Tag Archives: Olivia de Havilland

Farewell, Olivia. Remembering Olivia De Havilland(1916 -2020)

The classic film community has been dealt a very painful blow today. The actress Olivia De Havilland has died at her home in France, at the age of 104. While that is certainly a remarkable age to live to, it in no way lessens the pain I feel right now at her loss. She is one of my favourite actresses and delivered some truly remarkable performances during her fifty year film career.

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Olivia as outwardly fragile but internally strong Melanie Wilkes. Image source IMDb.

I was first introduced to her as the outwardly gentle and fragile, yet internally strong, Melanie Wilkes in Gone With The Wind.

That film was not only one of the first to get me interested in classic era films, but it also instantly made me a fan of a Olivia and led me to seek out more of her work. 

Olivia was not only a great actress, but she was also quite the badass in real life. She took Warner Brothers Studios to court in 1943, to challenge their handling of actors contracts.

Olivia’s friend Bette Davis was also unhappy about the studios behaviour regarding contracts, and had launched an unsuccessful lawsuit against Warner Brothers in the 1930’s trying to get out of her contract.

At the time the film studios had the habit of extending actors contracts past the amount of time that had been agreed when the contract was initially drawn up and signed, by suspending actors who turned down any roles that they were told to take,and also by adding on any days not worked, such as weekends or holiday periods.

In 1943, Olivia discovered her own contract with Warner Brothers was going to be extended by an extra year. Olivia’s court case rested on an existing section of the California Labor Code which forbade employers from enforcing employee contracts for longer than seven years from the date of first performance. In June 1943, the Superior court agreed with Olivia and ruled in her favour.

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Olivia De Havilland 1916-2020. Image source IMDb.

The studio appealed the courts decision, but a year later the appeal court also sided with Olivia. The ruling became known as The De Havilland Law. This landmark court case loosened some of the power the studios had over their actors and earned Olivia the respect of her colleagues in the industry. Unfortunately Olivia was in effect blacklisted for her actions by the studios and couldn’t work for the next two years. 

In 2017, Olivia sued FX Networks due to the way she was portrayed in the miniseries Feud. She alleged she was wrongly portrayed as a hypocrite and a gossip. She also objected to a scene where the Olivia in the series referred to her sister Joan as a “bitch”.Olivia claimed she had never referred to her sister like that. Unfortunately Olivia didn’t win this one, but the case was very interesting and was closely followed by many of us in the classic film community. 

Olivia was born on the 1st of July, 1916, in Japan. Her mother, Lillian, was an actress and singer. Her father, Walter, was a professor of English at the Imperial University in Tokyo. Olivia and her younger sister, Joan Fontaine, would both go on to become two of the most acclaimed and popular American actresses of the classic film era. The sisters famously had an up and down relationship from the time they were children, and sadly disputes and differences continued throughout their lives which eventually led to estrangement. Joan died in 2013. 

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Olivia and her sister Joan.  Image source IMDb.

When people hear the name Olivia De Havilland, most will instantly think of her impressive performances in The Snake Pit, Gone With The Wind, The Adventures Of Robin Hood, The Heiress, but Olivia is also superb in somewhat less well known/less discussed gems such as The Dark Mirror(in which she plays twin sisters with very different personalities), Dodge City, Captain Blood, The Strawberry Blonde, Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte, My Cousin Rachel. 

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Olivia and Errol in Dodge City. Image source IMDb.

Olivia first appeared on screen in 1935. This year was key for her because not only did it see her get her start in the film industry, but she was also paired with Errol Flynn for the first time, in the swashbuckling classic, Captain Blood. Errol and Olivia would become one of the most beloved screen teams of the classic era and made eight films together. My favourite of these films are Dodge City, Captain Blood and The Adventures Of Robin Hood.

Olivia and Errol are one of those special couples who have that magical chemistry which is clearly evident on screen. Over the years there has been a great deal of gossip about Errol and Olivia’s relationship in real life. There’s been much speculation that the pair were lovers, but Olivia later said that while they both fell in love with one another, they never acted on their feelings. 

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Olivia and Errol share a happy moment. Image source IMDb.

Over the years Olivia would take home two Oscars, one for her portrayal of the damaged Catherine Sloper in The Heiress, and the other for her portrayal of Josephine Norris in To Each His Own. Quite how she didn’t receive a third Oscar for her harrowing performance as the mentally ill, Virginia Cunningham, in The Snake Pit is beyond me. That film features what may well be her best performance. 

My top five Olivia De Havilland films? The Snake Pit, The Dark Mirror, The Heiress, Gone With The Wind, Dodge City. She is at her best in these five films as far as I’m concerned. Not only do I love these films for their stories, characters and her performances, but because these films also highlight her great versatility as an actress. 

The word legend is often bandied about, but it is perfectly apt in Olivia’s case. She was one of our last links to Hollywood’s Golden era. While my heart is heavy, I take comfort in the vast film legacy she has left behind her. My hope is that future generations will seek out her work and discover her great talent. R.I.P, Olivia. Thank you for so many remarkable performances and memorable characters. 

 

The Second Annual Olivia de Havilland Blogathon: Dodge City (1939)

Olivia and Errol BlogathonPhyllis Loves Classic Movies and In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood are co-hosting this special blogathon. This one is all about the actress Olivia de Havilland, and the actor Errol Flynn. Be sure to visit Phyllis and Crystal’s sites to read all the other entries. I can’t wait to read them all myself.

Olivia de Havilland and Errol Flynn were one of the most popular film couples of classic era Hollywood. The pair starred together in eight films. I’ve decided to write about Dodge City (1939); this early Technicolor Western is my favourite out of all of their films. 

