Top of the World: Olivia de Havilland Turns 101!

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Today, the strong, lovely, talented, legendary Olivia de Havilland is turning 101 years old and we are very lucky to still have her with us! Aging gracefully, she certainly is one of the most beautiful women of that age! For the occasion, Crystal from In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Laura from Phyllis Loves Classic Movies are hosting The Second Olivia de Havilland Blogathon + Eroll Flynn!

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For the occasion, I’ve decided to present you a top 10 of my most favourite Olivia de Havilland’s films! Remember, these are my personal favourites, so it’s purely subjective. I ask you to respect my choices.

Just to give you an idea, I’ve seen a total of 12 of her films so far.

Here we go!

10. A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Max Reinhardt and William Dieterle, 1935)

I’m not THAT much a fan of this film, but I’ve decided to put it at #10 as 1- It has to be praised for the excellent performances (including Olivia’s one), 2- A Midsummer Night’s Dream remains, after all, my favourite Shakespeare play, 3- I love the magic and poetry embodied by the dreaming cinematography and 4- the two other ones I saw, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex and Santa Fe Trail left me a bit indifferent.

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9. Hush… Hush… Sweet Charlotte (Robert Aldrich, 1964)

Quite a creepy film, but I’ve always found Olivia de Havilland’s performance quite interesting as it is very different from the innocent Melanie Hamilton for example! And who would say no to a film reuniting her, Bette Davis, Joseph Cotten and Agnes Moorehead?

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8. The Proud Rebel (Michael Curtiz, 1958)

This western was the last collaboration between Curtiz and De Havilland. Somehow it’s not too well-known, but I think it deserves more recognition. It’s a beautiful film and our Livie is absolutely touching in it.

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7. My Cousin Rachel (Henry Koster, 1952)

One thing: I STILL have to read the book by Daphné du Maurier. Ok, this film contains his flaws, but it remains an appreciable one to see. Olivia is quite fascinating playing this ambiguous Rachel! Who is she really?! This film is a good way to size her versatility as an actress.

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6. The Strawberry Blonde (Raoul Walsh, 1941)

I actually just watched this movie today in honour of the celebrated one! I quite enjoyed it! It was a lot of fun. Olivia and James Cagney (such a great actor!) looked just adorable together. The presence of Rita Hayworth and Jack Carson was, of course, highly appreciated as well. A good comedy movie to watch when you feel like not concentrating too much!

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5. The Dark Mirror (Robert Siodmak, 1946)

I’ve always loved psychological movies and this one makes no exception to the rule. Playing two roles in one film never looks like an easy task, but, here, Olivia did it wonderfully. A fascinating film.

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4. The Adventures of Robin Hood (Michael Curtiz and William Keighley, 1938)

Of course, we all like the collaborations between Olivia de Havilland and Errol Flynn. This one has to be my favourite one without hesitation. Olivia is so lovely as Lady Marian and the film itself is a wonderful entertainment!

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3. The Snake Pit (Anatole Litvak, 1948)

I’ve said that I’ve always loved psychological movies. Well, this one is another great example. I love to see the evolution of the characters in these. Here, Olivia de Havilland certainly gives one of her best and more challenging performances. She received an Oscar nomination for her performance.

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2. The Heiress (William Wyler, 1949)

And happy birthday to William Wyler, who was born on July 1st too! Well, if Olivia won her second Oscar with this film, it’s not without reasons. An extraordinary performance, full of subtleties and perfectly calculated. She gives an extraordinary essence to her character and it’s hard to surpass her. I’ve loved this film since the first time I saw it. Of course, I don’t think William Wyler ever made a bad film…

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  1. Gone With the Wind (Victor Flemming, 1939)

Ok, I know, this is not a very creative #1, but what can I say? I love the film ok! There would be so much to say about it, but for what concerns Olivia, she illuminates the screen and is in perfect harmony with the rest of the cast. I couldn’t think of anyone better to portray Melanie Hamilton. This is the first film of hers I saw. What a great introduction to her filmography! 🙂

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Well, that’s it! Of course, don’t hesitate to share your choices with me!

I want to thank Crystal and Laura for hosting this amazing blogathon. Please take a look at the other entries here:

The Second Olivia de Havilland Blogathon + Errol Flynn Day 1

Happy 101 birthday dear Olivia!

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Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara: Movie History’s Most Iconic Character

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Today, on November 5th, the fascinating and tragic Vivien Leigh would have turned 103. Unfortunately, this lady who had the beauty of a goddess left us too soon at the age of 53 in 1967.

But Vivien Leigh will never be forgotten had she had made her proofs as a talented actress, both in movies and on stage.

People continue to honour her such as my friend Joseph from Wolffian Classics Movies Digest who is hosting this week the Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier Blogathon.

