Monday, August 22, 2016

Olivia is an Italian Widow

Told that another English winter will kill him, Ambrose Ashley (John Sutton) leaves his estate in the hands of his cousin, and adopted son, Philip (Richard Burton).  Promising to return in the spring, Ambrose initially delays his return, followed by a letter announcing his marriage to the widow Rachel Sangalletti (Olivia de Havilland).  The letters stop; but finally, one arrives, written in a shaky hand, telling Phillip that Ambrose's life in in danger - and that the culprit is his wife, Rachel.  Philip rushes to Ambrose's side, to find that his cousin is dead (supposedly of a brain tumor), Mrs. Ashley has left the area, and Philip is the heir to Ambrose's vast estate. Convinced that Rachel murdered his beloved cousin, Philip returns to Cornwall, and waits to revenge himself on My Cousin Rachel (1953).

Based on a novel by Daphne du Maurier, author of Rebecca, the film has the distinction of being the third du Maurier film featuring a member of the de Havilland/Fontaine family, as Ms. de Havilland's sister Joan had already appeared in Rebecca (1940, for which she was nominated for the Best Actress Academy Award) and in Frenchman's Creek (1944).  Like the other films, My Cousin Rachel, set on the Cornish coast, has the wild English seaside feel to it.  And, like the other two films, we have a character who is ambiguous.  Is Rachel to be trusted?  Or is she, as we eventually discover about the title character in Rebecca, a manipulative woman, out only for money and position?
This was the Hollywood film introduction of Richard Burton (he had already appeared in a few films and television shows in the UK), who was only 26 at the time.  Commentary by Ben Mankiewicz, which preceded the movie noted that he was unfamiliar with film and the camera.  He wanted to play out the entire scene, though only certain shots were needed for close-ups and other angles.  Director Henry Koster spent time teaching Burton to save himself up for the big scenes, and not waste his energies on shots that required only a look or a line, a lesson that would stand Burton in good stead in his 77 film and television appearances.  Burton was nominated for best supporting actor for his performance in this film, and deservedly so (he lost to Anthony Quinn in Viva Zapata!).  He is able to turn the character of Philip on a dime, going from mature, thoughtful man, to petulant child in a heartbeat. 

Though not nominated for the Oscar that year (sad but true), Ms. de Havilland gives a masterful performance as Rachel.  She plays her as a question mark.  Is she guilty of murder?  Is she in love with Philip? Was she in love with Ambrose?  What is her relationship, really, with Guido Ranaldi (George Dolenz)?  The audience is never sure. We delight in her, we admire her, and we even like her, but we are really never sure if we can trust her. 
The AFI Catalog notes that the story was initially serialized in Ladies Home Journal, and though filmed versions of du Maurier's novels had a proven record of success, the major studios shied away from her asking price of $80,000.  George Cukor and Vivien Leigh were original considerations for director and for the part of Rachel, but Cukor disliked the script (as did du Maurier, who offered her own screen treatment) and withdrew.  But Ms. Leigh was not the only contender for the title role - the part was allegedly offered to Greta Garbo, and David Selznick wanted it for his wife Jennifer Jones. 

Director Koster's son Nicholas plays the young Philip.  Also in the cast is George Dolenz, whose son is know to many of us - future Monkee Micky Dolenz.  Audrey Dalton makes her screen debut as Philip's best friend and neighbor,  Louise Kendall, and is quite good in a small part.  Ms. Dalton would go on to appear in Titanic (1953) as Barbara Stanwyck's daughter Annette Sturges, and to a total of 59 film and television appearances. Born in Ireland, she married assistant director James H. Brown in 1953. The marriage lasted until 1977; they had four children.  In 1979, she remarried, this time to an engineer (Rod F. Simenz), at which point she seems to have retired. 

This is not the only telling of the story of My Cousin Rachel.  On 7 September 1953, Olivia de Havilland reprized her title role (with Ron Randall as Philip) in a Lux Radio Theatre presentation of the story. In 1982, the BBC produced a four-hour series starring  Christopher Guard and Geraldine Chaplin as Philip and Rachel.  A new feature film version is in post-production, with Rachel Weisz and Sam Clafin in the lead roles. It is currently listed as having a release date sometime in 2017. 

