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Entries in Olivia de Havilland (21)

Friday
Jul012016

Posterized: Happy Olivia de Havilland Centennial !

Photo shot last week in Paris, via People magazineHappy 100th birthday Olivia de Havilland! She's our oldest living Oscar winner  and oldest living bonafide movie star (Kirk Douglas, also still with us, is five months younger) and her list of classics is long. She may not have gotten along with her movie star sister Joan Fontaine -- their contentious relationship stretches back to childhood (it didn't start when they were Oscar-nominated against each other and Joan won) wherein she supposedly made a will at nine years old stating:

I bequeath all my beauty to my younger sister Joan, since she has none"

 ...but that infamous feud aside she was beloved by many. The list includes legends like Erroll Flynn (8 pictures together) and Bette Davis (several pictures and a friend) and actors everywhere owe her for the freedom she wrangled in the 'de Havilland decision' in the 1940s which Tim discussed in his write-up of The Heiress. I hope she feels the love in France today where she lives. She recently told Vanity Fair that she plans to live to be 110.

We still have two more pieces coming up on individual performances (why cut the bday festivities short?) but let's look at the whole filmography in poster form after the jumpHow many have you seen? 

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Wednesday
Jun292016

Olivia @ 100: Airport '77

Don't get on the plane! It's a Disaster Movie!Team Experience is looking at highlights and curios from the filmography of Olivia de Havilland for her Centennial this Friday. Here's guest contributor Sean Donovan...

Airport ’77, the third film of the Airport franchise, capitalized on the immense success of the 70s disaster movie craze in the twilight of its years. Just one year later in 1978, the critical and box office failure of Irwin Allen’s The Swarm showed how much audiences had sobered up, no longer excited by disaster movies and more interested in openly mocking them, based on their cheesy acting and overwrought destruction (a movement chronicled by Ken Feil in his worth-the-read book Dying for a Laugh: Disaster Movies and the Camp Imagination). So if something feels lacking and obligatory about Airport ’77- in which a botched hijacking lands a Boeing 747 in the ocean, the passengers struggling to get back to land safely- that’s only because the film presents a crew of movie stars eager to cash their checks and get out as quick as possible. 

Among them is our honored centennial, Ms. Olivia de Havilland! And who can blame her for dipping into the disaster movie depths?

Her generational cohort Shelley Winters scored an Oscar nomination for being the token old lady to brave disaster (at the age of 52, but that’s Hollywood), in the genre-defining The Poseidon AdventureOlder actresses like Helen Hayes, Gloria Swanson, and Myrna Loy had already wandered into the Airport franchise, Hayes walking away with an Oscar for her efforts. As an aging member of Hollywood royalty in the 1970s, it seems one of your duties was to class up a trashy disaster film with your mere presence... 

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Tuesday
Jun282016

Olivia @ 100: Light in the Piazza

For Olivia de Havilland's Centennial (July 1st) we're hitting classics and curios in her career. Here's Chris Feil on a forgotten film that became a new classic musical...

I came to Olivia de Havilland's work in Light in the Piazza thanks to a (still enduring) obsession with the Adam Guettel musical, both adapted from Elizabeth Spencer's novella. While it's not surprising that the film hasn't endured (it lacks the stage version's soaring emotional heights), de Havilland's performance deserves a better place in her legacy. Even with a youthful love story as its center and gorgeous Florence as backdrop, you can't take your eyes off of the concerned mother - and not just because she spends the entire film drenched in custom Christian Dior!

As Meg Johnson, de Havilland is spending a holiday with her young daughter Clara, who falls in love with a charming Italian boy. The reason for her overbearing concern is the secret of Clara's developmental disability that freezes her to a childlike disposition - something the musical uses as an Act Two reveal that the film never hides. By addressing this conflict early on we understand Meg from the outset, especially thanks to the actress's relatability. De Havilland's real prowess in the role is her deep emotional access and intelligence; she keeps the film from stooping to the cheap sentimentality that's all too common in films about disability.

Her Meg is not simply a foil to Clara's love story. De Havilland is telling her own fading romance with her husband, projecting the aches and heartbreaks of their lifetime together in a very specific struggle of weathered marriage. Her dissent against her husband in regards to Clara's care could cause the end of her marriage or may be its only hope, but she plays it solely as selfless motherly affection. Meg's final "I did the right thing" would be hokey final note in the hands of a less soulful actress, de Havilland makes it a hard-won personal triumph with her pure connection to character.

Victoria Clark may have taken the character to glorious Tony winning vocal heights on stage, but this performance is emotionally transformative in its own way. The film may have been forgotten in the broader de Havilland filmography, but the star is in top form and as accessible as ever.

Previously: The Heiress (1949), The Dark Mirror (1946), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) and It's Love I'm After (1937).

Friday
Jun242016

Olivia @ 100: The Heiress

We're counting down to Olivia de Havilland's historic 100th birthday (July 1st!). Team Experience will be looking at highlights and curiosities from her career. Here's Tim...

Olivia de Havilland is more than a living link to the Golden Age of Hollywood, more than a gorgeous movie star, more than a two-time Oscar winner. She's one of the most significant figures in the history of the American film industry: the woman who broke the back of the studio contract system when she successfully sued Warner Bros. for career independence in 1943. As Hollywood's first independent movie star since the silent era, de Havilland was suddenly in a position to make all of her own creative decisions, leading to a string of challenging dramatic roles that didn't simply trade on her good looks and holy innocent persona.

