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Monday, November 15, 2010

The Man Who Found Himself (1937)

Joan Fontaine (19 years old) in The Man Who Found Himself
John Beal
A young midwest doctor (John Beal) becomes so disillusioned with his life and career that he quits. Now, the title of the picture is essentially a spoiler, because Beal eventually does find himself. So what makes this film interesting? Well, it's obvious - Joan Fontaine, in her first film for RKO Pictures.

The film stars off with a surgery, a plane crash, a death, a scandal, and angst - enough to send Beal straight out of town. In one scene, a hitchhiking Beal accepts a ride from an experienced doctor, a character representing the kind of person we may meet just once in our lives.

After a long cross-country journey ending in California, Beal ends up becoming nothing but a vagabond, and says things like, "I wouldn't touch the medical profession with a banana stalk".

Enter Joan, who plays a lovely nurse who inspires him to think about embracing his true calling. Her character represents the people in our lives who believe in us, even when we don't.

It's fun to watch the chemistry and sparks between Joan and John Beal. There's a romantic scene that involves them getting soaked from a waterfall after a kiss.

Co-starring Phillip Huston who plays Beal's best friend (a pilot) who desperately wants to see him get a job.

Jane Walsh is Beal's girlfriend who wants to settle down and has little patience for his soul searching.

An exciting climatic sequence reminds us that things happen for a reason.

A great little movie (short too - only 67 minutes) that you can occasionally catch on the Turner Classic Movies channel. A special thanks to Kate from Silents and Talkies for providing a copy of this gem for me to see and review for the blog.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

"Flight To Tangier" (1953)

The melodrama begins in a Tangier, Morocco airport. Joan Fontaine and Jack Palance are awaiting a plane, but we don't know what for. Yet.

Then comes a plane crash scene, and it might have been a disappointment to the audience expecting a big "wow" 3-D effect (this movie was indeed intended to be a 3D experience). We don't even see the plane hit the ground, and there's only a couple of shots of smoke from a distance.

Anyway, we then discover that there were no passengers nor crew aboard. In the middle of the night, Joan and Palance search the plane. We don't know just yet what they are looking for. Then, they are caught trespassing and are questioned. The international police investigate.
Corrine: What kind of a woman are you?
Joan: As of now, your kind.
No one seems to know what happened to the pilot (engaged to the mild-mannered Fontaine character). More secrets are revealed as the scheming Robert Douglas and Corinne Calvet add more complexity to the story. We learn everyone has some sort of connection with the plane's missing cargo and its ties to the Iron Curtain.

The original movie posters highlight the film's "Dinoptic 3D" effects. Ms. Calvet wears a few tight tops in this movie; those views alone were perhaps the reason the film was selected for this process. (ha ha)

The film opened in New York the day before Thanksgiving in 1953. The reviewer in the New York Times called it a "stray turkey" and also wrote that the film "seems about as far removed from entertainment and reality as they come".

This movie is available to watch instantly via "Netflix" if you have a subscription.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Joan Fontaine and Mark Stevens in "From This Day Forward" (1946) [Radio Verison]

RKO Pictures' From This Day Forward is a heartwarming romantic drama focusing on the challenges of a young married, childless couple Susan and Bill (Joan Fontaine and Mark Stevens) in post WW2 America. Bill is a returning vet struggling to find work. Most of the story is told in flashback and tells the story of Bill's loving relationship with Susan, played by Joan, who does a great job in this radio version. The film was released in the spring of 1946, the same year as another classic with similar themes, The Best Years of Our Lives.

The radio version--produced by the Lux Radio Theater ---was broadcast on the CBS radio network on October 28, 1946 - almost 64 years ago to the date. Both Joan and Mark Stevens reprise their original film roles. Also, you may notice in this version, any mention of "Lux" (the sponsor) was edited out for some reason. Perhaps this was done in rebroadcasts on another network and with another sponsor. The original commercials were also cut; I'm looking for an unedited version of this.

