Alt Film Guide
Classic movies. Gay movies. International cinema. Socially conscious & political cinema.
Home Film ArticlesMovie Reviews Hold Back the Dawn (Movie 1941): Olivia de Havilland Showcase

Hold Back the Dawn (Movie 1941): Olivia de Havilland Showcase

Hold Back the Dawn Olivia de Havilland Charles Boyer Paulette GoddardHold Back the Dawn movie with Olivia de Havilland, Charles Boyer, and Paulette Goddard. While a Warner Bros. contract actress (1935–43), de Havilland was nominated for two Oscars: For Gone with the Wind (Selznick/MGM) and Hold Back the Dawn (Paramount).
  • Hold Back the Dawn (movie 1941) review: Written by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder, Mitchell Leisen’s romantic melodrama is a solid Olivia de Havilland showcase.
  • Hold Back the Dawn was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Screenplay, Actress (Olivia de Havilland), B&W Cinematography (Leo Tover), B&W Art Direction (Hans Dreier, Robert Usher, Sam Comer), and Music (Victor Young).

Hold Back the Dawn (movie 1941) review: Best Actress Oscar nominee Olivia de Havilland steals the show in Mitchell Leisen’s flag-waving romantic melodrama

Ramon Novarro biography Beyond Paradise

On loan to Paramount, Warner Bros. contract actress Olivia de Havilland shines in Mitchell Leisen’s 1941 romantic melodrama Hold Back the Dawn, a sort of opening bracket for the director’s World War II-era films.

Adapted by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett from Ketti Frings’ story “Memo to a Movie Producer” – based on the experiences of her husband, German boxer Kurt Frings – Hold Back the Dawn stars Frenchman Charles Boyer as Romanian dancer/escort Georges Iscovescu, a would-be immigrant unable to enter the U.S. from Mexico due to quotas imposed at the onset of the European conflict.

Paulette Goddard is his scheming former partner, Anita, who marries an American to gain entry into the country only to immediately leave the duped husband. Georges decides to adopt the idea, with a naïve small-town schoolteacher/tourist, Emmy Brown, as his prey.

As the unsuspecting Emmy, Olivia de Havilland radiates understanding and sympathy. Despite the fact that hers is a smaller role and that she’s up against Boyer’s robust “movie lover” charisma, de Havilland walks away with the film thanks to her genuine portrayal of “simplicity.”

Clumsy isolationism

An allegory of American isolationism as Europe is pulled into war – and of how the U.S. should not be deceived into involvement – Hold Back the Dawn includes several scenes of clumsy propaganda. Even so, the movie is overall remarkably tactful.

Although odd and unnecessary bookends depict Georges recounting his story to a Paramount director (played by Mitchell Leisen himself), what truly matters is that the core romance and, especially, de Havilland’s warm performance remain fully convincing.

For her efforts, Olivia de Havilland was nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award; she lost to her younger sister, Joan Fontaine, for her work in Alfred Hitchcock’s Suspicion. It would take another five years for de Havilland to finally take home an Oscar statuette – for another Mitchell Leisen film, To Each His Own, the director’s World War II closing bracket.

Hold Back the Dawn (movie 1941) cast & crew

Director: Mitchell Leisen.

Screenplay: Charles Brackett & Billy Wilder.
From Ketti Frings’ story “Memo to a Movie Producer.” (Based on the same story, Frings’ novel Hold Back the Dawn was published in 1940.)

Cast: Charles Boyer, Olivia de Havilland, Paulette Goddard, Victor Francen, Walter Abel, Curt Bois, Rosemary DeCamp, Madeleine Lebeau, Eric Feldary, Mitchell Leisen.
Cameos: Veronica Lake, Brian Donlevy, Richard Webb.

Cinematography: Leo Tover.

Film Editing: Doane Harrison.

Music: Victor Young.

Art Direction: Hans Dreier & Robert Usher.

Producer: Arthur Hornblow Jr.

Production Company | Distributor: Paramount Pictures.

Running Time: 116 min.

Country: United States.

Hold Back the Dawn (Movie 1941): Olivia de Havilland Showcase” review text © Doug Johnson; excerpt, image captions, bullet point introduction, and notes © Alt Film Guide.

Hold Back the Dawn (Movie 1941): Olivia de Havilland Showcase” notes

Hold Back the Dawn movie credits via the American Film Institute (AFI) Catalog website.

Paulette Goddard, Charles Boyer, and Olivia de Havilland Hold Back the Dawn image: Paramount Pictures.

Hold Back the Dawn (Movie 1941): Olivia de Havilland Showcase” last updated in April 2023.

Recommended for You

Leave a Comment

*IMPORTANT*: By using this form you agree with Alt Film Guide's storage and handling of your data (e.g., your IP address). Make sure your comment adds something relevant to the discussion: Feel free to disagree with us and write your own movie commentaries, but *thoughtfulness* and *at least a modicum of sanity* are imperative. Abusive, inflammatory, spammy/self-promotional, baseless (spreading mis- or disinformation), and just plain deranged comments will be zapped. Lastly, links found in submitted comments will generally be deleted.

1 comment

ruby Kovar -

I just had the utmost pleasure of watching this movie on TCM. I just loved it!!! I especially loved the storyline with a ‘happy ending.’ Made my day!I am looking forward to watching it again!!


This website uses cookies to improve your experience. If you continue browsing, that means you've accepted our Terms of Use/use of cookies. You may also click on the Accept button on the right to make this notice disappear. Accept Read More