Though perhaps not a glowing one, this New York Times review is quite impressed with the film. Our group was much more so, with one of the members saying it was "the best film [she had] seen in a long time".  We strongly recommend it, and leave you with this trailer to whet your appetite.  

Monday, August 15, 2016

Olivia's Trip to Italy

Six years ago, our group reviewed Light in the Piazza (1962) when we began looking a the films of Olivia de Havilland.  As the film is one that several of us love, and a newer group member had never seen it, we decided to revisit this excellent film.  Ms. de Havilland plays Margaret Johnson, an American visiting Italy with her daughter Clara (Yvette Mimieux).  As they see the sights in Florence, they are approached by Fabrizio Naccarelli (George Hamilton), a young Florentine who is captivated by Clara.  Margaret attempts to avoid Fabrizio, but to no avail - he is not to be dissuaded.  Meg's problem? Clara suffered a traumatic brain injury when she was 12; as a result, though she is a lovely young woman of 26, she has the mental age of a pre-teen.

Based on the novel The Light in the Piazza by Elizabeth Spencer (New York, 1960), the story first appeared in The New Yorker.  Reviews in the Hollywood Reporter and Variety praised the film (see TCM article), but the New York Times review is scathing.  A shame, really, because it is a moving film, with an exceptional cast - Bosley Crowther just didn't get it.

It's interesting how several years distance from the film, and new discussants adds to one's appreciation.  In our prior discussion, we were very critical of Barry Sullivan, who played Clara's father, Noel Johnson.  Noel is a hard man to like, primarily because of his attitude towards his daughter - he is both jealous of her and embarrassed by her.  His solution: ship her off to Maryland (he's a tobacco executive in Winston-Salem, NC), where visits will be limited, and she will be "safe" in something that is not "an institution" (he describes it as a "country club, or should be for the amount we're paying").  It also means his wife will be all his, not the guardian of their daughter.  Did we like Noel any better? Of course not, but we were more appreciative of the way Mr. Sullivan played him.  He's not afraid to make him unattractive, and it works well.
Our opinion of Signor Naccarelli, as portrayed by Rossano Brazzi, didn't change all that much.  We still found him somewhat shady.  Signor Naccarelli does, however, bring a bit of humanity to Meg;  Meg is so tied up in knots over her fears for her daughter's future, that it is only the flirtatious Signor who is able to finally loosen her up a bit, with his flattery and attempt at lovemaking. But his efforts to blackmail Meg for a larger dowry are rather petty - he's not a poor man, and it is likely Noel will happily supply plenty of money to his daughter's upkeep (though, of course, Signor Naccarelli is not aware that Noel will pay pretty much anything to have Clara out of sight).

Some years ago, two of us saw the Broadway musical version (2006) Light in the Piazza at Lincoln Center.  We enjoyed it, but somehow it didn't click the way the film did.  I think perhaps that the film had more intimacy than the play.  Regardless, it was a good night of theatre, and we appreciated that they would want to tell this story again.  Here is a clip from that version.
Light in the Piazza does a good job in portraying a difficult subject, and we were especially impressed by Yvette Mimieux and George Hamilton.  Originally, Italian actor Thomas Millian was cast as Fabrizio, but Hamilton actively campaigned for the role.  Hamilton is not afraid to make Fabrizio a simple man - not stupid, but a man who wants a loving wife, a home and a family.  He sees in Clara the child bride he yearns for - a playmate of sorts, but a loving one who will revel with him in his love of home and family.  He also makes him a bit of a stalker (with his relentless ability to find Clara and Meg, no matter what part of Florence into which they venture), making Meg's distrust of him eminently understandable, but also providing the audience with a chuckle.

