Monday, March 29, 2010

Screwball Olivia (and Bette and Leslie)

This week, we see Havilland at her screwball best in It's Love I'm After.  She plays Marcia West, a young woman who spends her life falling in love with actors; this time, it is stage actor Basil Underwood (played by Leslie Howard), a vain ham who is engaged (off and on) to the equally vain Joyce Arden (Bette Davis), his frequent stage costar.  When Marcia's fiance Henry Grant (played by Patric Knowles) decides that the best way to get Marcia's infatuation quashed is to invite Basil for the weekend, mayhem ensures. Especially when the irritated Joyce arrives at the house party.

This is a truly funny movie, and Olivia is a riot as the avid - and rabid - pursuer of  Basil's affections.  She has some terrific scenes here.  One, when Basil decides that the best way to cool her ardor is to lock her bedroom door (with him inside) and threaten her with "a fate worse than death".  Her reaction is priceless.  Another, when Marcia decides that Basil is perhaps not all he is cracked up to be, and announced that she should have just continued her adoration of Clark Gable.  "Clark who?" poses the baffled Basil.  (Six years earlier, he and Gable had costarred in A Free Soul). 

This was the third, and final, paring of Leslie Howard and Bette Davis (they had earlier appeared together in The Petrified Forest and Of Human Bondage), and their only comedy together.  Neither really made all that many comedies.  However, there is a scene here, in which Davis, attempting to keep Howard out of her room, piles furniture in front of her door. Meanwhile, Howard climbs in the window.  The scene would be copied years later in another Davis comedy (this time with James Cagney) The Bride Came C.O.D. In either movie, it is still funny.
Our discussion of the movie ended with a rather long discussion of Leslie Howard.  His early death in World War II, his sponsorship of Humphrey Bogart, and his film career in general make him an interesting actor.  We've all seen many of his films.  This was was a real breath of fresh air, giving him the chance to do something he almost never gets to do - be funny.  We thought he sort of had that opportunity in The Scarlet Pimpernel (where the comedy serves as a mask for his real identity.), but other than that, this screwball comedy gave us a new vision of a wonderful actor.  Here's a trailer:
Next week, we'll return with a later de Havilland comedy, The Male Animal.

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