Captain Blood

Captain Blood, 1935, Warner Bros. Starring Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Basil Rathbone. Directed by Michael Curtiz. B&W, 119 minutes.

In 17th century Great Britain, young, brash doctor Peter Blood (Errol Flynn) is called upon to save a man injured during the Monmouth Rebellion against King James II. Arrested for treason and sentenced to death, Blood is instead shipped off the West Indies to be sold into slavery.

Once he arrives at his fateful destination, he attracts the attention of the wealthy Miss Arabella Bishop (Olivia de Havilland). When he is rejected for purchase by her uncle, Arabella bids for Blood, and in short order owns the doctor. She later gains a measure of freedom for her only slave by having him tend to the medical care of high-ranking members of local society.

errol-flynn-olivia-de-havilland-in-captain-blood
Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland

The saucy Arabella has met her match in the brazen young doctor. She endures his resentment at his situation, a fair share of which is directed at her. Despite his animosity toward the beautiful Miss Bishop, he is attracted to the young woman, and it is clear she shares those feelings.

His resentment is turned to action, as Blood and other slaves keep vigilant watch for opportunity, and grab hold of their chance for freedom when they overrun a Spanish man-of-war. They begin lives as pirates, and soon they are notorious in their ventures. When Arabella’s uncle, the Colonel Bishop, becomes governor, fate intervenes once again in the tormented relationship between pirate and lass.

Errol Flynn, Basil Rathbone Captain Blood
Errol Flynn, Basil Rathbone

It is famously reported that Flynn and de Havilland each had a crush on the other, hiding their feelings because neither imagined they would be reciprocated.  Olivia de Havilland spoke to those passions years later in a television interview when she described the “deep crush” she had on Flynn for three years, but expressed no regret that true romance eluded the famous pair. While they may have kept their emotions to themselves, they could not, nor would they have wanted to, hide the chemistry that lit up between them onscreen.

Future films made better use of that dynamic, as well as de Havilland’s acting skills, but Captain Blood is a fine vehicle for the impudent, virile character Flynn played so well. While he was not the first choice for the role, it launched his career, and made him the kind of movie matinée idol you no longer see in today’s crop of actors. Fans of the dashing actor will note he isn’t yet sporting his signature pencil-thin moustache, and while hardly of note today, his hair is, for the era, bad-boy long.

olivia-de-havilland-errol-flynn-in-captain-blood
Olivia de Havilland, Errol Flynn

Nominated for two Academy Awards, Best Picture and Best Sound Recording, the film also won significant write-in votes for Best Director, Best Score, and Best Adapted Screenplay. The score, written by internationally renowned composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold, is stirring and a significant element in the dramatic nature of the story.

Captain Blood has a complex story line and it’s easy to lose track of what’s going on, but that hardly matters, as long as you remember the errant pirate is the true hero and all who are pulling for him are on the side of good and the future of mankind. As a swashbuckler and man of adventure, there is none better than Captain Blood.

The Male Animal

The Male Animal, 1942, Warner Bros. Starring Henry Fonda, Olivia de Havilland, Jack Carson. Directed by Elliott Nugent. B&W, 101 minutes.

Earnest professor Tommy Turner (Henry Fonda) and his wife, Ellen (Olivia de Havilland), are preparing to celebrate Homecoming (which happens to land on Ellen’s birthday), along with the rest of the fictional Midwestern University campus. They’re having a small gathering before the big game, and among the guests are Ellen’s former beau, Joe Ferguson (Jack Carson), and one of the school’s narrow-minded trustees, Ed Keller (Eugene Pallette).

Tommy isn’t thrilled Ed is going to be there to start with, and his mild concern turns to great dismay when he learns one of his students has commended him for his “bravery” in reading a literary piece by Bartolomeo Vanzetti, the self-proclaimed anarchist convicted of first-degree murder in one of the most controversial court cases of the twentieth century. Tommy plans to read it simply because it’s a fine piece of writing, not because of any political stand, but he’s in trouble. The trustees are ridding the school of “reds” — anyone suspected of communist sympathies.

Jack Carson, Olivia de Havilland in The Male Animal
Olivia de Havilland, Jack Carson

Add to his concerns his growing conviction Ellen would be happier with the recently separated Joe. Ellen, for her part, is doing nothing to dissuade him from those thoughts. Only Joe seems uncertain about the potential of a future with his former girlfriend. Joe, it turns out, isn’t as dumb as Tommy would like to believe he is, and sees the situation with a fair amount of clarity.

The Male Animal is light satire about serious issues such as censorship and racism. While the objects of these concerns may be different than today, the rhetoric is much the same, making this film relevant to audiences 75 years after its release.

