Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on June 30, 2016
The remarkably durable Olivia de Havilland is celebrating her 100th birthday tomorrow. To commemorate the centennial of the actress’s birth, TCM is honoring de Havilland by making her the Star of the Month for July. For the next five weeks, viewers who tune in on Friday night will be able to see a broad selection of her work.
Her abilities and charm made de Havilland one of Hollywood’s most celebrated stars and throughout the 1930s and 40s the actress’s gentle manner and wide-eyed vulnerability led her to frequently play innocent ingénues, damsels in distress or women under duress, most notably in Gone with the Wind (1939). Despite this, I think she was often at her best in films such as The Dark Mirror (1946) and Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte (1964), which allowed her to flex her acting muscles and exploit the darker aspects of her femininity. She was also a very funny lady and exhibited great comic timing in some of the films airing on TCM in July.
You can find the entire selection of Olivia de Havilland films scheduled to air on TCM next month here. Unfortunately, The Dark Mirror and Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte are not on the schedule but there are plenty of other great de Havilland films airing that are well worth a watch (or two!).
I thought I’d share some of my recommendations so I selected 10 features from the five-week schedule emphasizing de Havilland’s strengths. I hope my viewing suggestions will encourage readers to tune in on Fridays and discover what made the 100-year-old star such an admired Hollywood talent.
Airing July 1:
The Adventures of Robin Hood (Dir. Michael Curtiz; 1938)
Captain Blood (Dir. Michael Curtiz; 1935)
Olivia de Havilland appeared in eight features with Errol Flynn but these two dynamic adventure films directed by Michael Curtiz can still impress and thrill viewers of all ages. They’re also a great showcase for demonstrating how these legendary performers with electric chemistry became one of our most beloved Hollywood screen couples.
Airing July 9:
In This Our Life (Dir. John Huston; 1942)
It’s Love I’m After (Dir. Archie Mayo; 1937)
Olivia de Havilland appeared in a number of films with Bette Davis and the two became friends on and off set. In John Huston’s magnificent southern melodrama In This Our Life, de Havilland and Davis play feuding sisters vying for the attentions of two men (George Brent & Dennis Morgan) and in the hilarious screwball comedy It’s Love I’m After, they tussle over Leslie Howard. Both films are personal favorites of mine but they’re often overlooked so I wanted to spotlight them today. Davis is a screen-stealing whirlwind but de Havilland’s low-key modern delivery distinguishes her.
Airing July 15:
The Snake Pit (Dir. Anatole Litvak; 1948)
The Heiress (Dir. William Wyler; 1949)
The Snake Pit and The Heiress contain two of de Havilland’s most critically acclaimed performances. They also happen to be great films with harrowing plotlines that demanded a lot from their star. The Snake Pit remains one of the most powerful films about mental illness some 70-years after it was made and The Heiress is a timeless tragedy of epic proportions in the tradition of Henry James. Both are dark dramas and often referred to as ‘Women’s Weepies’ but they possess a depth and intelligence that speaks to the head as well as the heart.
Airing July 22:
My Cousin Rachel (Dir. Dir: Henry Koster; 1952)
The Strawberry Blonde (Dir. Raoul Walsh; 1941)
My Cousin Rachel is a moody gothic romance based on a story by Daphne du Maurier and The Strawberry Blonde is an unconventional musical comedy that takes a surprisingly dour turn. On the surface they don’t share much in common except period settings but in both films de Havilland finds herself in complicated, frustrating and ultimately tragic relationships with two very different men. A somber Richard Burton is her costar in the first picture, where she plays a possible murderess and a fickle James Cagney is her costar in The Strawberry Blonde where she’s a spunky suffragette who competes with Rita Hayworth for Cagney’s attention. Burton and Cagney are magnificent performers who tend to dominate the screen but de Havilland is able to match them in scene after scene.
Airing July 29:
Light in the Piazza (Dir. Guy Green; 1962)
Libel (Dir. Anthony Asquith; 1959)
It’s typical of film critics and historians to mockingly dismiss the later films of actors who became popular in the 1930s and continued to work into the 1960s. I’m not one of them. In fact, I’ve always thought that Olivia de Havilland, sister Joan Fontaine as well as her famous co-star Bette Davis, delivered some of their finest work after a lifetime of experience had supplied them with a wealth of emotional baggage to sift through. Light In The Piazza and Libel both demonstrate my point by providing de Havilland with two meaty roles late in her career. In Light in the Piazza she is Meg Johnson, the protective mother of a beautiful but mentally disabled young woman (Yvette Mimieux). While the two are on holiday in Italy, they meet the handsome and suave Signor Naccarelli (Rossano Brazzi) along with his son (George Hamilton) and romance blossoms between both couples but it’s complicated by Meg’s reluctance to abandon her responsibilities and resist her motherly instincts. In Libel she plays Lady Margaret Loddon, wife of Sir Lodden (Dirk Bogarde), whose marriage is upended when her husband is accused of being an imposter. Dirk Bogarde tackles two-roles and is given much more screen time as a result but de Havilland eventually gets her chance to add an emotional punch to this tense courtroom drama.
Bonus! Airing July 29:
The Swarm (Dir. Irwin Allen; 1978)
This Irwin Allen disaster features an all-star cast that includes such notable names as Michael Caine, Richard Widmark, Henry Fonda, Slim Pickins, Patty Duke and birthday girl Olivia de Havilland who finds herself in a love-triangle with Ben Johnson and Fred MacMurray. The ridiculous plot involves a swarm of killer bees that are causing chaos and eventually kill most of the cast. This isn’t highbrow entertainment but it’s a fun popcorn muncher and de Havilland shows off her lung power in some hair-raising scenes.
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