Monday, June 28, 2010

Olivia Works for the Government

Our film this week is Government Girl.  None of us had ever seen it before, and I wish I could say it was a forgotten gem, but not so much.  This is a movie that wants to be screwball in the worst way, but only manages to be overdone and silly.  Olivia play Elizabeth "Smokey" Allard; Smokey (and her stupid name is never really explained. Childhood nickname. She doesn't know why) works for the War Department as a secretary, and ends up under the newly hired Ed Browne (Sonny Tufts). Of course, there is a funny meeting (he finds her crawling on the floor looking for her friend May's (Anne Shirley) lost wedding band, and, of course, he assumes she is the bride. And HE manages to steal May her her fiance's (James Dunn) hard won wedding suite (because they were 5 minutes late, and he is important), infuriating Smokey.

Everything here is overdone. Olivia does a pratfall, but the staging is WAY over the top.  She takes Ann Shirley out for dinner; the staging is farcical.  However, this isn't supposed to be a farce, and we know that actors like Ms. De Havilland and Ms. Shirley are fully capable of silly comedy.  This just can't quite cut it (and if you compare it to the similarly plotted The More the Merrier, well, there just IS no comparison)

Meanwhile, Smokey is dating Dana McGuire (Jess Barker),who has distinct political ambitions. And this is where the movie really begins to get spooky.  Jess Barker plays Dana as close to being psychologically abusive. When he tells Smokey (having canceled their date) that she WILL see him the following day, his voice radiates a threat that is more frightening and sexy. If we are supposed to at least understand what Smokey seems in this man, Mr. Barker was certainly not the actor to do it. Apart from white-bread good looks, he is nothing if not unpleasant.  We rather wanted to shower after he showed up.  

One interesting thing about the film is the "special effects". We noticed a credit for special effects in the film. Well, scenes of Smokey and Ed riding a motorcycle around Washington are clearly filmed IN Washington, D.C., while scenes of Olivia De Havilland and Sonny Tufts on the motorcycle clearly were not.  It is rather fun to see these shots of the District, circa 1943.  And a quick tip of the hat to Ann Shirley and James Dunn as the best friends of Smokey. Good to see them; we wished they had better parts. Here is a clip of the movie - watch for Agnes Moorehead in a truly bit part:

Next week, another film new to us all.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Olivia Writes a Novel

This week, we were able to watch Devotion, wherein Olivia plays Charlotte Bronte, and gets to write the novel Jane Eyre. Again, Ms. De Havilland plays second lead, this time to Ida Lupino, who is playing her sister Emily. Ms. Lupino has the meatier role, as the tortured, dying Charlotte, but Ms. De Havilland ends up with more screen time (and more to do than just be tortured).  Her Charlotte harkens back to some of the earlier teen roles we've seen, such as Call it a Day and It's Love I'm After, where she gets to fall in love with a man who is already taken (and be a tad silly about it). However, this is no screwball story.  Because in the end, both sisters end up in love with the same man - Paul Henreid as the Reverend Arthur Nicholls. And he is oblivious to one of them.

As history, this film rather plays fast and loose.  Yes, Bramwell (Arthur Kennedy) was an alcoholic, and yes, Emily did die of TB.  But so did Anne Bronte (played by Nancy Coleman) and you wouldn't know it from this movie. In fact, Anne died about 6 months after Emily.  Charlotte did go to London, but after Emily's and Anne's deaths.  And Charlotte's marriage to Arthur Nicholls was no happy ending.  Her father was totally against the marriage, because he feared that marriage would kill his only surviving child (of the 6 born to him). He was right. Charlotte became pregnant; she and the baby died, probably the result of hyperemesis gravidarum, or excessive morning sickness resulting in malnutrition.  Another point, the sisters were all very small and probably slender - at an exhibit of their books and item at the Morgan Library in New York City, I saw one of Emily's gloves. It was TINY. I have VERY small hands - the glove would not have fit me. None of these ladies is in the least bit tiny or frail-looking!! A couple of items that they did get right though, were rather fun. The sisters three books (Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey) did come out together (in fact Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey were published in the same three volume set). The other little piece that we enjoyed was that, when Charlotte visits Arthur Nicholls to give him a copy of her novel, she is holding three books. Indeed, Jane Eyre was published (as many novels were at the time - to accommodate lending libraries) in a three-volume set!