The movie premiered in Columbus, Ohio, with James Thurber, co-author of the popular play on which the film is closely based, in attendance as a special honoree. The occasion focused on the collegiate theme of the story, including a huge dinner at Thurber’s old fraternity house. Honoring Thurber, who didn’t directly work on the film, was legitimate, as screenwriters Julius Epstein, Philip Epstein and Stephen Morehouse Avery kept their script true to the original play, and the star of the Broadway production, Elliott Nugent, directed the film. It was as close to a Thurber screenplay as you could get without having the man actually work on the script.

Henry Fonda, Jack Carson in The Male Animal
Henry Fonda, Jack Carson

The studio promoted the film as a love triangle between Tommy, Ellen, and Ellen’s sister, Pat (Joan Leslie), but Pat barely makes an appearance and has nothing to do with the tension between the Turners. Apparently, the provocative nature of the other woman was thought to be needed to sell this film, even though it was actually the other man at issue.

Thurber had a sly wit, and that’s reflected in the dialogue. This is a smart movie poking fun at a serious topic, with a talented cast (down to Tommy’s student, Michael, played by Herbert Anderson, who would go on to be best known as Dennis the Menace’s father). Both stars are at their comedic best, and while these may not have been their most challenging roles, they brought extra depth to the characters lesser actors or actresses may have failed to do. The film moves at a good pace and manages to deliver a serious message in a natural manner. The Male Animal is well worth the watch.

Princess O’Rourke

Princess O’Rourke, 1943, Warner Bros. Starring Olivia de Havilland, Robert Cummings, Charles Coburn. Directed by Norman Krasna. B&W, 94 minutes.

Princess Maria (Olivia de Havilland), heir to the throne of an unnamed European country, has taken refuge in New York City for the duration of WWII. With her is her uncle Holman (Charles Coburn), who shows particular concern she marry soon and produce male heirs. He has someone picked out, a man for whom Maria quite clearly states she feels no attraction.

On a flight to California, Maria, who is afraid of flying, takes too many sleeping pills, and when bad weather forces the plane to return home, the pilot, Eddie O’Rourke (Robert Cummings), co-pilot Dave Campbell (Jack Carson) and stewardess (Julie Bishop) aren’t able to wake her. To further complicate matters, Maria is flying under the name Mary Williams, and she gave no address when she booked her flight.

Eddie takes her home, but is careful to have Dave and his wife Jean (Jane Wyman) stop by to help him care for the heavily sedated woman.

It isn’t long before Maria and Eddie have fallen for each other, but he still doesn’t know who she is, and royal constraints are pulling tight.

olivia-de-havilland-robert-cummings-in-princess-orourke
Olivia de Havilland, Julie Bishop, Robert Cummings, Jack Carson

Olivia de Havilland later called this role “one of the most satisfying” she did while under contract to Warner Bros., even though it came at a turbulent time in her life. Between the time filming was completed and the movie was released, she sued her studio in a move that would ultimately significantly weaken the studio system Hollywood was built on. She won the lawsuit, but did not work for nearly two years while she was essentially blacklisted.

This was the directorial debut for Norman Krasna, who was well established as a screenwriter by this time, including such movies as Bachelor Mother and Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Krasna won the Academy Award for Best Writing, Screenplay.

olivia-de-havilland-stars-in-princess-orourke
Olivia de Havilland

The final scenes allegedly include an appearance by President Franklin Roosevelt’s dog Fala, although the truth appears to be the dog on the screen was a different Scottish Terrier. Regardless, the pup plays an endearing part as messenger for Maria, who has spent a restless night trying to resolve her problem.

This is a pleasant, lightweight comedy, not of the calibre of the film to which it is so often compared, Roman Holiday, but it has developed a following of its own. Olivia de Havilland has the poise and beauty to make her convincing as a princess, and Robert Cummings is a pleasure as the bewildered suitor who doesn’t know what he’s gotten himself into by falling in love.

It moves at a decent pace until the final scenes, when it starts to drag a little. It has a stellar cast, strong script and overall, is a charming film classic movie fans will enjoy.

 

In This Our Life

In This Our Life, 1942, Warner Bros. Starring Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland, George Brent, Charles Coburn, Dennis Morgan. Directed by John Huston. B&W, 97 minutes.

Stanley Timberlake (Bette Davis) is used to getting what she wants, often from her over-indulgent uncle, William Fitzroy (Charles Coburn). Although engaged to one man, attorney Craig Fleming (George Brent), she has set her sights on her sister Roy’s (Olivia de Havilland) husband, Dr. Peter Kingsmill (Dennis Morgan). The two run off together the night before she is to be married to Fleming, and start their life anew in another city.