"From This Day Forward", aired on 10/28/46
Listen to the radio program now: (Flash player required)
(Duration: 50 minutes)

Mark Stevens....William "Bill" Cummings
Joan Fontaine....Susan Cummings
(I wish I knew who the other actors are)

Introduction by the producer of the Lux Radio Theater.

Act 1.

Bill Cummings starts his day by going to the unemployment office. Before he leaves the house, he and his lovely wife reminisce about the first time they kissed. In the office, as he's filling out forms, it starts to rain.

Flashback #1 - Bill thinks back 8 years earlier to 1938, when he and Suzie were first dating. Bill is an artist, and Suzie works in a bookstore and lives at the YWCA. It rains outside, and they make a dash for the home of Suzie's sister Martha. Martha is married with kids and has tons of housework. Hank, Martha's husband, is unemployed. The kids and the mother-in-law - who lives upstairs - add to the chaos around the place! "You should see them in the wintertime" Martha says to Bill in confidence. Later that night, they talk about marriage, and Bill wonders if they are ready for the life that Martha and Hank have. Martha reminds him that they are in love, just like they are. They get married that week.

Present day: Bill is still filling out forms.

Flashback #2 - Bill remembers their first apartment and they enjoy going over all their wonderful wedding gifts.

Present day: We're back in the unemployment office. He meets a fellow Army buddy and they talk about their work experience. Bill wishes he had a trade. But then thinks back to when he had a job in a machinery factory.

Flashback #3 - Bill remembers when he gets fired for the first time. Depressed, he stays out all night and comes home after 11 pm, drunk. He missed dinner with Suzie's family. He explains to Suzie that he got fired. Yet the young couple persevere.

End of Act 1.

Between Acts 1 and 2, there's a tribute to musician Sammy Fain. Instrumental piece: "I'll Be Seeing You"

Act 2.

Flashback #4 - Bill is still out of work. So is Hank. One night, Bill and Suzie agree to babysit the kids, and the young couple gets a taste of what it might be like to have kids. Young and naive Timmy desperately wants to help his uncle and thinks about stealing a soup bone for him to help him pay for food.

Present day: We're back at the employment office. He's stumped on one question asking him if he was ever arrested. He remembers the time he first got arrested.

Flashback #5 - Someone asks Bill to illustrate a book cover which would make him a few hundred dollars. Bill agrees to do it at Suzie's suggestion. Neither of them know that the author is a criminal. A policeman comes knocking on the door, he's arrested goes to jail, and it's a frustrating experience for the both of them.

Present day: Bill is back filling out form, and doesn't highlight his jail time before the war.

Flashback #6 - It's now 1939 or 1940. It's Bill and Suzie's anniversary. Bill, still out of work, decides to sell his father's toolbox to buy Suzie an anniversary present.

Act 3:

Present Day: Bill meets an interviewer. He tells him how he found work in a war plant in 1941 once the war started. He had to work the night shift, which he didn't like.

Flashback #7 - Bill works nights and hates not being able to see Suzie as much. He's overjoyed when he gets two weeks off after he breaks his finger. The couple talk about having a baby again. A few months later, Bill is drafted.

Present Day: Bill explains to the interviewer that they never had kids.

Flashback #8 - Suzie is worried about Bill before he goes to his basic training. Joan Fontaine is very good in this emotional scene.

Present Day: Bill explains to the interviewer that he has experience repairing tanks. And he lands a job! Meanwhile, Hank and Martha are busy moving. Suzie is helping them, and tells them the good news - that she is going to have a baby! Bill stops by, and there's some interesting banter - all talk over each other and no one hears what the other is saying!

The show ends with Bill and Suzie hopeful for the future, from this day forward.

Joan Fontaine takes a final bow.

