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.

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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.

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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 the past and has encouraged Fleming to do the same. 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.

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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 the larger story than the depiction of racial discrimination.

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Charles Coburn, Bette Davis

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.

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.

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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.

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Miriam Hopkins, Olivia de Havilland