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Because we remember, Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier were married. If I’m not wrong, they starred in three movies together and often appeared on stage alongside each other. If things haven’t always been easy for the Oliviers, they remained one of the most iconic couples in movie history. Oh, and they looked so beautiful together!

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So, participants will today talk both about Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier’s movies.

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As I chose an Olivier’s movie last year (Spartacus), I’ve decided to go with a Vivien Leigh’s one this time. Of course, I could have chosen one starring both such as Lady Hamilton, for example, but I felt like it was time for me to write about the one she’s most remembered for: Gone With the Wind! Yes, Vivien could never run away from this film, but it’s because she was born to be Scarlett O’Hara. No one could have been better than her! We all know she won the Best Actress Oscar that year and that was highly deserved.

Directed by Victor Flemming, George Cukor and Sam Wood (both uncredited), and released in 1939, Gone With the Wind won no less than 8 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Hattie McDaniel) and Best Adapted Screenplay, plus two honorary Oscars. The film was a huge commercial success and, if we consider the inflation, it remains at the top the highest-grossing films of all times.

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An adaptation of Margaret Mitchell’s bestseller, this epic fresco tells the story of southern Bell Scarlett O’Hara in the times of the America Civil War; her love for Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard) who will marry Melanie Hamilton (Olivia de Havilland); her troubles in Atlanta while the city is attacked by the Yankees; her hard times in Tara, her hometown after, the war has started but, most of all: her love-hate relationship with the notorious Capt. Rhett Butler (Clark Gable).

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All this is resumed very briefly, even if it’s a long film, but telling too much would be like not telling enough. Plus, I have no doubt most of you saw the film. Or if you haven’t, you will most certainly do one day.

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As I’m honouring Vivien Leigh today, I’m here only to talk about her performance in the film. Yes, there is so much to say about Gone With the Wind: the costumes, the cinematography, the other actors, the script, etc., but that should be for another time.

When she was cast for the role, Vivien Leigh was a stranger to the American audience. She was born in British India from an English mother and father. So, before GWTW, she had only starred in British films such as Fire Over England or Storm in a Teacup. Among the final actresses choices for the role of Scarlett were also Joan Bennett and Paulett Goddard. They could have been great, but Vivien Leigh was a true revelation.

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The public and journalists were first no too keen on the idea that a British should play a Sudist, and such an important role, but they soon realized they were wrong to complain. Vivien Leigh, who had a beautiful British Accent, managed to keep her so well articulated voice that makes any languages beautiful, but succeed to use the proper American accent for the role of Scarlett.

It was not an easy thing to do, filming Gone With the Wind. I’m currently ready Kendra Bean’s Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait and, of course, I’ve learned a lot about the actress and also about the movie itself. What was first announced to be a dream for Vivien Leigh turned out to be an exhausting and not so enchanting work, resulting her to cross the days on the calendar during the shooting. She was mostly disappointed with Victor Flemming’s chosen dimension for Scarlett, making her much more a like a “bitch” than the courageous women who was portrayed by Margaret Mitchell. The lack of motivation from Vivien can be understandable in this case. However, a true professional and with a baggage of multiple acting talents, Vivien Leigh managed to give everything she had to conceive the best on screen Scarlett O’Hara no one could have possibly dreamt about.

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Vivien Leigh surely preferred the directing methods of George Cukor, who first started to direct the picture, but was then replaced by macho Victor Flemming. However, her and Olivia de Havilland kept seeing Cukor to improve their part. He was excellent at directing women and they could probably learn more from him than Victor Flemming.

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I’ve always liked the character of Scarlett O’Hara because she makes me think of me. She is coquette, likes beautiful things. She likes to be admired by people. She’s selfish, but despite that, she thinks of others. She creates a carapace around her, but she remains a sensible person. She does that “face” when she’s jealous. Pretty much like me. I hope I don’t sound like a too horrible person… But Scarlett is also one of the bravest story characters.

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Even me and Vivien Leigh have common physical features. I’m not her twin, of course, but we both have dark hair and blue-grey eyes (however, hers are paler than mines).

Anyway, I guess that’s why I’ve always liked this character. I remember when I was reading the book, some Scarlett’s moments made me think: “Oh, but that’s so me!”

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Vivien Leigh, of course, gave life to this fictional novel character by choosing the right active game. She gave brilliance to Scarlett O’Hara in the way she chose to move, talk, look, etc. All that is expected from an actress.

Vivien Leigh’s acting game for Gone With the Wind can sometimes be said to be theatrical, but it’s not. Yes, her voice tone sometimes gives us this impression, but it’s more a tragic one than a theatrical one. And it’s used in the perfect moments for it: when Ashley denies her at the Twelve Oaks’ ball, when she discovers her mother has died, or when Rhett decides to leave her at the end.