I have not seen the movie version yet. It would be fun to compare how the full length movie version differs from this 1 hour version.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

New Errol & Olivia book is out

The new Errol & Olivia book is now available to purchase from Amazon [Order here]. Also, a few people have already shared some reviews of the book; you can read the reviews here and here.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Lilian Fontaine Garden Theater in Sarasota, California

As many fans know, Olivia and Joan's mother Lilian Fontaine (born Lillian Augusta Ruse) was a stage actress. Apart from raising her children she dedicated most of her time mentoring young theater actors.

She also helped in the founding of an outdoor park theater which now bears her name --- The Lilian Fontaine Garden Theater.

It's located in Saratoga, California, near where Lilian lived and where Olivia and Joan grew up. Saratoga is about 13 miles southwest of San Jose (and about 70 miles north of where Joan lives today in Carmel).

This summer (2010), the theater served as the venue for performers Dave Koz, Al Jarreau, Lily Tomlin, Joan Baez, and others.

The theater has an interesting history going back decades. It is on the grounds near a mansion formerly called the Villa Montalvo Estate,  which was first owned by outgoing California businessman and politician James Phelan. He lived there and entertained many politicians and actors, including Lilian. Phelan died in 1930, and bequeathed the grounds (175 acres!) to the State, intending it to be a public park and cultural center. Today it is a private non-profit arts center, known as the Montalvo Arts Center. If you go there today you'll find the mansion (used for weddings), two theaters (one indoor and outdoor), an art gallery, hiking trails, and a gardens.

I've never been there, but it sounds like a beautiful place.

In 1978, the outdoor theater was named after Lilian Fontaine, who was not only a good personal friend of James Phelan's, but was also a longtime supporter of the theater until her passing in 1975 at the age of 89.

A few weeks ago KC shared a nice story about how Joan is now helping with the funding of the refurbishment of the theater. The article comes from the Mercury News, written by Richard Scheinin of Mercury News.

Susan Pfeiffer, an assistant to Ms. Fontaine, said that "Joan wanted to preserve her mother's love for theater by helping to maintain this wonderful place."

Also according to the article, Lilian is credited with having brought Shakespearean plays to Montalvo. Angela McConnell, director of the Montalvo Arts Center, said it is "a dream for us, to have Shakespeare in our theater again."

Also from the article:

Delmar McComb, Montalvo's garden curator, said he would like to plant a six- to eight-foot hedge behind and along the sides of the theater. This will "frame the amphitheater and unify it," he said, "creating more intimacy and a little more separation" from the surrounding landscape.

The effect would be "almost like that of a Shakespearean theater, with arches cut into the hedgerow. "

Some of those would be planted with "really bold architectural plants from the Canary Islands," he said, "kind of like a yucca, but softer and with flowers." He also envisions a trellised rose-strewn pathway leading into the theater from the south.

"I think it can be an experience in and of itself, just to go into that theater," he said.

The entire project sounds so wonderful. The director of the arts center hopes that Joan can visit the theater to see the progress, and also hopes Olivia can come as well.

Monday, September 27, 2010

New article about Ann Rutherford

KC shared this great article on her blog Classic Movies. Ann Rutherford - who played Carreen in Gone with the Wind - recently visited the campus of Kent State University along with Robert Osborne. During the visit, Ann befriends a young fan and aspiring film historian.

Article: "A Lesson in Film History" by Rich Heldenfels
(Akron Beacon Journal popular culture writer)
Published on Sunday, Sep 26, 2010

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Happy 90th Birthday, Mickey Rooney!

Hollywood Legend Mickey Rooney celebrates his 90th birthday today! A performer all of his life (his parents were vaudeville performers and brought him on stage when he was a baby), he still finds time to perform, conduct interviews, and do personal appearances. His best known films are from the 1930s and 40s, including National Velvet, Boys Town, Babes in Arms, and the one film he did with Olivia, A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Mickey Rooney and Olivia de Havilland in A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935)

Happy Birthday Mickey Rooney!

Monty posted a nice birthday salute on his blog Singing and Dancing Back in Time.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The sibling rivalry continues....

I heard about a new Olivia-Joan article on Laura's blog today. (Thanks Laura for sharing this!)