But all does not go well in their new marriage, and tragedy soon forces Stanley back to her parents’ home. In the meantime, Roy has chosen not to dwell on her pain, and has encouraged Fleming to move on as well. The two have fallen in love, something Stanley is determined to break up.

Her efforts result in yet another horrific event, and Stanley’s character is tested to its core. Loyalties, prejudice and the fate of an innocent man all come under intense scrutiny.

olivia-de-havilland-ernest-anderson-in-in-this-our-life
Olivia de Havilland, Ernest Anderson

Notable for its brutally honest look at the plight of a black man unjustly accused of a crime, In This Our Life did something few films of its time attempted: presented a black character as an intelligent, thoughtful individual, seeking to make his world a better place. The truthful telling of racial discrimination prevented the film from being released overseas.

Davis’ performance is a bit over the top, yet she was an outstanding actress and still is compelling — and entirely unlikeable — as the spoiled, self-absorbed Stanley. Every move, every momentary expression on her face reveals Stanley’s character. She plays in sharp contrast to de Havilland’s calm, even-keeled character, and the dynamics of the sisters’ relationship is actually a larger story than the depiction of racial discrimination.

This was Huston’s second movie as a director, the first being The Maltese Falcon. Based on the Pulitzer-Prize winning novel of the same name, it is entirely likely that this movie failed to bring the strength of the book to the screen. Still, despite its tendency to the melodramatic, the film is worth watching.

charles-coburn-bette-davis-in-in-this-our-life
Charles Coburn, Bette Davis

Huston and Davis famously didn’t get along, and in later years Davis was highly critical of both the director and the film. Ellen Glasgow, the novel’s author, was greatly disappointed in the movie version of her story, including Davis’ performance. Still, it is hard to imagine with the constraints of the Motion Picture Code at the time that the film could have been truly faithful to the book, especially its hints of incestous infatuation and other sensitive, controversial topics.

Despite the conflicts and unmet expectations, the story is strong, the cast is all-star, and the plot moves at a pace that keeps you drawn in, start to finish. Real-life friends Davis and de Havilland are enough to keep classic movie fans watching this complex drama.

The Heiress

The Heiress, 1949, Paramount Pictures. Starring Olivia de Havilland, Montgomery Clift. Directed by William Wyler. B&W, 116 minutes.

Shy, naïve and devoted to the father who wants little to do with her, Catherine Sloper (Olivia de Havilland) is easily taken in by the charms of handsome Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift), who sets out to win her heart with every step he knows to take. Her father, Dr. Austin Sloper (Ralph Richardson) is suspicious of Morris, but Catherine is determined to marry the young man.

To prevent the marriage from taking place, Dr. Sloper first takes Catherine on an extended trip to Europe, and then threatens to disinherit her. He is an emotionally distant father, captivated by the memory of his late wife, to whom he constantly compares his daughter with great disfavor.

Charmed by Townsend, and his greatest advocate, is Catherine’s Aunt Lavinia (Miriam Hopkins). Above all, Lavinia is devoted to her niece’s happiness and sees Morris Townsend as a wonderful catch for her.

Ultimately Catherine must decide for herself what kind of man Morris is, and the journey she takes to reach her conclusion is gripping and heartwrenching.

Montgomery Clift, Olivia de Havilland.png
Montgomery Clift, Olivia de Havilland

After seeing the play The Heiress on Broadway, Olivia de Havilland went to William Wyler about the idea of directing her in a film version. A natural beauty, once again she allowed herself to be cast as a plain woman. What Hollywood magic couldn’t hide, nor would anyone have wanted to, was her remarkable poise and presence onscreen.

Montgomery Clift was a rising star at the time and already known as someone challenging to work with. He was unhappy with the script, the director and his co-star, but never complained about the studio’s promotional efforts touting him as a sex symbol.

Olivia de Havilland, Ralph Richardson
Olivia de Havilland, Ralph Richardson

The stage play had been adapted from the novel Washington Square by Henry James, who was inspired to write it after hearing of a friend’s brother’s attempts to marry a wealthy woman. The screenplay was very true to the Broadway production,  which was more loosely based on the novel.

The film was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, and won four: Best Actress for de Havilland, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design for Edith Head and Best Original Score for Aaron Copland.

Emotionally powerful, with wonderful performances all around, The Heiress is less a stereotypical Hollywood romance and more a story of human weaknesses and vulnerabilities, strengths and virtues. It takes a simple story and elevates it to a complex tale.

Miriam Hopkins, Olivia de Havilland.png
Miriam Hopkins, Olivia de Havilland