Both of de Havilland's Oscar wins came about thanks to this period of chasing her own projects, and the second of these performances, in 1949's The Heiress, is a particularly fine example of the movie star as Serious Actress. Based on a play adapted from a Henry James novel, The Heiress tells a straightforward enough melodrama: in 1840s New York, a woman with an annual income of $10,000 from her mother's will and another $30,000 to come when her father passes. A painfully shy, relatively homely women crawling up in years, she falls for the first man who pays her any attention, and he of course turns out to be a craven gold-digger. When her father threatens her with disinheritance the cad leaves, giving her plenty of years to grow good and bitter.

What enlivens this material is, in large part, the exemplary casting of the four main characters: de Havilland as the naïve heiress, Ralph Richardson as her father, Montgomery Clift as her shiftless lover, and Miriam Hopkins as her spinster aunt, unhelpfully projecting her own romantic visions onto the young lady. That's a lot of acting power, and having such great scene partners helped to raise de Havilland's own game, allowing her to have more complicated, and much darker, reactions that most of what she'd been able to achieve in the years prior to that.

She's great at playing a wallflower, in the second film in two years (following The Snake Pit) where she de-glammed herself for Art and Oscars. De Havilland can only look so ugly, even with the hair and make-up department raising her hairline almost to the top of her head, but the actress sells herself as a plain, awkward frump by constantly shrinking herself inwards, hunching down, delivering all of her lines a little bit too quietly and with nervous pauses. But she's even better in the last third of the movie, when she's playing the cold fury of a scorned romantic: there's a deep revulsion burned into her eyes and voice, giving the material its necessarily outraged finale. Without her fury, The Heiress is a handsome soap opera; with her, it becomes a dark tragedy.

For a performer who'll always forever be linked with the fairytale saint Melanie from Gone with the Wind, the haggard look on de Havilland's face and the raw pain in her voice are uniquely shocking and potent. It's as self-effacing as any star turn in the 1940s, and it's an achievement that could only come about in the brave new era of self-directed acting careers that de Havilland herself helped to create.

Previously: The Dark Mirror (1946), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) and It's Love I'm After (1937)

Monday
Jun202016

Olivia @ 100: The Dark Mirror

We're counting down to Olivia de Havilland's historic 100th birthday (July 1st!). Team Experience will be looking at highlights and curiosities from her career. Here's Jason...

I'm proud of my fellow Film Experience members Dan and Josh for keeping their focus on the films so far in this series, but it seems kind of impossible to talk about Olivia de Havilland's 1946 thriller The Dark Mirror, which has her playing good and evil twins, without diving into the gossipy froth of her legendary lifetime rivalry with sister Joan Fontaine. The Dark Mirror sits somewhere between an exorcism and a single-gloved slap-fight - Fight Club via Film Noir. It offered Olivia the chance to play versions of both her and her sister's popular images, exaggerated and unloosed upon one another.

In a 2015 Time magazine piece on the sisters' feud it's said that Olivia was known for playing "pretty and charming, naïve" (like Melanie in Gone With the Wind) while Joan's roles were more "moody, intuitive and emotional." (Think the second Mrs. de Winter in Rebecca.) Those broad descriptions fit the broad characters of Terry and Ruth Collins to a tee -- one's a suspected murderess, coarse and vulgar but forthright, while the other is noble and suffering do-gooder who seems to be allowing her sister to walk all over her and orchestrate a cover-up. But which is which (and who'll win that damn Oscar???)

To her profound credit de Havilland clearly relishes tearing into both roles and complicates the "good" and "bad" aspects of both women every chance that she gets - the real tragedy by the film's end is seeing what made the two women so unique begin to dissolve away, swap out. Early on, showing exquisite control over her body language and voice, de Havilland manages to make it clear which sister is which even beyond the aid of the oft black/white costuming.

But even more impressively as the film progresses and the sisters start playing each other she makes Ruth-by-Terry and Terry-by-Ruth their own creations, allowing each sisters' perspective on the other poke out from underneath. We can always tell who's in control... 

...until we can't. Not to spoil anything but there is a moment where the mirror cracks and the film upends our understanding of who's who and who's doing what, the violence of the moment hinging entirely on de Havilland's performance, and it's a corker. And sure, I can only conjecture, but it seems that this sort of performance-playing with public versus private personae might've been informed by being one-half of an Oscar-winning sister duo bobbing along on the top of the world. And come with the scars to prove it.

Sunday
Jun192016

Olivia @ 100: It's Love I'm After

We're counting down to Olivia de Havilland's historic 100th birthday (July 1st!). Team Experience will be looking at highlights and curiosities from her career. Here's Josh...

Is there a film star in history who could stare doe-eyed better than Olivia de Havilland? Or anyone who delivered a line with seething bitterness through a smile better than Bette Davis? The rarely seen 1937 comedy It’s Love I’m After offers an early showcase of both women doing what they do best before their long careers to come. Davis was in the process of reaching mega-stardom, and de Havilland was unknowingly just one year away from taking Hollywood by storm opposite Errol Flynn in The Adventures of Robin Hood. It’s Love I’m After was a chance for both of them to show off their comedic chops in the screwball era. It was also the first of the many collaborations between the two women... 

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Thursday
Jun162016

Olivia @ 100: The Adventures of Robin Hood

We're counting down to Olivia de Havilland's historic 100th birthday (July 1st!). Team Experience will be looking at highlights and curiosities from her career. Here's Dancin Dan...

Has Olivia de Havilland ever looked more beautiful than in 1938's The Adventures of Robin Hood? Surely her apple-cheeked, wide-eyed beauty was never set off better than in the fabulous succession of head scarves she wore as Maid Marian

And the costumes themselves are just gorgeous, too. Why modern-day Renaissance Faires aren't full to bursting with ladies busting out Olivia-as-Marian cosplay, I'll never know. Except for the fact that maybe Milo Anderson's costumes are too uniquely fabulous to ever be copied well. (Sadly, there were no Oscars for costumes until the late 1940s else he might have won for this)

More beauty after the jump...

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