Monday, August 30, 2010

Olivia Marries a Doctor

This week, our movie is 1955's Not as a Stranger, wherein Olivia plays a superior OR nurse named Kristina Hedvigson, who falls in love with medical student Lucas Marsh (Robert Mitchum).  Marsh wants to be a doctor, and will do anything to get there, including marry Kristina (whom he does not love), in order to pay his way through medical school.  The big problem with Marsh, though, is not that he doesn't love Kristina - he doesn't love ANYONE.  He does love medicine, wants desperately to be an excellent doctor, but will not brook any kind of medical mistakes.  As a result, he is cold and unforgiving, with no patience for his colleagues.

Olivia's Kristina is a good woman. Somewhat unsophisticated, but an excellent nurse and a caring human being.  But she is plain.  It is interesting the way this is accomplished.  The blonde wig and very white makeup that Olivia wears makes her looked washed out. Her usual vibrancy is replaced by a ghostly, almost surreal invisibility; a symbol, perhaps, of the fact that Lucas never really sees her.  In this scene, Kristina and Lucas meet:

This movie is also chock-full of supporting performances by actors one doesn't always see in supporting roles.  Frank Sinatra, for example as Alfred Boone, another medical student who is just not up to Lucas' standards, but is a good, caring man, is just wonderful here.  His sympathetic nature radiates.  He is the perfect foil to Mitchum's uptight perfectionist.  Broderick Crawford, as one the medical school's key instructors and Charles Bickford, as the doctor who gives Lucas his first job, are also excellent, again providing a glimpse of the humanity that is necessary to a successful medical career.  Bickford especially shows us medicine as a caring profession; he knows every one of his patients, and treats them with understanding and love.

Finally, there is our only other major female role, the always fascinating Gloria Grahame as Harriet Lang, a wealthy widow who is looking for excitement. And of course, the rather studdily Mitchum is quickly within her sights.

A big thumbs up for this so often overlooked movie. If you've never seen it, by all means, give it a try.

Next week, we again venture west.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Olivia Plays the Violin

There is something to be said for delightful little pieces of froth, which is exactly what this week's movie is.  We're talking about My Love Came Back (1940), wherein Ms. de Havilland plays Amelia Cornell, a music student who is having quite a hard time financially.  Her family is having problems back home, so Amelia is forced to take on teaching assignments in order to continue her training at the prestigious Brissac Academy of Music.  Only problem is, her meager scholarship forbids her to teach.  Enter Julius Malette (Charles Winninger), a wealthy man (he manufactures musical equipment) who is captivated by her, and begins to anonymously send her another "scholarship", and not so anonymously take her to concerts, theater, and even the circus.  However, things get complicated when he sends his Vice-President, Tony Baldwin (Jeffrey Lynn), to break a date for him.  Baldwin is delighted with her, but also suspects that Amelia and Malette are MUCH more than friends.  Things get even MORE complicated when her friends Joy O'Keefe and Dusty Rhodes (Jane Wyman and Eddie Albert) cash another of Malette's check, further intensifying Baldwin's belief that Amelia is seeing Malette for money.

We really enjoyed this movie.  Olivia is just lovely in in. Her Amelia is sweet and unassuming.  And the filming of her violin sequences is quite well done. You will believe she is playing the violin.  We also have some great supporting performances here. 

Spring Byington as Mrs. Malette is delightful.  She knows quite well that her husband is not just working late, but it is also clear that she trusts him.  She seems to understand that he needs to be a little "naughty" and she is able to give him the freedom he needs to work out his mid-life crisis. We loved her interaction with Amelia; her ability to gently put the girl at ease just makes you like Mrs. Malette all the more. 

We also enjoyed Paul Malette (as played by William Orr).  Originally convinced that Amelia is a disreputable person, he meets her and falls immediately in love.  And though he thinks badly of his father for his "relationship" with Amelia, he bravely tries to protect both him and Amelia when he believes his mother is about to find out "the truth".

Finally, there is the teaming of Jane Wyman and Eddie Albert.  You really want to kill them when the steal Amelia's check, but it is hard to not like them.  And it is good to see Jane Wyman in almost anything. She is always a bright light in any film.  We found a rather unusual trailer (with George Reeves in it - he is NOT in the picture!):

Next time, we'll be venturing back to more serious Olivia territory.  We hope to see you then.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Olivia Meets Myrna

This week, we look at the 1956 comedy The Ambassador's Daughter, wherein Olvia plays the title role.  Joan Fiske lives in Paris with her ambassador father (Edward Arnold).  She is engaged to Prince Nicholas Obelski (Francis Lederer) and happily serves as her father's hostess.  Into their lives comes crusading Senator Jonathan Cartwright (Adolphe Menjou) and his wife (Myrna Loy).  He has decided that Paris has a terrible influence on their naive servicemen, and wants to ban it as a destination for the military.  The Ambassador, of course, needs to prevent this - the soldiers are a huge source of income for the nation still recovering from the war, and he does not share the conservative senator's fears.  Thus, Joan enters into a bet that she will woo a soldier (John Forsythe), and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that American soldiers are gentlemen.