In the end, the film hinges on whether or not we can accept the sincerity of Ms. Mimieux's Clara.  We have to believe that Meg is right in her decision with regards to Clara's future.  Can she be a wife and mother? Can she live in the Florentine world, among adults, and not be ridiculed?  Ms. Mimieux gives us a picture of a girl who, though disabled, is going to be able to grow and adapt, as long as she has the help of those who love her.  Currently retired, Ms. Mimieux made a total of  24 films (most in the 1960s and 1970s), as well as many television appearances.  Her appearance in 1964 as Pat Holmes, the epileptic surfer in the episode "Tyger, Tyger" of Dr. Kildare was very memorable (she was nominated for a Golden Globe in the category of Best Female TV Star).  She currently works in real estate and is married to her second husband of 20 years, Howard Ruby.

We'll leave you with this trailer from the film.  Next time (there will be a bit of a gap, as I'm off to a wedding), we'll return with another Olivia de Havilland film.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Lieutenant Larry

Captain Geoffrey Roberts (Adolphe Menjou) is engaged in a torrid affair with the very married Alva Sangrito (Lili Damita).  Roberts loves her, and wants to marry her; he encourages her to divorce her husband, Victor (Erich von Stroheim).  After returning her to her home following an alleged outing to the opera, he is appalled to discover that Sangrito is fully aware of his relationship with Alma, and is happy for it to continue as long as Roberts pays for the privilege.  Roberts supplies the required funds, then leaves for his assignment in India, where he is met by his friend Lieutenant Ned Nichols (Laurence Olivier).  It's not long before both men discover that Alma has seduced them both.  After much soul searching, the men agree to banish Alma from their lives, choosing friendship over romance.  Friends and Lovers (1931) is the story of that bromance.

Originally titled  The Sphinx has Spoken, the film did not do well upon release, losing $260,000.  Olivier, in his first American film, later claimed that the film "died the death of a dog." (Complete Films of Laurence Olivier); it has also been related that Olivier was having a horrible time converting his acting to a more filmic style.  According to this TCM article, director Victor Schertzinger spent much of his time getting a decent performance out of him:  "It was apparent right from the start that Olivier was completely out of his element acting in movies. He had absolutely no camera sense - my god, we often had to stop takes because he'd look at the camera in the middle of a scene. And he acted the way he did on the stage - all broad gestures and a face forever busy with expressions. He was totally unnatural, an amateur....He was uncomfortable being asked not to 'act,' but just be himself."  In spite of Schertzinger's efforts, Olivier is still obviously uncomfortable in the role.  It would take him years to finally discover the key to screen acting, but when he did - in Wuthering Heights (1939) - it was magic.
But Olivier is not the biggest problem in the film; far more damaging is Lili Damita.   Her Alma not all that attractive, or all that interesting, yet she has every man on the planet hovering over her.  Her husband is making a good living on her "charms," two men who are best friends almost kill one another over her, and despite her reputation, another man is willing to marry her.  Our question was, WHY?  What does Alma have that we don't see? The picture assumes we will take the words of these men that she has something to give, but quite frankly, it weakens the picture. A constant flirt, one wonders of Alma is capable of being in love.

Between 1922 and 1938, Lili Damita made 35 films in France and in the United States, most of them not well remembered today.  But, in 1935, Damita married Errol Flynn.  It was the same year in which Flynn shot to fame in Captain Blood.    Shortly thereafter, Damita retired from film to raise the couple's son, Sean.  Divorced from Flynn in 1942, Damita would remarry Allen Loomis (who owned a dairy in Fort Dodge, Iowa. They were married until 1983) and left Hollywood for good.  In 1970, Sean, a photojournalist working in Cambodia during the Cambodian Civil War and Vietnam War, disappeared.  Damita never gave up hope that her child was alive, and spent a fortune trying to locate him, however in 1984, Sean was declared dead. Damita died 10 years later of Alzeimer's Disease at age 89.
From an historical perspective, this is a film of interest, since it was Olivier's first film in the U.S., but as a movie, it's not all that impressive.  We'll leave you with a clip from the film - the entrance of Laurence Olivier.  Next time, we'll return with an Olivia de Havilland film from the 1960s.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Miracle Maker Barbara

The Miracle Woman (1931) is the story of Florence Fallon (Barbara Stanwyck), the daughter of a minister ousted by his ministry in favor of a younger man.  His heart broken by the betrayal of his congregation, the Reverend Fallon dies suddenlyWith his body still in the chair in which he died, his daughter arrives at his pulpit to announce his death, and to harangue the community on their hypocrisy.  Visiting promoter Hornsby (Sam Hardy) is intrigued, and hires Florence  to run a highly profitable "ministry."  But when Florence learns that her sermon stopped blind composer John Carson (David Manners) from committing suicide, Florence must take a long, hard look at her occupation. 

