'Hold Back the Dawn': Olivia de Havilland Steals Spotlight in Refugee Drama

'Hold Back the Dawn' 1941 movie: Olivia de Havilland steals show as small-town teacher in love

Olivia de Havilland shines in Mitchell Leisen's 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' semi-autobiographical story, Hold Back the Dawn stars Charles Boyer as George Iscovescu, a Romanian dancer unable to enter the U.S. from Mexico due to immigration 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. George adopts the idea – a naïve small-town schoolteacher visiting a Mexican border town is his prey.

As the unsuspecting teacher, 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 lover charisma, de Havilland walks away with the film thanks to a genuine, romantic portrayal of “simplicity.”

Hold Back the Dawn movie poster'Hold Back the Dawn' movie poster. With Charles Boyer, Olivia de Havilland and Paulette Goddard.

'Clumsy propaganda'

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 film is overall remarkably tactful.

Although odd and unnecessary bookends depict George recounting his story to a Paramount director (played by Mitchell Leisen), 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 in Alfred Hitchcock's Suspicion. Five years later, de Havilland would win an Oscar for another Mitchell Leisen film, To Each His Own, the director's World War II closing bracket.

© Doug Johnson.

Hold Back the Dawn (1941).
Dir.: Mitchell Leisen.
Scr.: Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder. From Ketti Frings' story “Memo to a Movie Producer.” (Frings' novel Hold Back the Dawn, based on the same story, was published prior to the film's release.)
Cast: Charles Boyer. Olivia de Havilland. Paulette Goddard. Victor Francen. Walter Abel. Curt Bois. Rosemary DeCamp. Nestor Paiva. Mitchell Leisen. Cameos: Veronica Lake. Brian Donlevy. Uncredited: Gertrude Astor. Edward Fielding. Kitty Kelly.

Hold Back the Dawn cast information via the IMDb.

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

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1 Comment to 'Hold Back the Dawn': Olivia de Havilland Steals Spotlight in Refugee Drama

  1. 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!!