Final tribute to Olivia de Havilland

July 28, 2020
Olivia de Havilland

LET’S just give a final tribute to Hollywood icon Olivia de Havilland who died in her home in Paris last Sunday at the age of 104. It was truly a long and fruitful life. We grew up watching Hollywood flicks and she is one of our favorites, along with Ingrid Bergman and Katharine Hepburn. 

We first saw her in “Gone with the Wind” when it was reissued in the 70mm platform. We enjoyed her performance there as Melanie, much more than Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara. She also made lots of action-costume films with Errol Flynn, like “Captain Blood”, “Robin Hood”, “They Died with their Boots On”, “Santa Fe Trail”, “Dodge City”, “Charge of the Light Brigade”. And she’s also known for her long running feud with her own sister, Joan Fontaine. 

As head of Film Programming at ABC-5 before martial law, we got to see her other important films which were shown in “Million Dollar Movies”. They were in black and white and we previewed them in their platform then, 16mm. These are her best films for us:

“HOLD BACK THE DAWN” (1941) - She plays a naive schoolteacher on a field trip with her students in Mexico. She meets a Romanian gigolo (Charles Boyer) who seduces her and she falls in love with him without her knowing that he is just using her so he can get an immigrant’s visa to the U.S. This melodrama is a real heartbreaker but it has a happy ending. 

“TO EACH HIS OWN” (1946) - This is the tearjerker where Olivia won her first Oscar best actress award. She plays an unwed mom who is forced by circumstances to give up her son for adoption. The boy grows up to be an air force pilot fighting in the war. The ending where Olivia finally gets to dance with her son (both father and son characters are played by John Lund) will just melt your heart.

‘THE SNAKE PIT’ (1948) - She plays a writer who becomes a schizophrenic inmate in a mental hospital, but she doesn’t remember at all why she is confined there. She hears voices and is detached from reality. The film portrays the seemingly hopeless situations in the asylum that is compared to a snake pit.  Olivia slowly regains her sanity and in the end, gets to leave the hospital. It’s a gripping film that deals with mental breakdown and the slow process of recovery. Olivia won the New York Film Critics best actress award for her performance.

‘THE HEIRESS’ (1949) - Based on Henry James’ novel “Washington Square”, her character as Catherine is unforgettable. She’s a terribly shy old maid intimidated by her domineering and very wealthy father (Ralph Richardson in a similar memorable performance). She falls in love with a handsome goldigger, Morris (an impossibly handsome Montgomery Clift before his face was damaged by an accident). They plan to elope but when Morris learns she’s giving up all her inheritance, he doesn’t show up. Years later, he would come back, and courts her again, but she has become bitter and callous. That final scene where Morris is knocking on the door while Catherine goes up the stairs, ignoring him completely, is one of the most unforgettable endings we’ve seen in the movies. Olivia won her second Oscar best actress award for this film. This was remade as “Ikaw Pa Lang ang Minahal” with Maricel Soriano giving a similarly engaging performance.

“MY COUSIN RACHEL” (1952) - Based on the novel by Daphne Du Maurier (who also wrote the classic “Rebecca”), Olivia plays the title role, a very mysterious woman who is suspected to have caused the death of her first husband. Despite the suspicion, she still wins the love of her cousin, Philip (Richard Burton in his first Hollywood movie), who gives his estate to her. That’s all we can reveal about the plot as anything else will be a spoiler. This has been remade in 2017 with Rachel Weisz as Rachel and with a different ending.