Watching the film right after Ladies They Talk About did lead to a discussion and comparison of the lead actors in the two films. David Manners' chemistry with Stanwyck is quite appealing, and resulted in a much more interesting dynamic that that between Ms. Stanwyck and Preston Foster.  We were particularly taken with the scene in which Stanwyck and Manners begin to sing together.  There is a naturalness in the scene that speaks to improvisation, though it probably was well scripted.  Manners presents us with a gentle, almost fragile man, who grows stronger because of his love for Florence.  But at no point do we find him weak or ineffectual.  His interactions with Stanwyck speak to an equality between them - each has their own demons; their relationship enables them both to face them.
David Manners career in Hollywood was relatively short.  He only appeared in 39 films between 1929 and 1936, and is probably best remembered as Jonathan Harker in the Tod Browning Dracula (1931).  He found life in Hollywood not to his liking, and eventually relocated to Pacific Palisades, with his partner, author William Mercer.  Manners wrote, occasionally returning to the theatre (appearing on Broadway in Truckline Cafe with Marlon Brando in 1946, for example).  Manners died in 1998, age 97.  A detailed obituary is available in The Independent.

The performance of Beryl Mercer as Mrs. Higgins is adorable.  John's landlady is sweet, caring and humorous.  There is no relationship between them other than that he lives in her building, but she seems to regard him as a son.  Both Precode.com and this New York Times review (which is not otherwise all that enthusiastic) mention Ms. Mercer's lovely portrayal.

Because of the portrait painted of a dishonest evangelist, the film was banned in the UK (according to the AFI Catalog).  The AFI also notes the similarities between this film, and the 1960 film Elmer Gantry (even down to the fire at the end of the films), though Elmer Gantry was based on a Sinclair Lewis novel, while this film was based on the play Bless You Sister by Robert Riskin and John Meehan (which, in the 1927 Broadway run, starred Alice Brady in the role that would be played by Ms. Stanwyck).

In this TCM article, it's pointed out that, being this is 1931, there is precious little in the way of special effects in the film.  So, when Stanwyck and Manners are in the cage with the lions, they are IN the cage with the lions - a veil was the only thing separating them from attack.  Convinced that Stanwyck was totally comfortable, Manners would later recall, he became "brave" and went on with the scene, only to discover afterwards that she was actually terrified!  Similarly, in the fire sequence at the end of the film.  Stanwyck had to stand amid the flames, and when Capra went in to get her, he discovered (though was unaware of it while filming), that her heart was pounding from fear.  As always, Ms. Stanwyck's professionalism was the stuff of legend.

We'll end with this scene of Ms. Stanwyck showing off her oratory skills.  We'll return next week with an early Laurence Olivier film.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Barbara's in Prison

When Nan Tayor (Barbara Stanwyck) is arrested as an accessory to a bank robbery, childhood friend David Slade (Preston S. Foster) tries to come to her assistance.  Slade believes her protestations of innocence - her father was once their town's deacon and was good to Slade.  Slade is now a highly regarded attorney and evangelist and uses his influence to have Nan paroled to his charge.  Moved by his trust in her, Nan confesses to him that she was complicit in the robbery, then is disgusted to realize that he will use her confession against her in court.  Nan is sent to prison, after she confesses to the authorities, but she harbors a deep, abiding hatred for the man she considers as her betrayer.  Nan has become one of the Ladies They Talk About (1933)