Like many historical films that play a little to fast and loose, this can be a problematic movie, but the acting is wonderful. We have some lovely character pieces here, especially Sydney Greenstreet as William Makepeace Thackeray, who manages to portray Thackeray as an adorable egoist!  Also fun to watch is Odette Myrtil as Mme Heger, who reminded us very much of Peggy Wood as the patient wife of the artist in Call it a Day.

We hope to see you again next week.  In the meantime, here's a trailer from the film:

Monday, June 14, 2010

Historical Olivia (sort of)

Olivia appears in another very secondary role in The Great Garrick (1937).  This is VERY much Brian Aherne's movie, as the 18th century actor, David Garrick. The film makes clear that the incident is fictional (which is why I said "historical (sort of)" in the title); in the film, Garrick is invited to appear in Paris at the Comédie Française, only to antagonize his future costars by telling his English audience that he intends to "instruct" the French on proper acting techniques (his method of getting his English fans to "agree" to his departure to the continent).  Thus, the French actors set up an elaborate ruse to humiliate Garrick; into the middle of this scenario intrudes Germaine Dupont, Countess de la Corbe. Of course, Garrick (who has been informed of the trick), mistakes Germaine for a member of the acting troupe.  

Garrick was to the 18th Century what the Method was to the 20th.  He developed a less theatrical form of acting, and in fact, the movie has Garrick discussing his acting style briefly in the film.  (Quite humorous too, as he informs the French actors that he knew exactly who they were, since they didn't walk or move like people employed in an inn).  And while the real Garrick didn't marry a French woman, he did marry a German woman in what turned out to be an extremely happy marriage - he called her "the best of women and wives,"and it is said they were inseparable for the 15 years of their marriage.   And here's Hollywood's version of how he met his great love:

As to the film, it was not entirely successful; it was based on a London play, but never quite achieved the level of popularity that the studio had hoped for.  However, the lead actors, Mr. Aherne and Ms. De Havilland are quite delightful in it.  She manages to hold her own even with such wonderful character actors as Melville Cooper and Edward Everett Horton (and there is even Lana Turner in a bit part).  Finally, it is worth noting that (according to "The Films of Olivia De Havilland", though Mr. Aherne and Ms. De Havilland dated while making the picture, they ended up related - he married her sister Joan Fontaine  two years later.

Join us next week as we look at some movies that appeared on TCM for Ms. De H's birthday.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Olivia Wins Her FIRST Oscar

We felt we had a real treat this week - Olivia de Havilland's 1946 Oscar-winning performance in To Each His Own, wherein our heroine plays an unwed mother. The movie is just wonderful - a chick flick, a melodrama - you bet, but what a performance!  Olivia gets to play Jody Norris, a young woman from a small town, during multiple stages of her life. We first see her as a somewhat hardened, middle-aged woman; but thanks to flashbacks, we get to see her as a young, optimistic girl. Jody meets a young flyer (John Lund as Captain Cosgrove), falls in love, spends a night with him, exchanges multiple love letters, only to learn a few months later that he was killed in battle.  Now pregnant, she decided to have her baby AND raise him. Her plan is simple. She will leave her child on the doorstep of the town's most fertile woman, knowing that the family will be unable to take him in. Then, Jody will come to the rescue and offer to adopt the child.  However, Jody's former suitor (Philip Terry) and his wife (Mary Anderson) have just lost their newborn child.  The town generously offers the "orphan" to them.

De Havilland  is a gem in this picture; she manages to easily demonstrate all the stages of Jody's life - from young innocent, to hardnosed businesswoman to bitter middle age.  No one else in the cast even comes close.  John Lund is really only window dressing - an object of love, first as the lover, then as the son. It is not his fault, because everything rotates around De Havilland.  Perhaps the only performance that even comes close is that of Victoria Horne as Jody's friend Daisy Gingras in the scene where Daisy relates the story of her youth, and of the grandmother who removed her from the home of her alcoholic mother. 

For some reason, this movie is NOT available on DVD (WHY????), but it is run occasionally on TCM. Do watch the schedule and try to catch it; we're sure you will enjoy it.  Here's a wonderful scene, where Jody learns she has lost her child: