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Appellate Judge Amanda DeWees • Location: Athens, Georgia
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Fantasy Box Set #3: Olivia de Havilland
June 7th, 2005 4:03AM

This vibrant beauty is one of my all-time favorite actresses. Whether sheís playing it gentle and saintly, as in Gone with the Wind; lively and spirited, as in Captain Blood; fragile and troubled, as in The Snake Pit; or even cunning and ruthless, as in Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte, de Havilland is always a joy to watch. Even when sheís sharing the screen with high-powered actors like Errol Flynn or Bette Davis--or both--she always holds her own; she has undeniable screen presence as well as versatility. The real woman behind all the roles also warrants admiration, having successfully sued Warner Bros. in 1945 to end the forced extension of actorsí contracts beyond their legal limit due to the time the studio placed them under suspension. Now retired from the screen, she is still as charismatic and engaging as ever.

Itís my fervent hope that something like this imaginary box set will in fact materialize. Since de Havilland is still active today and has contributed to the DVD releases of Gone with the Wind and the recent Errol Flynn box set, it would make perfect sense to get her to go ahead and record some reminiscences or commentary tracks for some of her other classic films. In fact, it would be criminally foolish to neglect to ask her to do so.

Fortunately, de Havilland is beginning to see some respectable representation on DVD; of the titles I mentioned above, all are currently or soon to become available. Nevertheless, thatís just a start. Of de Havillandís impressive body of work, here are the five titles currently unavailable on DVD that most urgently demand it--in my opinion, of course.

1. Hold Back the Dawn, 1941. One of my all-time favorites, this romantic drama features de Havilland as an innocent schoolteacher who marries Charles Boyer after a whirlwind courtship, not knowing he only married her to attain entry into the U.S. so that he can reunite with his sexy old flame, Paulette Goddard. Boyer is excellent as the gigolo who comes to genuinely love his wife-in-name, and the local color provided by the setting--a Mexican border town populated by hopefuls waiting to get into the U.S.--makes the film distinctive. A moving and surprising love story, this deserves to be more widely known. De Havilland was nominated for an Oscar for her role but lost to sister Joan Fontaine in Suspicion.

2. The Strawberry Blonde, 1941. This was a remake of the Gary Cooper film One Sunday Afternoon. Although de Havilland doesnít play the title role--thatís Rita Hayworth--she turns in one of her most delightful performances as a pert faux feminist who turns out to be a marshmallow underneath. She and James Cagney (who is terrific) make a charming couple, even though heís too busy mooning after Hayworth to fully appreciate sweet, loyal de Havilland until itís almost too late. Enjoyable Gay Ď90s atmosphere adds to the fun. De Havilland fought hard to land this role, and itís lucky for us she did.

3. To Each His Own, 1946. Get out those hankies--this is a classic weepie. Innocent young Olivia falls in love with a flyer, who goes off to die in World War I, leaving her pregnant. Her child grows up believing heís another womanís daughter, and de Havilland becomes a cosmetics mogul, hoping to be able to offer him a home when she becomes financially independent. De Havilland won an Oscar for her performance, in which she progresses from naive teenager to driven career woman to hearty middle-aged spinster. The last line will leave you with a lump in your throat.

4. The Heiress, 1949. In this adaptation of Henry Jamesís Washington Square, de Havilland stars in an Oscar-winning performance as the shy, plain heiress who falls deeply in love with handsome charmer Montgomery Clift. Her cold-hearted father, Ralph Richardson, tells her that Clift is just a fortune hunter--and he turns out to be right. An excellent screenplay and fine performances all around, including an effective supporting turn by Miriam Hopkins as de Havillandís interfering aunt. The final scene is unforgettable, and the soaring score by Aaron Copeland is exceptional. Thereís really no excuse for this not to be on DVD already.

5. My Cousin Rachel, 1952. Is she innocent or guilty? Thatís what leading man Richard Burton, in his American movie debut, has to decide about bewitching older woman de Havilland after she marries his guardian and then becomes a widow all too quickly. Based on the gothic novel by Daphne du Maurier (Rebecca), this drama features brooding period atmosphere and a nicely ambiguous performance by de Havilland, who looks very elegant in her 1840s costumes (and won a Golden Globe for her performance).

Coming soon: Fantasy Box Set #4...


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