In a December 2013 article in the New Yorker, Margaret Talbot listed this as one of her 10 favorite Stanwyck films.  We found the film very enjoyable, but without the punch of say, Stella Dallas or Double Indemnity.  Part of the problem is that Stanwyck's portrayal is so powerful, her leading man is unable to stand up to her force of will.  Whenever Stanwyck is on the screen, you watch her - Foster's David Slade is a non-entity next to her, and it's hard to understand what she - or even Susie (Dorothy Burgess) - see in him.  It's not altogether Foster's fault - really, the film's focus is on the prison scenes.  The romance and warfare between Nan and David are secondary to the interaction of the ladies in prison.
Based on a play by Dorothy Mackaye and Carlton Miles entitled Women in Prison, (for more information on the play, visit the  AFI Catalog) the prison scenes are allegedly based on Mackaye's actual experiences in jail.  When her husband was killed in an altercation with Mackaye's lover, Paul Kelly, Mackaye was sentenced to one to three years (she served 10 months) in San Quentin for "attempting to conceal facts" (TCM article) in his death.  [Actor Paul Kelly would serve 25 months for manslaughter; he and Mackaye married after his release from prison, and were together until her death in 1940.  He continued to a successful stage, screen, and television career following his release].   However, any attempt Mackaye may have made in the play to portray living conditions in San Quentin were surely eliminated by the film. The prison is so very nice and homey - it's more like a college dorm room.  Though Warner Brothers had a technical advisor who had served time at San Quentin (San Quentin housed women until 1932, when Tehachapi was opened), they still prettied the prison up substantially.  The women have decorations in their rooms,  record players they can run all hours of the night, and seem to have the run of each other's cells.  Almost everyone seems to get along (except for a woman who is clearly intended to be lesbian - she "likes to wrestle,' Nan is warned.  You can see a picture of her at precode.com).
Lyle Talbot as Nan's partner-in-crime, Don is wasted in the film.  He has so very little screen time - we would have expected him to visit her in prison, but that is given over to Lefty (Harold Huber), as the visits only start when Don also ends up in San Quentin.  A shame, really, as Talbot is an engaging actor who has proved his ability to go toe-to-toe with strong women.

Lillian Roth appears in the film as Nan's prison friend, Linda.  Roth is best remembered today as the subject of the Susan Hayward film I'll Cry Tomorrow.  In our film, Linda gets an opportunity to sing "If I Could Be with You" to a photo of Joe E. Brown (not our idea of a heartthrob, but under contract to Warner Brothers when they released this film.  Then again, so were Jimmy Cagney and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.  Go figure!). A noted Broadway actress, Roth's addiction to alcohol derailed her career.  Between 1929 and 1939, she appeared in 22 films and shorts, often playing herself.  (Starting in 1955, she began to make sporadic appearances in television and films). She also had a substantial career as a concert and nightclub performer.  Married (and divorced) five times, she ended up broke when her last husband absconded with all of her money.  She died from a stroke in 1980, aged 69.  If you are not familiar with Roth, below is a film of her singing to Mr. Brown!


The reviewer for the New York Times commented on the strength of the prison scene in Ladies They Talk About. He says the film "is effective when it is describing the behavior of the prisoners, the variety of their misdemeanors, their positions in the social whirl outside, their ingenuity in giving an intimate domestic touch to the prison, and their frequently picturesque way of exhibiting pride, jealousy, vanity and other untrammeled feminine emotions."  The romance is less than secondary and is merely a method of giving us a "happily ever after" to the proceedings.  We'll leave you with a trailer to the film.  Next week, we'll take a look at another Stanwyck films from Ms. Talbot's list of 10 that we've not yet discussed.  

Monday, July 11, 2016

Olivia and the Pilots

Cass Harrington (George Brent) is a Navy flyer through and through, with a family history in the service.  His father was a highly regarded flyer for the Navy, and his brother Jerry (John Payne), also career Navy, wants to join Cass in the Air Corps, though Cass would rather Jerry stay in the submarine service.  Cass is in love with Irene Dale (Olivia de Havilland), but once Irene meets Jerry, she wonders if she has made the wrong choice - Cass is too wrapped up in his work designing a new fighter plane to pay her much attention.  When the brothers both end up at the Naval Air School in Pensacola, where Cass is an instructor, it's clear that something's got to give.  Wings of the Navy (1939) tells the story of these three individuals and of the making of a Navy airman.