Yes, the voice was one of the elements with whom Vivien Leigh’s played so well to express her character’s nature. When Scarlett is happy or she talks loud she uses a high-pitched voice. I can think of this moment at the beginning when she runs to see her father who is horse riding. She arrives, running like a little girl with her coquette white dress, saying “Pa! Pa!” and laughing. Absolutely adorable.

However, Scarlett’s natural tone of voice is lower and we hear it often when she is with Rhett and especially when she’s angry at him. Vivien chose a “fake” voice of tone for her scenes with Ashley, to prove that Scarlett isn’t acting herself when she’s with him. She pretends too much, in order to please him.

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Voice comes out of the mouth and who says “mouth” says “smile”. How can we forget that adorable smile that Vivien Leigh puts on Scarlett’s face? Despite her beautiful eyes, her majestic gowns, I believe her smile is the most enchanting thing about her. She looks younger when she smiles. We love this smiling moment in the second part of the film when she wakes up after her torrid night with Rhett. We like this face of joy when she is about to dance with Rhett. Scarlett O’Hara’s happy moments are rare, as she’s going through a lot in these hard times of war, so they are appreciated.

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Vivien Leigh doesn’t make great gestures like people in silent movies or at the theatre, but she uses her look at its full potential to express her emotions. That’s why we often see close-ups of Vivien Leigh, to accentuate Scarlett’s feelings, but also her change of emotions. Because yes, while we’re watching the film, we notice how Vivien Leigh is able to switch from one emotion to another with great easiness. A real chameleon!

We all remember this face with the eyebrow that Vivien Leigh used to express jealousy or concern. One of the most memorable shots of the film:

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At the beginning of the movie, when she learns that Ashley is going to marry Melanie, the sad look on her face seems honest.

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When Melanie sees Ashley arriving at Tara and runs to him: Scarlett’s happy look that goes quickly to be replaced by a disappointed face when Mammy reminds her that he is her husband.

The fear in her eyes when she is aggressed by this Yankee

The terror in her eyes when both her father and her daughter have a horse accident.

This languorous look when she seduces men.

And there’s a lot to be mentioned. Surely, Scarlett O’Hara wouldn’t have been the same without those iconic facial expressions.

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That makes me think. As much as Scarlett O’Hara is a tragic character, she can be a funny girl and makes us laugh. This occurs in the first part of the film. Two moments I can think of are this scene when she refuses to eat before going to the BBQ (Mammy finally convinces her).

Another funny Scarlett O’Hara moments I love are those when she sees Rhett coming out from behind the couch after her fight with Ashley, and also when she sees him arriving at the auction ball. Her traumatized face is simply hilarious. Like “what is he doing here???”

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Vivien Leigh also proved to have good on-screen chemistry with her fellow actors. But I think the one with whom she had the best chemistry were Clark Gable, who plays Rhett; Hattie McDaniel, who plays Mammy and Barbara O’Neil who plays Scarlett’s mother. Vivien Leigh’s moments with these actors are some of the most delightful in the film. Of course, she also has beautiful scenes with Olivia de Havilland and both actresses managed to fairly share the screen together without stealing each other’s aura.

It’s too bad there isn’t more moment between Scarlett and her mother because those are full of tenderness and proves us their love for each other.

But Vivien Leigh was also able to choose the right attitude with characters with whom Scarlett has no chemistry at all. Here, I’m mainly thinking of India Wilkes and Suellen O’Hara. They and Scarlett simply cannot stand each other and just acts like hypocrites together.

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We’ve talked a lot about Vivien Leigh’s acting talent in Gone With the Wind, but I can’t leave you without honouring her great beauty. I mean, Vivien always looks glorious in Gone with the Wind, even when she’s wearing widow gowns or rags. As I said previously, this beauty resides in her smile, but also in her great big eyes. Vivien Leigh certainly was one of the most beautiful actresses to ever grace the screen.

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As for the gown she’s wearing in the film, despite their variety, they all suit her perfectly and simply accentuate her beauty. Those were brilliantly created by Walter Plunkett.

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Yes, Vivien Leigh will always be associated to Scarlett O’Hara for the better and the worse, but especially for the better. It is after all with this role that she truly became a star. It’s also because of her magical performance that Scarlett O’Hara is the most iconic female characters in movie history (perhaps alongside Holly Golightly). Well, that’s my opinion. Gone with the Wind has always been one of my favourite movies and Vivien Leigh is one of the major reasons why.

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Even if she’s unfortunately not with us anymore, I want to wish a happy heavenly birthday to our dear Vivien Leigh! Wherever you are Vivien…

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Olivia de Havilland’s Film Marathon

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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)

Role: Hermia

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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

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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.

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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.