RSS
 

Archive for the ‘Olivia de Haviland’ Category

Gone With The wind

24 Jun

Gone With The Wind – directed by George Cukor, Sam Wood, Victor Fleming, Alfred Hitchcock*. Costume Drama. 221 minutes Color 1939.
★★★★★
The Story: A spoiled determined Southern belle takes on the prewar South, The Civil War, The Reconstruction and jeopardizes her entire love-life in the process.
~
I saw Gone With The Wind in 1939 when it first came out. My mother took my brother and me to a matinée at the Roosevelt in Auburndale on Northern Boulevard, Queens. In the intermission, a drawing won you a piece of thick white china with a double red rim.

I have seen it maybe four times since.

I remember the first time because of the film’s longueurs. I didn’t understand the history, and of course I was not interested to understand the love stories. I was six. But I understood the characters, and I understand them now in the same way as then, for they are clearly drawn.

Belle Watling was a woman outside society, but of big heart. Mammy was also of big heart and a firm disciplinarian who understood tradition better than anyone. Prissy was a foolish fish flopping about. Laura Hope Crews was an overstuffed bird with discombobulated feathers who never stopped cheeping. Thomas Mitchell was the impractical loving father. Harry Davenport was a big hearted and practical spirit. Ward Bond was a dumb cop. Barbara O’Neil was the serious practical mother. The O’Hara sisters of Anne Rutherford and Evelyn Keyes were squawking, jealous jilted sisters. Leslie Howard was the milksop aristocrat focus of all love attention. Olivia de Havilland was the benign spirit. Rhett Butler was a virile charming gunrunner crook. And Scarlet O’Hara was the vixen about whom all the others circled.

The rest of it bored me.

But what I did also understand, and this was all I understood on a gut level, was the huge change from the pastel organza of the sunny and lazy life of Tara, Twelve Oaks, and The Old South into the serious hard-working, and dark red rep décor of The Reconstruction.

The next time I saw it was also a matinée. At the Bayside, Queens. I was preteen. Those were the days I left a movie to stumble into the daylight but still be in the film, in its values and color and mood and lesson.

This time I knew it was a great film, because I knew it was all about Melanie Wilkes. It was about goodness, and how it prevails over selfishness and self-centeredness, with its love and its kindness. What had not gone with the wind was the strength of that gentleness. Oh, if only I could be good! Seeing Olivia de Havilland I thought I could be. I was mistaken.

If I ever saw it again in a movie house, I don’t remember. It’s a wonderful film to see in a picture palace, because of the reach of its history, its settings, its human content, its character types, and its length. Indeed, its very intimacies are spectacular.

The third time I saw it, I knew it was all about Scarlet and about home.

I saw it again yesterday in my little old-peoples living room on VHS tape.

The color had bleached into yellows. And this time I felt the falseness of the production scenes with their painted drops. The film is well produced, though, the musical theme remains moving, everyone is perfectly cast, Hattie McDaniel remains a wonder.

Things that stirred me before now didn’t, such as the keen folly of Thomas Mitchell’s death and Oona Munson’s speech. Clark Gable’s Rhett Butler, though from Savannah, does not speak with a Southern accent. The famous boom shot of Scarlet crossing the open-air hospital of wounded Confederacy soldiers registers as phony, because neither Atlanta, nor any other city, ever had that wide an expanse of dirt as a street. It had once set me agog. No more.

But this time, yesterday, now I knew the film was brilliantly about a dysfunctional relationship.

And a perfect illustration of one. It was not about Scarlet’s misguided love for a man who might lust for her but never love her. Or rather, that was just the flimsy foundation of just how badly two people could contrive to get along, which was the real story unfolding. Scarlet and Rhett always said or did the wrong thing to one another at the right time.

I’ve loved my versions of Gone With The Wind. None of them are amiss. I recommend the picture to all. Clark Gable, for once, looks wonderful in period costumes, a mountain of masculinity, his humor charmed by the selfish hell-cat Vivien Leigh so aptly gives us. Two survivors who adore that quality in one another.

Does she win him back when, on another day, back in Tara, she figures out how to?

Why, of course she does.

• Did you know — Hitchcock, who at the time was under contract to Selznick to make Rebecca, story-boarded the Ward Bond scene with the women tatting as they await the results of their husbands’ raid on the encampment. Check it out. It’s a perfect Hitchcock suspense scene.

 

Strawberry Blond

21 Nov

Strawberry Blond – directed by Raoul Walsh. Period Comedy. A bad-tempered dentist falls afoul of a beautiful woman and a con man. 97 minutes Black and White 1941.

★★★★★

A Whitman’s Sampler of 1910: beer halls, high button shoes, brass bands, barber shop quartets, and Irish wildness.

