The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex,” Bette Davis as Queen Elizabeth I has the meatier role opposite Flynn, with de Havilland in a smaller part as a duplicitous lady-in-waiting. But de Havilland digs in and makes an impression.

That film also marked the second of de Havilland’s four co-starring roles with her friend Bette Davis, following the light comedy “It’s Love I’m After.” Still to come were “In This Our Life” (1942), a fine melodrama in which they play embattled sisters, and “Hush … Hush, Sweet Charlotte” (1964), a murder mystery set against gothic-horror trappings — with de Havilland cast as the villain!

In 1941, de Havilland made three fine films, each in a different genre: “The Strawberry Blonde,” holding her own in a Gay ’90s comedy with ball-of-energy James Cagney; the elegant romance “Hold Back the Dawn,” which gave her a second Oscar nomination; and her last film with Flynn, “They Died With Their Boots On,” a muddled Western about George Armstrong Custer, but with de Havilland nonetheless shining throughout as Custer’s wife.

Her films of the 1940s made de Havilland a genuine box-office star, and several are remembered fondly today: “The Male Animal,” a delightful comedy with Henry Fonda; the soap opera “To Each His Own,” for which she won her first Oscar statuette; “The Dark Mirror,” with de Havilland in two roles, one of them psychotic; “The Snake Pit,” set in a mental asylum, and which earned her another Oscar nomination; and the richly ironic “The Heiress,” which gave her a second Academy Award for her role as the plain, naïve, browbeaten and rich title character, wooed by a charming rogue (Montgomery Clift).

 

Through the 1950s and into the early-to-mid-’60s, de Havilland made fewer films and none are legitimate classics, although several are enjoyable fare: the moody thriller “My Cousin Rachel,” with Richard Burton in his first American film; “Not as a Stranger,” a medical soap opera in which she plays opposite Robert Mitchum; “The Proud Rebel,” a Western starring Alan Ladd; a soap opera set in Italy, “Light in the Piazza,” with Rossano Brazzi; and the thriller “Lady in a Cage,” featuring a very young James Caan.

The 1970s, however, saw de Havilland taking supporting roles in what are unquestionably her worst pictures, each one an all-star disaster: “The Adventurers,” “Pope Joan,” “Airport ’77” and “The Swarm” (marking a dubious reunion with Henry Fonda).

But television was kinder, and during the ’70s de Havilland had solid roles in the TV movies “Noon Wine” and “The Screaming Woman,” and the miniseries sequel “Roots: The Next Generation” (the latter again with Fonda).

In the 1980s she continued to appear on TV in an episode of “The Love Boat,” in the Agatha Christie TV-movie “Murder Is Easy,” and in four historical yarns, “The Royal Romance of Charles and Diana,” “North and South II,” “Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna” and “The Woman He Loved.”

And in 2009, at the age of 93, de Havilland narrated a documentary about Alzheimer’s, “I Remember Better When I Paint.”

Since the mid-1950s, de Havilland has lived in Paris, though she has often traveled to the United States for film-related events.

The British-born de Havilland and her sister Joan Fontaine are the only sisters to have both won acting Oscars. (Fontaine died three years ago at age 96.)

So grab some popcorn, turn on the tube and enjoy some de Havilland films to celebrate her 100th.

Just don’t burn down the house if you decide to put 100 candles on a cake!