Five Olivia de Havilland Gems Worth Watching

The legendary actress did far more than ‘Gone With The Wind’

Silver screen legend Olivia de Havilland died this week at the age of 104. A two-time best-actress Oscar winner and one of the screen’s great beauties, de Havilland also was a trailblazer for actors’ labor rights. Ever feisty, she recently made news when she sued the makers of the FX series Feud over her portrayal on the show. Most people will likely have seen her in Gone with the Wind as Melanie Wilkes, the oh-so-decent frenemy of Scarlett O’Hara. However, her prolific career, particularly her leading-lady heyday of the ’30s and ’40s, produced many films worth watching. Here are a few gems:

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

De Havilland stars as Maid Marian to Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood in this rollicking adventure. The two stars often paired on screen, and this film ranks as their best. Luminous and bright-eyed, de Havilland makes even the period-appropriate wimple look glamorous. Still a fun watch 80-plus years after it was made, this one is a true cinema classic. 

 

Hold Back the Dawn (1941)

In an Oscar-nominated performance, de Havilland plays a California school teacher pursued by a Romanian gigolo (sex symbol du jour Charles Boyer) for a green-card marriage. The script by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett transcends the melodramatic storyline and de Havilland brings depth to the character of the naive ingenue.

The Strawberry Blonde (1941)

James Cagney stars as an idiot who won’t stop pining for Rita Hayworth, even after “settling” for her suffragette friend played by de Havilland. What a schmuck. Though Hayworth is the lovely blonde of the title, de Havilland steals the show in this light musical comedy.

 

In This Our Life (1942)

The list had to include a film in which de Havilland played opposite Bette Davis, her off-screen friend and Warner Brothers “queen.” In this Southern melodrama, the two play sisters and rivals Roy and Stanley Timberlake. De Havilland’s understated performance as the long-suffering good sister nicely balances Davis’s over-the-top histrionics as the evil, husband-stealing sister. Late in the film, De Havilland also shares a scene with her Gone with the Wind co-star Hattie MacDaniel.

 

The Heiress (1949)

Like many an actress since, de Havilland solidified her reputation as a serious thespian and won her second Oscar by de-glamming for this literary adaptation. She plays a “homely” heiress romanced by Montgomery Clift’s handsome gold-digger. Though her beauty is difficult to obscure completely, de Havilland capably and delicately portrays a woman overlooked by many and mistreated by those closest to her.

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Lani Gonzalez

Lani Gonzalez has appeared as a guest programmer on Turner Classic Movies and occasionally writes about what she sees at Cinema Then and Now.

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