Very recently, I finished a little Olivia de Havilland’s film marathon. Olivia de Havilland is my 12th favourite actress. The first objective of this marathon was to see more of her films because I liked her very much in the only two movies with her I had seen before the marathon, but I felt like I had to see more. Those two movies were Gone with the Wind (Victor Flemming, 1939) and The Heiress (William Wyler, 1949). These might be her two most famous movies. Even if I had already seen them before, I included them in my marathon because they are so great. So, my Olivia de Havilland’s film marathon was composed of these movies: Gone With the Wind, My Cousin Rachel, The Dark Mirror, The Proud Rebel, The Heiress, Santa Fe Trail, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and The Adventures of Robin Hood. Of course, I would have liked to see more, but this list depends on the access I had to certain films. In this article, you will read a short comment for each movie. These comments are mostly based Olivia de Havilland’s performances.
Film 1: Gone With the Wind (Victor Fleming 1939)
Role: Melanie Hamilton
Ah! Gone With the Wind! Maybe the most famous film in cinema’s history or, at least, the most famous classic. Some people like it, some others not. Me? I LOVE it. I have seen this movie three times already and, each time, I like it more and more. To me, the casting was perfect and this includes Olivia de Havilland as Melanie Hamilton. Actresses like Janet Gaynor, Fay Wray, Jane Wyman, Anne Shirley, Priscilla Lane, Marsha Hunt, Gloria Stewart and Andrea Leeds were also considered for the part. Even Joan Fontaine (Olivia de Havilland’s little sister) was among the choices, but George Cukor (the first director who worked on this film) was not quite convicted, so she suggested him to take her sister Olivia instead. She would have been great too as she played a lot of “good women” in her films, like Olivia, but she might not have Olivia’s strength for the role. This is one of my favourite Olivia de Havilland’s performances. She played it so well and with so much softness. With this fine interpretation of a wise woman, I’m sure Olivia became a model for many people. In this movie, she is not only Olivia de Havilland playing Melanie Hamilton, she IS Melanie Hamilton, the character created by Margaret Mitchell. Of course, the big star of this film was Vivien Leigh who played Scarlett O’Hara, but it’s impossible to forget Olivia de Havilland as she had such a presence on screen.
Film 2: My Cousin Rachel ( Henry Koster, 1952)
Role: Rachel Sangalletti Ashley
In this movie, Olivia de Havilland was a little older than she was in Gone With the Wind, but she was still so beautiful. Rachel, the part she plays in the movie, is a very strange person so that was for me a good way to see Olivia’s versatility. Is Rachel mean or kind? That’s very hard to know. Olivia’s thoughtful performance in My Cousin Rachel accentuates this ambiguity and that’s one of the main strengths of this film. The big question we ask ourselves after seeing this movie is: Did Olivia played a good person or a good liar, or a mean person who pretends to be good? All the answer seem possible. Her chemistry with actor Richard Burton was maybe not the best, but it remains convincing.
Film 3: The Dark Mirror (Robert Siodmak, 1946)
Roles: Terry and Ruth Collins
As she played two characters in this films, twins, in fact, that was maybe one of the most interesting parts for Olivia. Even if I said that My Cousin Rachel was a good movie to witness Olivia’s versatility, this one is maybe the best (well, from what I’ve seen). One of the twins is sweet, calm and kind and the other one seems to be kind, but she is mean and crazy. That must have been a hard role to play and Olivia de Havilland’s interpretation is convincing. That could seem funny to say, but she interacts perfectly with herself and she is great in both part. It was also interesting to see Olivia in a film Noir and also playing two very psychologically different characters.
Film 4: The Proud Rebel (Michael Curtiz, 1958)
Role: Linnett Moore
One more time, Olivia de Havilland plays here a very good person. In fact, this was for me one of her most touching performances. At one point in the film, her acting brought tears to my eyes as she was so wonderful and full of sensibility. The movie itself is good, but it’s not a big masterpiece neither. Olivia gives it a little supplement that makes it worth watching. She also has a good chemistry with the actor Alan Ladd, the other star of the film. That was Olivia’s last film under the direction of Michael Curtiz.
Film 5: The Heiress (William Wyler, 1949)
Role: Catherine Sloper
With The Heiress, Olivia de Havilland won her second Oscar (the first one was for To Each His Own). This is for me her best performance, so it was a well-deserved Oscar. It seems that, when you are under the direction of William Wyler, the chances to win an Oscar are high! Olivia de Havilland, Greer Garson, Teresa Wright, Audrey Hepburn, Barbra Streisand, Fredric March, Charlton Heston, Bette Davis, Walter Brennan, Harold Russell, Burl Ives, Hugh Griffith, and Fay Bainter are all actors who won an Oscar for a William Wyler’s film. That’s a great bunch of people! But let’s focus on the beautiful Olivia de Havilland. In The Heiress, she plays the part of Catherine Sloper with so much subtlety. We can see she took this thing very seriously and did everything she could to act perfectly. And that was a success. I talk about subtleties because there’s a lot of little details in this acting performance and in this character. It’s very interesting to see how Olivia shows us the evolution of Catherine Sloper. At the beginning of the film, Catherine is a shy, kind and also sort of a weak lady who is desperately in love with the handsome Morris Townsend, but after she starts to realize that Morris only wants to marry her for her money, she changes completely. She becomes someone much stronger and much more independent. Even her little soft and shy voice becomes deeper and more serious. Playing the part of Catherine Sloper was probably not easy, and Olivia de Havilland did it very well.
Film 6: Santa Fe Trail (Michael Curtiz 1940)
Role: Kit Carson Holliday
This is the first Olivia de Havilland-Errol Flynn’s movie that I saw. To be honest, as Olivia’s part was very small, I don’t have much to say about it, but it remains a good performance. She was convincing, adorable and her chemistry with Errol Flynn was great. What I like the most about this performance is that she played someone with a great sense of humour and, for me, this is the best quality someone can have. This film is certainly not a comedy, but there were some funny scenes and, most of the time, they were brilliantly led by Olivia. She plays someone very lively and her performance is convincing. But was this a role made for Olivia de Havilland and only Olivia de Havilland like in The Heiress was? Well, as much as her interpretation was great, I agree that other actresses would have been good for the role too.
Film 7: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (William Dietrele and Max Reindhart, 1935)
Among all the movies I watched for my marathon, this one is, I must admit, the one that I liked the least. BUT, I have to say that the actors’ performances are STUNNING. To me, the best one was James Cagney’s performance, but Olivia de Havilland’s one was great too. That was a good way for her to start a career as it was only her 3rd film. She is quite convincing and we can see she was on a good way to become one of Hollywood’s greatest stars. What I liked about this film, is that she was so young. In fact, she was my age (19), so it becomes a way for me to identify myself to her (a little). Olivia also played this role on stage.
Film 8 (and the last one): The Adventures of Robin Hood (Michael Curtiz and William Keighley, 1938)
Role: Lady Marian
As it is a very good movie, that was a good way for me to end my little Olivia de Havilland’s film marathon. As she played here, and brilliantly, someone with a big heart, we can see why Melanie Hamilton’s part in Gone With the Wind was eventually offered to her. Even if she was great in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, this is for me one of her first best performances. As I said before, Olivia always knew how to play the good women and, in this film, she did it very well again. Her chemistry with Errol Flynn was also at its best.
Well, that’s it. As you can see, these are eight very different Olivia de Havilland’s films. For those who haven’t seen any of her movies, I hope it convinced you to see some! 🙂 I have now started a William Holden’s Films Marathon so you can expect a similar article for it.