This is not a great movie, but it has its moments.  The scene in which Myrna Loy tries to convince John Forsythe that Olivia is actually a good girl (he has come to believe that she is the Senator's mistress) is hilarious, and Olivia doing her best French accent is delightful.  But the movie has one little problem - the romantic leads are just a tad too old for the subject matter.  Forsythe, who was 38 when the film was released, is far too mature to be so ignorant.  And Olivia, at 40 is just too adult to be mistaken for any kind of an innocent.  The other problem is the timing of the movie - why is Forsythe still in the armed services? Korea is three years over, and it is 10 years since the Second World War (which of course would have been the impact factor in France). Why are all these soldiers still in France? And why isn't Forsythe back in the states working as an engineer? Tis a puzzlement!

But if you have a chance, give it a look see. Just suspend you disbelief at the door, and let Myrna and Olivia whisk you away to a more innocent time.  In this scene, both ladies appear:

Next time, another comedy, but from a much earlier time.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Olivia Goes South

Our discussion this time centered on the role that Olivia de Havilland is perhaps best remembered for: Melanie Hamilton Wilkes in Gone With the Wind.  Perhaps there is nothing that can be added to the volumes that have already been devoted to this film, but when has that stopped us? First off, Olivia is positively radiant as Melanie.  And it is more than just Melanie's goodness ("the only truly kind person I have ever known", as Rhett Butler so aptly puts it).  It is her iron will and strength of purpose.  Watch her come down the staircase with a sword she can barely carry; then look at the steely determination in her eyes when her husband's safety depends on her.  As Scarlett so aptly puts it "What a cool liar you are, Melly!"  Could another actress have so effortlessly merged two such apparently divergent characteristics so beautifully? It is hard to imagine!

We also spent some time discussing the other characters, primarily Scarlett and Mammy.  Of course, the wonderful Hattie McDaniel is dynamic here.  Her eyes tell us everything we need to know about her attitude to Scarlett.  And did you ever notice that, though she is quick to correct Scarlett on every other thing, when Scarlett goes after sister Sue-Ellen's beau, Frank Kennedy, Mammy says nothing? Could it be she knows that Scarlett will support her entire family on Frank's money, whereas Sue-Ellen will high-tail it out of Tara faster than scat, and leave them all to fend for themselves?

Finally, there is Scarlett.  I personally like Scarlett.  The film's Scarlett is no way as hard as Scarlett in the book (that Scarlett is so clearly a collaborator after the war; the film's Scarlett is just selling to them), but she is basically a responsible person.  Even though she believes that Ashley is dead (more evident in the book than here), she still supports his wife and child because she made a promise to do so. And her vow to "never be hungry again. No, nor any of my folk." And she means it.  Everything she does supports the family, not just herself.  A brat? You bet.  But if I had to have someone in my corner, it would be Scarlett.  And Melanie, more than anyone else, with her clear picture of all those she loves, knows it.

Just for fun, here's a deleted scene that we found:


Next time, we jump to the 1950s for our next film.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Olivia Goes to Court

This week, our movie is from 1959.  It is Libel, starring Dirk Bogarde and Olivia de Havilland, as Sir Mark and Lady Margaret Lodden, a well-to-do couple living happily in England (he is English nobility; she is an American who wed him after he returned from World War II.  Their life is happy, until the day a former war colleague of Mark's who recognizes him, not as Mark Lodden, but as the fairly heinous Frank Welney, another soldier who was a dead ringer for Sir Mark.  When Mark will not acknowledge that he is Welney, the colleague, Jeffrey Buckenham (Paul Massie) goes to the newspapers and provides an interview accusing "Sir Mark" of killing and replacing the real Mark Lodden.  In turn, Mark and Margaret sue the newspaper and Buckenham for libel.

If this is  not the best movie ever made, it is certainly suspenseful.  Is Mark Frank? Does Margaret believe Mark? And who is Number 15 (to find out, watch the movie!) You won't be quite sure until the last scene.  And both actors are wonderful at keeping you guessing.  Dirk Bogarde's hesitation throughout the movie keeps you wondering just WHAT his problem is - is it amnesia, as he claims, or is he really NOT the person he claims to be.  And Ms. De Havilland goes from loving wife to doubter as the court case progresses. And you understand why.  It is a lovely symmetry between the two actors that you are sucked into the mystery.

The movie, interestingly, is based on a play from 1935-1936, starring Colin Clive (of Frankenstein fame), and directed by Otto Preminger. In the scene below, Margaret sees the toll that that accusations are having on her husband:

Next  time, we'll spend a few minutes with an Olivia performance that is one of her most famous, and perhaps one of her best.