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.

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