Monday, April 26, 2010

Princess Olivia

This week, we watched Princess O'Rourke, a 1943 film with Ms. De Havilland as the Princess Maria, a refugee from Europe living quietly - much too quietly - in the United States.   When she passes out (the result of too many sleeping pills) after her flight to San Francisco is grounded, she ends up hte in home of the pilot, Eddie O'Rourke (played by Robert Cummings).  Maria quickly becomes enchanted by Eddie, his neighbors Dave (Jack Carson) and Jean (Jane Wyman). Eddie and Dave are about to be inducted into the army, so there is a certain urgency as Eddie discovers he is in love with Mary (the name Maria has adopted).  When he proposes, she is forced to reveal to him her royal status, and he begins to discover the role he will be assuming as the husband of a princess.

A couple of weeks ago, we complained a bit about Jack Carson, but he is perfect in this movie.  The scene where he describes his wife's grief at his imminent departure to the armed forces is truly heartbreaking. Equally affecting are his scenes with Jane Wyman.  Their loving banter is true and ultimately moving as we see them trying to cope with an impossible situation.  Another surprising performance is that of Robert Cummings.  Again, we are not really fans, but he is wonderful in this.  As the rules of being a consort are explained to him, his reactions are perfect.  We stay on his side BECAUSE of the way Cummings subtly demonstrates the frustration of Eddie. As always, Olivia is a treat.  Warm, sweet,  and funny.  Her Maria is a joy, and you will adore her.
On of the images that recurs in the film is that of the caged bird; Maria is very much that bird, which is finally released after she falls in love with Eddie.  My friend remembered that the caged bird was also the symbol of France under the aegis of Nazi occupation.  She also recalled an emblem (done by Cartier)of the freed bird, symbolizing the French liberation. Though the war is still underway during the filming and release of the film, we wondered if that image of the caged France influences the screenwriters as well.

Finally, we loved the script.  So often, writers go for the cheap release. But these do not.  Eddie ONLY rejects his role as consort when he discovers that he will have to renounce his U.S. citizenship.  Every other "indignity" (being subservient to his wife in public, not being allowed to serve in the armed services) he is willing to agree on.  But even today, we found the insistence that he lose his very identity as an American to be just that one step too far. 

If you've never seen this movie, run right out and see it.  In fact, set up a reminder on TCM.com - it is being run in August.  This one is a treat!  Here's a scene where the Princess is on a plane:


Next time - join us for another visit with the dashing Mr. Flynn, as he rejoins our Olivia for Four's a Crowd.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Olivia wins an Oscar

This week, we turned to a more serious film - The Heiress, with Ms. de Havilland in one of her Oscar winning roles.  And is this ever a tour de force performance! Olivia stars as Catherine Sloper, a plain, shy, unmarried woman who lives quietly with her father, Dr. Austin Sloper (played with grave superciliousness by Ralph Richardson) and widowed aunt Lavinia Penniman (Miriam Hopkins). Though we learn little of Catherine's history prior to this movie, we know that her mother is long dead, and that her father finds her a huge disappointment. Her mother was a great beauty, to which poor Catherine could not hope (in his opinion) to hold a candle; Dr. Sloper mourns his wife, and bemoans that fact that it was SHE taken from him (and not Catherine).  Catherine is blithely unaware of her father's true feelings, until she meets Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift), a young man who has spent his inheritance on a long trip to Europe. He pursues Catherine; professes his love for her, but meets with resistance from Dr. Sloper.  It soon becomes apparent that Dr. Sloper is convinced that Morris' motives are less than worthy primarily because Catherine is not, in his opinion, worthy of love.  She could not possibly attract (he feels) such an attractive man, unless the only motive was her money.

We'll never know if Catherine and Morris would have been happy together. And that was much of our conversation following the movie.  The film is based on the book Washington Square, by Henry James.  Interestingly, in the book, both Catherine's mother and brother have died, leaving her an heiress because of her brother's death.  Catherine (in the film) never discusses her mother; we wondered if she had even known her mother.  Mrs. Sloper's death in childbirth would present an interesting motive for Dr. Sloper's antipathy towards his daughter, but of course, we can only present this as another way to view Dr. Sloper's attitude.