Perc Westmore did Rita Hayworth’s makeup and discovered that her hair was so abundant that she could never wear a wig. But he dyed it to make her the title character, which she carries off beautifully. This is her second A-film, having just made Howard Hawks’ Only Angels Have Wings. She is very young. She is flabbergasteringly beautiful. She is perfect as the phony flirt and even better as the rolling-pin wife of Jack Carson.

James Wong Howe upgraded every film he filmed, and you can see it in this one, which otherwise might have been a Fox Betty Grable musical. He colors scenes with shadow, the play of leaves across a face, and this gives them a romantic importance which they actually inherently possess and need.

For as with all of Raoul Walsh’s films, the love story grounds the project. Walsh tells the story imaginatively and crisply, as usual, and his actors are on the mark – free and liberal in their choices. It is entirely without the crass Irish sentimentality you find in Ford and McCrary. Walsh was great with actors. He did not watch their scenes; he only listened to them off-stage. The great stage director George S. Kaufman did the same. If the truth was heard, it would be seen. The result is the actors shine. And this is Walsh’s favorite picture.

It is James Cagney’s film, and he abounds; scarcely a scene he does not appear in. He was after a change of pace, and balked fiercely about doing this, until Hal Wallis and Jack Warner offered him 10% of the profits and brought in the Epstein brothers to rewrite it. It had been a stage play and then Gary Cooper’s only flop. They switched the milieu from the Midwest to New York City, where, of course, Cagney belonged.

Cagney is a curious actor. He acting personality is one who wants to be ahead of the game. This means that he is not actually a responsive actor, since he always has his fear for the possible in mind. His definition of acting was: “Look ‘em in the eye and tell the truth” – which is fine if you are a machine gun. So I find it hard to acknowledge his talent; I do but I find it hard to. His headlong “personality” worked well here, since he plays a man consistently duped. He was high-waisted, long legged, and short, and carried himself  step-dancing tall at all times, which is nice. His scenes with Alan Hale as his Irish blarney drunk father are scrumptious. Hale is just terrific in the part, and Cagney plays along with him almost bursting out laughing at Hale’s inventiveness.

But it is Olivia de Havilland who carries the film. She is full of mischief, sweet, pretty, and real. Raoul Walsh’s acknowledgement of the truth of her love is the waking moment always. James Wong Howe films her like the bonbon she is, full of flavor, rich, molded to a shape, and toothsome. The passage of feeling across her face validates this charming comedy, and carries its value as an entertainment right to this day.

 

In This Our Life

18 Nov

In This Our Life –– directed by John Huston. Drama. A young Southern woman runs over the lives and loves of everyone in town. 97 minutes Black and White 1942.

★★★★★

I saw it when it came out and remember it well –– because of its closing scene in which Bette tells off Charles Coburn and then drives her convertible over a cliff. The scene was actually directed by Raoul Walsh, but what was impressive about it was the intensity and rashness of Davis’s ability to tell the truth. The question is not whether she is mean, selfish, immoral, or even sociopathic, but her daring to find in her guts and let loose the emotional truth. I never forgot it, and neither did anyone else who saw it. It was what I could not do at the time, nor for years to come. There was no major film star of Bette Davis’ era who was not a full embodiment of Women’s Liberation. This was Davis’ version.

Davis deplored the picture, which is incorrect, for she chews scenery already there for her digestion. She is never bigger than the part. And she is certainly never smaller than the part. Her costumes, by Orry-Kelly, are superb in their careful want of subtlety: she is always tricked out for game. Perc Westmore executed the makeup, which gives her a bee-stung upper lip and mascara flounces at the outside corners of her eyes. Her hair is free curling just above the shoulder with a disgraceful bang on her brow.

Bette Davis is the most kinetic of all major female stars. Her body is always engaged or about to spring. More than any other actress of her time, she brings to the screen the quality of someone no one has ever loved, and this gives her sexual seething. One way or another she is hot.

This picture is made in her heyday, between The Man Who Came To Dinner, which is her best screen performance, and Now Voyager, which is one of her most iconic. Once again she plays the brat. She had played it for years. And she played it successfully until All About Eve, after which she played it unsuccessfully, because, once over forty, it became barbaric, immature, and neurotic. After Eve, Bette Davis ceased to be an actress and became a persona, which is to say she became a statue in a public park forty years premature to her death.

But here she is giving vent to what all of us, males and females, only wish we could give vent to –– the suppressed life we’ve had to sit on, now released, fuelled, nasty or not, with the rage of our resentment at having had to sit on it so long.