The article was published last week on UK's Mail Online, just a few days after Olivia was given her award in France.

The author basically points out how Joan was not present at the ceremony, and recaps the decades old sibling rivalry, which many of us are already familiar with. Check it out here.

And the Oscar for sibling rivalry goes to... The nine-decade feud between Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine that is still raging

by Michael Thorton

I still have the feeling that Olivia's hopefully-upcoming (?) biography will have more to tell about how she feels about her sister.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

France honors Olivia de Havilland

Some wonderful news to share today! The blogs Anatomy of a Classic and Laura's Miscellaneous Musings reported that Olivia has been awarded the Knight of the Legion of Honor by French President Nicholas Sarkozy at a ceremony at the presidential palace in Paris.

The Order is the highest decoration in France.

According to the Associated Press, President Sarkozy told Olivia that "you honor France for having chosen us." To live, of course - Olivia has lived in Paris since the 1950s.

Laura shared a link to some wonderful pictures from the event, courtesy of NPR News. Read the AP story by Silvie Corbett as published on the Seattle Times Online.

Thanks to all for sharing this wonderful news. Congratulations Olivia!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Cammie King, Bonnie Butler in 'Gone With the Wind,' Dies at 76

Cammie King, the actress who played young Bonnie Blue Butler in Gone With the Wind has passed away. As Laura notes on her blog post, Ms Butler was one of the last remaining cast members of the 1939 classic. According to the website Legacy, Ms Butler "remained active in the Gone With the Wind community, attending conventions, parades and other events. Throughout her life she stayed in touch with many of the film’s cast and crew, and had spoken to Olivia de Havilland just days before her death."

CNN News report:

Here is a tribute from the Vivien Leigh blog.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Catherine (A poem by Shelbi)

A poem inspired by the 1949 Olivia de Havilland classic, "The Heiress."

A single tear I shall not shed;
you warrant not my grief.
Though nightfall found my spirit numb,
the morning brought relief.

You dropped the world upon my heart
and crushed it 'neath the weight.
But when you gathered sense enough,
repentance came too late.

My soul does not still pine for you;
my being does not ache.
My conscience does not mourn for you.
Just wind blows in your wake.

No longer do I fall to you-
I, now, stand on my own.
I won't forsake my pride for you.
I'd rather be alone...

Monday, July 12, 2010

New book about Olivia and Errol set for October 2010

A new book about Olivia and Errol, published by GoodKnight Books, will be released on October 1, 2010.

More information can be found at

The author is Robert Matzen, who specializes in Errol Flynn (he previously co-authored a book on Errol Flynn) and Carol Lombard (he worked on a bio and documentary of her).

According to their Facebook page, there will also be a promotional video to be released soon.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Analysis of "Letter from an Unknown Woman" (1948)

Note: spoilers abound in this post.

Letter was the second film we watched in the Ophuls appreciation class. There were about 14 of us in the class, most of us - including myself - were watching this for the first time.

Before the film began, our instructor wanted us to pay attention to three things:

1) Music and how it's used - diagetic music (music played in the background that the characters can hear) vs. non diagetic music. (music the characters don't hear).

2) Camera work - the axial, tracking, and crane shots. Our instructor recommended the book: "Max Ophuls in the Hollywood Studios" by Lutz Bacher, where techniques are discussed. On the film, Ophuls worked with his cinematographer from Liebelei - Franz Planer - and was able to achieve the mobility he desired for this film. There will be several crane shots where the camera moves up and is pulled back, such as the steps of the opera scene, a fine example of this. And throughout the film, you'll notice many shots of characters ascending stairs - very symbolic.

3) Melodrama? - is this just an "awful tearjerker" as some have said, or is there more meaning in this? It's a romance, but is it over-the-top?