The cast here is magnificent. Olivia de Havilland's Catherine is shy, but with a biting wit when she allows it to show; controlled, but passionate when she finally meets the man of her dreams; romantic, but caustic when she has to face the truth about Morris.  Miriam Hopkins' Aunt Lavinia walks a fine line (successfully) between matchmaker and pander; Ralph Richardson is cold, aloof, and ultimately cruel as Dr. Sloper. And finally, Mongomery Clift, who creates a Morris that it is hard to dislike, but easy to distrust.

A hearty thumbs up for this movie. You should run right out to see it. In this trailer, we not only see Ms. de Havilland accepting her Oscar from Ray Milland, we see a few clips from the film:


Next week, we'll be looking at a comedy - Princess O'Rourke. Hope you'll join us then.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Oliva Goes West

Our film this week was Santa Fe Trail, with Olivia de Havilland as Kit Carson Hailliday, the love interest of J.E.B. Stuart (Errol Flynn) and George Armstrong Custer (Ronald Reagan).  The three are caught up in the terrorist activities of John Brown (played here with great gusto by Raymond Massey), a provocateur who is attempting to being a war to eliminate slavery in the United States.  Most of the plot in this film has to do with Stuart and Custer trying to catch Brown, as he travels through Kansas wreaking havoc. 

There is quite a bit of rhetoric in the movie - how Stuart and Custer only need to obey the law, and the evil of slavery will EVENTUALLY be realized and eliminated, and the history in this movie is so weak as to be nearly laughable. For example, J.E.B. Stuart never married (sorry Olivia),  and the real Custer wed Elizabeth Clift Bacon - a brunette, not the blonde Charlotte as is implied in this movie.  Never mind the fact that Custer graduated from West Point in 1861, a Stuart graduated in 1854 (he actually did end up in Kansas, while Custer went right out of the Point into service in the Civil War). They certainly were not classmates. They weren't even in the school at the same time.  Did they even ever meet? - maybe on the field of battle at Bull Run. They were on opposite sides, though.

Like our film last week, Olivia is window-dressing to the bromance between Flynn and Reagan.  She flirts with her two suitors, eventually deciding on Flynn as her love interest (and are we really surprised?).  Her best scene is not with Flynn, however, it is with Gene Reynolds as Jason Brown, John Brown's drying son.  Her kindness radiates through as she listens to the boy describe the horror of his life with his father.  Here's the scene where they meet:



Next week, we'll be doing a movie with a little more meat for the talented Ms. de Havilland.  Hope you'll visit us then.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Olivia and the Anarchists

This week, we watched a comedy from 1942, The Male Animal.  Ms. de Havilland (playing Ellen Turner) stars with Henry Fonda, who portrays Professor Tommy Turner, an English teacher in a small college, caught in the middle of school turmoil.  When a young college radical publishes in his newspaper that Professor Turner is going to read a letter by Bartolomeo Vanzetti in class, he finds his job threatened.  Add to that, the return of his wife's former boyfriend (Jack Carson), a football hero named Jack Ferguson. 

Olivia's part in this is relatively small. She gets to be patient and loving with Fonda, and emulate a tiny bit of hero worship towards Jack Carson (never our idea of a sex symbol, but it's all a matter of taste). The surprising thing about the movie, though, is the movie's topic.  Let's put this movie in perspective. It is 1942. War has just broken out in America (even if the film was made before December of 1941, the rest of the world was already deeply embroiled). The names of Sacco and Vanzetti, just brief blips in history in 2010, would have been VERY familiar to a 1940's audience.  Convicted and executed for murder, many felt they were put on trial for their political beliefs (they were considered to be anarchists) rather than the crime for which they were accused.  For a country reeling from an attack by a foreign nation, the reminder of Sacco and Vanzetti would have been controversial at the very least.

The Male Animal is based on a Broadway play by James Thurber and Eliot Nugent (who played Tommy Turner in the original production AND in two revivals), that ran for several months in 1940.  It was revived in 1952 and 1953 (with Robert Preston appearing as Joe Ferguson).  The college board's willingness in the play to suppress freedom of speech and essentially blacklist must have also rang very familiar in 1952, as the HUAC investigations continued in Washington.

All in all, we enjoyed this movie a lot, and highly recommend it. It is not Olivia's best movie, but Henry Fonda is wonderful, and the thoughtfulness of the subject is worth your time (and it is funny too.  Here's a trailer:


Next week, we'll take a look at Santa Fe Trail.