In the July 2016 issue of TCM's Now Playing, Robert Osborne writes that Olivia de Havilland, who had signed a contract with Warner Brothers to star in A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935), "...considered [Wings of the Navy] the absolute nadir of her career.  It was as far afield from Shakespeare as one could get...."  While this isn't the worst film ever made (and probably not her worst either.  There is, after all The Swarm...), it's not all that good.  However, in many ways (according to this TCM article), it was this film that helped Ms. de Havilland appear in her most famous role - she was so irritated that she had been forced to do Wings of the Navy, she redoubled her efforts to land the part of a lifetime - that of Melanie in Gone With the Wind
Really, this film is an advertisement for the Navy, and a means for Warner Brothers to inform the public on the state of the armed services.  It was evident that a war in Europe was in the offing, and the Brothers Warner had already shown their dislike of fascism in 1937's Black Legion.  Shortly after this film was released (February of 1939), Warner Brothers would be the first studio to openly brand Nazi Germany as an enemy in Confessions of a Nazi Spy (released in May, 1939) [PBS History Detectives].  With its emphasis on the flying service, Wings of the Navy is a documentary praising the U.S. Navy Air Corps.  Even the New York Times review felt that "the educational part [of the film] is so interesting that we return to the romantic part... with a feeling almost akin to pain."   The advertising for the release also (discussed on WarnerBrothers.com)  displays the studio's primary interest in creating this film:  "'For all the world to witness that America will not be unprepared!' [it declared] —and backed it up with bravura footage shot at Pensacola Naval Station in Florida and North Island Naval Station at Coronado, California."
 
Because this really is a documentary-type film focusing on the military, the interactions between Brent and Payne, and between Frank McHugh (as Scat Allen) are pretty good, and while we always want to see more of Ms. de Havilland, the love story is pretty pointless - just a way to have the girlfriends agree to come with their dates to see the planes.
There are several surprise appearances in the movie, not the least of which is the appearance of Frank McHugh, who brings both humor and gravitas to the role of Scat, a man who has joined the Air Corps to perfect his flying skills.  He is not planning on a career in the Navy - he plans to return to his profession as a crop duster after his term is over, but Scat ends up being the voice of reason in most situations.  Also appearing are John Litel as Commander Clark, and Victor Jory as Lieutenant Parsons.  Jory's part is so small that if you blink, you might miss him!

Much as Ms. de Havilland disliked the film, she did not immediately escape it.  According to this article from the AFI Catalog, she ended up reprising her role (with George Brent and John Payne) in the Lux Radio Theatre production of October 1940.  While we agree with her, it is not all that wonderful a film, we'll leave you with a clip of Ms. de Havilland and Mr. Payne:

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Olivia's a Farmer

The Civil War is over.  John Chandler (Alan Ladd) and his young son David (David Ladd) arrive at the small Illinois town of Aberdeen.  Once a soldier of the South, the widowed father needs help - his son is mute, the result of witnessing his mother's death in a fire.  John is trying to find a doctor - any doctor - who can help his boy regain his ability to speak.   Doctor Enos Davis (Cecil Kellaway) recommends a colleague at the Mayo Clinic, an expert in dealing with traumatic speech loss.  But before the Chandlers can head out, John is arrested after he crosses paths with the local town bully, Jeb Burleigh (Harry Dean Stanton) and his father Harry (Dean Jagger).  Thus begins The Proud Rebel (1958).

Some films don't seem to have become recognizable classics, and The Proud Rebel is one of them.  Our question is "WHY NOT??"  This is an excellent film that carefully treads a thin line between sympathy and mawkishness - a line it never crosses.  In many ways reminiscent of Shane and The Big Country, this is an outstanding film, which emphasizes the need for family.  The talent of the three leads: Olivia de Havilland (as Linnett Moore), Mr. Ladd, Sr. and Mr. Ladd, Jr.  are important reasons, though the excellent script is a prime factor.

