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Olivia de Havilland Movies: 'The Heiress,' 'The Snake Pit'

Montgomery Clift, Olivia de Havilland, The Heiress
Montgomery Clift, Olivia de Havilland in William Wyler's The Heiress

Twelve Olivia de Havilland movies will be presented on Turner Classic Movies on Friday, Aug. 27, as part of TCM's “Summer Under the Stars” series. (See Olivia de Havilland schedule further below.)

Nothing rare among the entries (e.g., The Charge of the Light Brigade, Dodge City, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, The Male Animal, etc.) For most of her career as a Hollywood star, de Havilland was a Warner Bros. contract player. (The de Havilland-Warners split was both highly acrimonious and highly influential.)

Needless to say, Time Warner, which owns TCM, also owns the Warner Bros. library. Olivia de Havilland movies have been a TCM fixture since the cable channel was born over a decade ago.

My chief Olivia de Havilland Day recommendation is The Heiress (1949), one of the relatively few pre-1950 Paramount productions widely available on cable/home video.

“Not many film producers are able to do the sort of thing that William Wyler has done with The Heiress, the mordant stage play of two seasons back,” wrote Bosley Crowther in the New York Times. “For Mr. Wyler has taken this drama, which is essentially of the drawing-room and particularly of an era of stilted manners and rigid attitudes, and has made it into a motion picture that crackles with allusive life and fire in its tender and agonized telling of an extraordinarily characterful tale.”

De Havilland won a well-deserved Best Actress Oscar for her role as the ugly duckling seduced and abandoned by handsome crook Montgomery Clift. The supporting cast includes former Paramount/Goldwyn/RKO/Warner star Miriam Hopkins, Ralph Richardson at his unmannered best, Vanessa Brown, and Mona Freeman.

Ruth and Augustus Goetz penned the classy, intelligent screen adaptation of their own play, in turn based on Henry James' novel Washington Square.

Some have complained that de Havilland was too pretty for the part, which onstage went to Wendy Hiller. I disagree. Not that de Havilland wasn't pretty; it's just that I found her believably homely in this one.

A couple more recommendations:

The Snake Pit (1948), a very well-intentioned and very melodramatic Film with a Message – mental patients are people, too – that earned de Havilland her fourth Oscar nomination and a New York Film Critics Best Actress Award. Anatole Litvak, one of Miriam Hopkins' former husbands, directed.

To Each His Own (1946), de Havilland's first movie away from Warner Bros. Directed by Mitchell Leisen, To Each His Own (right, with John Lund) is an old-fashioned melodrama of the kind they were already cranking out back in 1916 – out-of-wedlock baby, self-sacrificing single mother, etc.

De Havilland isn't at her best, but she did win a Best Actress Oscar for this one. Whether that win was because of her performance or because of the protracted Warners War, who can tell?

Now, it would be great if TCM showed The Well-Groomed Bride (1947), the one old de Havilland vehicle (co-starring Ray Milland, no less) that is really hard to find. (I believe they've shown the somewhat less elusive The Dark Mirror already.) Maybe next year, or when TCM finally leases the Universal library – which includes pre-1948 Paramount fare.

Olivia de Havilland

Schedule (PT) and synopses from the TCM website:

3:00 AM Charge Of The Light Brigade, The (1936)
Two brothers love the same woman at a perilous Indian outpost. Cast: Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, David Niven. Dir.: Michael Curtiz. Black and white. 116 min.

5:00 AM Dodge City (1939)
A soldier of fortune takes on the corrupt boss of a Western town. Cast: Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Ann Sheridan. Dir.: Michael Curtiz. Color. 104 min.

7:00 AM Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, The (1939)
Elizabeth I's love for the Earl of Essex threatens to destroy her kingdom. Cast: Bette Davis, Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland. Dir.: Michael Curtiz. Black and white. 106 min.

9:00 AM Male Animal, The (1942)
A college professor fights censorship and an amorous football player who's after his wife. Cast: Henry Fonda, Olivia de Havilland, Jack Carson. Dir.: Elliott Nugent. Black and white. 101 min.

11:00 AM Princess O'Rourke (1943)
A flying ace's romance with a princess creates diplomatic problems. Cast: Olivia de Havilland, Robert Cummings, Jane Wyman. Dir.: Norman Krasna. Black and white. 94 min.

1:00 PM Libel (1959)
A former POW is accused of being an impostor. Cast: Dirk Bogarde, Olivia de Havilland, Wilfrid Hyde-White. Dir.: Anthony Asquith. Black and white. 100 min.

3:00 PM Light In The Piazza (1962)
A woman's efforts to marry off her daughter are hindered by a family secret. Cast: Olivia de Havilland, Yvette Mimieux, George Hamilton. Dir.: Guy Green. Color. 102 min.

5:00 PM Heiress, The (1949)
A plain young woman's money makes her prey to fortune hunters. Cast: Olivia de Havilland, Montgomery Clift, Ralph Richardson. Dir.: William Wyler. Black and white. 115 min.

7:00 PM To Each His Own (1946)
A single mother gives up her son, then fights to remain a part of his life. Cast: Olivia de Havilland, John Lund, Roland Culver. Dir.: Mitchell Leisen. Black and white. 122 min.

9:15 PM Snake Pit, The (1948)
A young woman tries to recover her sanity in a corrupt mental institution. Cast: Olivia de Havilland, Mark Stevens, Leo Genn. Dir.: Anatole Litvak. Black and white. 108 min.

11:15 PM Not As a Stranger (1955)
A medical student will stop at nothing to become a top surgeon. Cast: Robert Mitchum, Olivia de Havilland, Frank Sinatra. Dir.: Stanley Kramer. Black and white. 137 min.

1:45 AM Alibi Ike (1935)
A brash baseball star gets mixed up with gamblers and a pretty young girl. Cast: Joe E. Brown, Olivia de Havilland, Ruth Donnelly. Dir.: Ray Enright. Black and white. 72 min.

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