Why do I love this film so much? Well, firstly, I really love the changing relationship between Olivia and Errol’s characters in this one. The relationship has a rocky start, but soon neither one can deny their growing mutual love and affection. As the film goes on their affection for one another becomes harder to deny.

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Olivia and Errol. Image source IMDb. 

Both Olivia and Errol really make you believe the feelings their characters develop for one another. They are so tender in their shared scenes together and I love watching their relationship progress. They had a chemistry that is so obvious and makes it easy to believe their characters are falling for one another.

Secondly, I enjoy this film very much because it’s a very exciting Western. This one shows us that people lived and died by the gun back then. You had to be careful of what you said or did in case someone took offence and took a shot at you. I especially love the scene in the barber shop, where Wade (Errol Flynn) is cool in the face of intimidation from the local bad guy and his henchman; he calmly stands up and puts on his gun belt (just in case he should have need of it later)and stands his ground. They wanted a fight, but he was smart enough not to let them wind him up and give them an excuse for one. It also shows that life was tough back then and that death was always waiting just around the corner.

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Wade can’t be intimidated. Image source IMDb. 

I also like how the film shows us the old west changing. The opening scene is very interesting to me as it literally shows the old west being taken over by the new. A train speeds through the open country causing animals to run in terror from the noise. A stagecoach tries to outride the train and fails to match the speed of the locomotive. The trains speed surpasses that of the horse and carriage. In just a short time after this time, the west of the cowboy would vanish; open country would soon be gone as more and more towns and cities were built, and an entire way of life would soon change forever.

This is a film screaming out to seen on the big screen. There are many shots of vast open country. Plenty of scenes are also made extremely vibrant due to the marvel that was Technicolor. Everything about this film is on a big scale.

The film begins with Dodge City being settled, and with the railroad gaining popularity. It is hoped that this will be an extremely civilised place, somewhere to be proud of and hold up as an example to others.  Moving forward a few years, we see that Dodge City has become the town we know it as today; it has become a place where morals and ethics are none existent, and killing is as common and natural as talking and eating.

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Wade Hatton (Errol Flynn) is a cowboy who helped set up the railroad into Dodge City. Wade soon finds himself facing antagonism and hatred from various people. He leads a cattle drive that is also doubling as a protective escort for several settlers.

Two of these settlers are the young Abbie Irving (Olvia de Havilland)and her brother (William Lundigan). When Abbie’s brother gets drunk and starts firing his gun, the cattle get frightened and Wade tells the younger man to stop; this conversation unfortunately only serves to wind the younger man up and he keeps right on firing. This time the cattle stampede and he is killed. Abbie blames Wade for her brother’s death.

Wade takes up the job of Dodge City sheriff and faces danger from the local big shot, Jeff Surrett (Bruce Cabot)and his bloodthirsty henchman, Yancey (Victor Jory). Things are further complicated when Abbie comes back into Wades life and her own life becomes endangered. Slowly she cannot deny her growing feelings for him, even though she is still torn apart by her brothers death. Will Wade clean up Dodge City? Can he protect Abbie? Will Wade and Abbie be able to have a happy relationship? Watch this film to find out.

Olivia is utterly luminous in this film, her character is so innocent and pure. Abbie struggles with her love for Wade, she can’t deny her feelings but she tries not to admit them. Abbie can’t get over the tragedy she blames Wade for causing. Olivia tells us much with her eyes in this film – a besotted look here and there indicates her growing attraction to Wade, and her eyes sparkle with the amusement that perhaps doesn’t show on her lips etc. This is one of my favourite films that Olivia ever starred in, she brings so much to each scene.

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Wade protecting Abbie. Image source IMDb. 

Errol is at his athletic, heroic and charming best here. He makes Wade a man who knows how to defend himself, but who prefers words as weapons instead of guns; he will and can use weapons if necessary, but often he doesn’t need to as he can defuse a situation in another way.

There’s fine support from Bruce Cabot as a man who won’t get his hands dirty, but is more than happy to order deaths a plenty. Surrett isn’t a man you want to cross, and he is accustomed to getting his own way. Wade isn’t afraid of him, and that makes him angry.

Victor Jory steals every scene he is in, as the vicious, trigger happy Yancey.

Alan Hale is hysterical as Wade’s outgoing, fun loving best friend, Rusty. The scene where Rusty gives in to his desire to join in a barroom brawl, is one of the best remembered scenes in the film.

A young Ann Sheridan has a small role as a sexy saloon singer.

There’s also a welcome appearance from Henry Travers who plays Abbie’s uncle, Dr. Irving.

My favourite scenes are the following. Wade falling down (much to Abbie’s amusement)in the newspaper office. Surrett arriving at the barber shop for a bath, only to find Rusty in there and Wade telling Surrett that he can’t use the bath until Rusty has finished. Wade and Abbie’s first kiss while they are on horseback. The opening sequence. The barroom brawl. Wade telling Abbie that she is stubborn.

As an added bonus, the following are the five films in which I think Olivia and Errol gave their best performances.

Olivia

     1- The Snake Pit

         2- The Dark Mirror

3- The Heiress

                                4- Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte

               5- Gone With The Wind

     Errol

        1- Edge of Darkness

2- Santa Fe Trail

                           3- The Adventures of Robin Hood

4- Dodge City 

5- Captain Blood

I still need to see Errol in The Dawn Patrol, which I understand is one of his best performances.

Today sees Olivia celebrating her 101st birthday! Happy birthday Olivia, and thank you for so many wonderful film performances. I hope you have a lovely day on this milestone birthday.

I’d love to read your thoughts on Dodge City. Please leave your comments below. I also welcome any comments about that amazing chemistry between Errol and Olivia. What a pair! I never get tired of watching them.