Linnett Moore, as portrayed by Ms. de Havilland is a wonderful woman - she is strong, brave, and stubborn, but also kind, sympathetic and loving.  The film is a love story, but it concentrates on the love that blooms between Linnett and young David more than that of John and Linnett.  Certainly, there is a love story for the adults, but it comes from the desire for family and home more than one of passion.  It is a love story of deep commitment and common beliefs.  Nevertheless, it is a love that will withstand the ravages of time.
Alan Ladd plays John as a man still scarred by the death of his wife.  In Linnett he begins to find the cure for his pain, though his almost obsessive quest for a cure for his equally damaged child is a major barrier.  His obsession initially makes him emotionally unavailable; the image he carries of his wife (a photo he immediately unpacks when he moved into Linnett's ranch) seems to act as an emotional spur, reminding him of the need to find a doctor for David.

The film is full of counterpoints. There are the two family units - the caring relationship of Linnette, David and John, set in contrast to the cruelty of three Burleighs.  The Moore farm, with its simple, cozy atmosphere, can be compared to slovenly home of the Burleigh's. The photo of John and his wife that sits at his bedside will later echo a scene of  John posing with Linnett for a similar photo. 

The performance that really stands out in the film is that of David Ladd, who, at the age of 11 gives a genuine portrayal of this child in crisis.  The chemistry between him and his father is impressive, as is that between him and Ms. de Havilland.  After a notable acting career, David became a producer (like his older brother, Alan Jr).  He and Olivia de Havilland have remained friends since the movie; according to an introduction by Robert Osborne, they regularly speak on the phone. This New York Times review is especially complementary (and deservedly so) of David's work in the film.
Alan Ladd is perfect as the tormented father.  Ladd started in film, in a number of uncredited roles, in 1932, and continued being a face in the crowd and in small roles (including a role as a reporter in Citizen Kane), until his breakthrough performance in This Gun for Hire (1942).  Though he had a wonderful speaking voice (he was much more successful in radio during his early career), his height (he was either 5'6" or 5'7", depending upon the source) was a barrier to leading man roles.  His frequent co-star Veronica Lake was tiny (she was 5'1"), and his costar here, Ms. de Havilland was also not very tall (5'3"), but stories exist of Ladd being perched on a box, so he was taller than costars like Sophia Loren (5'9" Boy on a Dolphin).  But limiting discussion of Ladd's height is to ignore his talent.  In films like Shane, The Glass Key, and The Blue Dahlia he is magnificent - with his subdued demeanor and rumbling voice, he seems made for film noir and westerns.  He was married for 22 years to Sue Carol, who also acted as his agent; the marriage produced three children - David, Alan Jr, and Alana.  Ladd battled depression (his mother, herself a victim of depression, ended her own life), attempted suicide in 1962, and died of an accidental overdose (sleeping pills and alcohol.  Ladd suffered from chronic insomnia) in 1964.  Following his death, his final performance in The Carpetbaggers (he played Nevada Smith, a character later revisited by Steve McQueen) was released, to excellent box office.

Filmed in Utah, the scenery (and cinematography by Ted D. McCord) is fantastic (it should be noted that Utah looks nothing like Illinois!).  According to the AFI catalog, Adolph Menjou was to be in the film (probably in the role of  Harry Burleigh, the role ably enacted by Dean Jagger), but a torn ligament forced Menjou to withdraw from the production.  There was one star of the film who got special treatment - that was King, the border collie that portrayed David's pet, Lance.  According to this  TCM article, "King and his two canine stand-ins were deemed so important by the production team that they were given their own hotel room in one of Utah's finest motels right next to Ladd's and de Havilland's quarters." 

We'll end with the introduction of Linnett Moore. Ms. de Havilland is dynamite in the scene.  And let's take this opportunity to wish this amazing actress a happy 100th birthday (with a link to a recent write-up in Vanity Fair of her 1962 autobiography Every Frenchman Has One):