This is John Huston’s second picture, and it is very well told. Ernest Haller who filmed Gone With The Wind makes beautiful light arrangements, and Ed Koch who will write Casablanca does a sound and economical script, particularly since the Pulitzer Prize- winning novel by Ellen Glasgow it comes from hinges on the Davis character’s attempt to incriminate a negro boy for a crime she herself committed. In a memorable jailhouse scene, Davis attempts to cajole and manipulate this boy to confess to it – a scene she plays well, as does the boy. Davis had found the actor, Ernest Anderson, as a waiter in the Warner’s commissary, saw his quality, and got Huston to use him; Anderson went on to have a long acting career. The handling of the negro truth has a moving first-time ever quality that rings true still.

His mother is played by Hattie McDaniel, and it is interesting to see her well-matched in a key scene opposite Olivia de Havilland. Both women were up for supporting Oscars for Gone With The Wind, and when McDaniel won it, de Havilland fled to the ladies’ room in a weeping rage. A friend shook her and said to her that McDaniel would never have another chance to win an Oscar and that de Havilland would, and it brought her to her senses. And here the two women are, face to face, filmed by Ernest Haller once again, while a score by that same Max Steiner strums by.

Olivia de Havilland gives a subtle, strong reading of Davis’ sister. Never in competition with Davis, because her instrument is essentially lyrical, the small telling registrations of her face bring this good woman to life fully. She’s wonderful to watch. She presents a formidable antagonist to Davis. It is one of de Havilland’s most fully realized characterizations.

But it is Davis’s film. Her leading men, Dennis Morgan and the penguin actor George Brent form part of a strong supporting cast which includes Lee Patrick as the care-free friend, and Frank Craven and Billie Burke as the parents. But it is Davis’ scenes with Charles Coburn that are exemplary of Davis acting at her best. Davis had more brass than a doorknocker and she and Coburn come alive to one another whenever they are together, because Coburn has brass too. Their incest scene on the couch is one for the books.

Bette Davis played The Brat for years: Jezebel, Of Human Bondage, The Letter, Dark Victory, Mr. Skeffingon, Elizabeth And Essex, The Little Foxes, and this is her quintessential take on it, and not to be missed. The title comes from the last line of a poem of George Meredith from Modern Love, a book inspired by his wife’s running off with another man. In In This Our Life, Bette runs off with another man. She also runs off with the picture.

 

Gone With The Wind

08 Sep

Gone With The Wind – Directed by George Cukor, Victor Fleming, Sam Wood, Alfred Hitchcock. Drama. A selfish misguided flirt becomes a misguided survivalist. 220 minutes Color 1939.

* * * * *

It is the greatest movie ever made– because of its generosity of spirit. Everyone who made it hated everyone else who made it, and everyone hated David O. Selznick who produced it, produced it in the sense that he himself made it, and remade it, to his exact and exacting specifications. He was a terrible intruder, interloper, interferer, and one longs to know which particular details he interfered with. Perhaps and probably all details. I saw it when it came out. White dishes with red borders were the door prizes, given out in intermission at the Roosevelt Theatre in Flushing, now no longer existent. My mother took us, and I was restless; I was six. On its re-release I saw it, and was mightily moved. I thought it was the story of Melanie Wilkes. I took myself to be that devoted soul, though I lacked the deep kindness. I was more like Oona Munson as Belle Watling. Later on when I saw it, I realized it was the story of Scarlett O’Hara. The part is perfectly cast, because Vivien Leigh had a divinity’s charm, the inner hellcat, the greed for life’s rewards, and the daring to go for them, and it is her greatest screen work. Scarlett seizes other people’s property to gain her ends, and she is perfectly matched in this by Selznick himself. We hand it to Scarlett on the grounds of her sheer vivacity. And we never blame her. Why? Because she represents the triumph of what, despite our failings and meanness, we all deserve and what we will sacrifice for it. Scarlett is an accomplishment, Vivien Leigh’s performance is an accomplishment, and the film is an accomplishment, and it is all the same accomplishment, and that remains stirring to this day. The production is splendid. William Cameron Menzies sets, Jack Cosgrove’s backgrounds, Max Steiner’s moving score – all are exemplary, as are the pens of those responsible for its screenplay, Sydney Howard, Ben Hecht, Oliver Garrett and others. Olivia de Haviland wept selfishly at the Oscars when her Melanie lost to the first black actor ever to win an acting award, Miss Hattie McDaniel, who is tops. Everyone is at their best except Leslie Howard who, as an actor, in fact actually appears to be the milksop someone accuses Ashley Wilkes as being. And, above all, if he is forgotten for every other picture he ever made, he will be known and remembered perfectly for the part which captures his humor, his great charm, his mountainous masculinity, his physical beauty, his irresistible sexiness, and his great skill as an actor – in the part of Rhett Butler — Clark Gable.

[ad#300×250]

 
 
Rss Feed Tweeter button Facebook button Technorati button Reddit button Myspace button Linkedin button Webonews button Delicious button Digg button Flickr button Stumbleupon button Newsvine button