The opening credits play over the movie's theme by credited composer "Daniele Amfitheatrof". But who is he? Our instructor said that she thought it might be a pseudonym. With a last name meaning "Amphitheater", she doubted it would be anyone's real name. Perhaps Ophuls did the music himself? Neither I nor anyone else in the class knew at the time. But when I got home, I checked his credits on IMDB -- turns out that that Amfitheatrof is his real name, and among his credits include his Oscar nominated score of Song of the South, The Claudette Colbert vehicle Guest Wife (another Oscar nomination) and several other Joan Fontaine movies, including Ivy and You Gotta Stay Happy.

In the beginning of the film, we see a man getting out of a carriage in front of St. Steven's church in Vienna. He is to fight in a duel later that evening. The year was 1900, and duals still went on. We assume it's due to his hard living, hard drinking lifestyle; another character mentions he has a penchant for Cognac. As he walks into his home, it's raining, and the bells of the church sound - almost as to seal his fate.

His servant brings him the mail, which includes a multiple page letter from a mysterious woman. Who cold this woman be? The rest of the film tells the story...

Joan plays teenage Lisa, a young student who lives with her mother - presumably a widow - in an apartment building. Ophuls wants the audience to become the character of Lisa - we see what she sees, and hear what she hears.

Lisa starts to develop a serious crush on the next door neighbor, a concert pianist named Stefan Brand (a dashing Louis Jourdan), who is trying to make a name for himself. She loves listening to him practice Mozart and Liszt when he's home.

At first, I couldn't tell what age she was supposed to be, but later we find out she's about 17 years old. Youthful looking Fontaine, who was 30 at the time, is a convincing teenager here.

Lisa's infatuation with the musician inspires her to take dancing and music lessons.

One day she even sneaks into his apartment and looks around the flat. We see on the wall portraits of Gustav Mahler and Joseph Joachim, both well known Austrian composers of the time.

In these opening scenes, Lisa is shown hanging out with a friend her age, but this character soon disappears from the film. Perhaps this is intentionally to show that Lisa really didn't have any other friends beyond her fantasy of Stefan.

Meanwhile, Lisa's mother is being courted by a wealthy man. One day the mother sits down with Lisa to have a talk, and he announces that he will be getting married and that they will all be moving to Linz, a town in upper Austria. The look of fear on Joan's/Lisa's face upon hearing the news is priceless.

Despite Lisa not wanting to ever be far from Stefan and his music, they all pack and prepare for the move anyway.

In the train station, right before boarding, Lisa decides at the last minute to run all the way back home; she wants to see Stefan just one more time. She nervously waits in her empty apartment until he comes home. Looking around the empty rooms, she remembers: "These rooms I used to live in were once filled with your music....Would these rooms ever come to life again? Would I?"

She hears a noise coming from outside, and she dashes to look....On the staircase, she sees Stefan and one of his female companions enter his apartment. Ophuls films from above the staircase as we see Stefan and the woman climb the stairs. However, we don't know exactly how she feels - is her heart broken? Will she forget about him forever now? The next scenes answer these questions....

A few years have now passed...Lisa is now living in the little town of Linz. The entire Linz sequence was filmed on a backlot, and the public square was nicely recreated. Lisa dresses fancier now, and has a gentleman friend.

One day we see the two of them walking by a military band, badly performing Wagner's "Song of The Evening Star", which was popular during that time. Though such a mediocre rendition is not how you'd expect to hear such a beautiful piece of music, it does seem to work in this scene. Just as there isn't any romance in the rendition, there isn't any romance in the relationship between Lisa and her suitor. Why? Because she is still holding a torch for Stefan. Her suitor even proposes, but she refuses. With her mother and stepfather disappointed, she moves back to Vienna to get away from the pressure. So the diagetic music we hear from the band is symbolic is this scene - bad music during a painful experience in Lisa's life.

In a montage, we see her new life and career in Vienna. The clips show us that she now has become a successful fashion model with many new suitors, all of whom she refuses; she's still in love with Stefan, a man she has never met.

Then, one day, in the cold of winter, snow on the ground and all, the meeting finally occurs. She's waiting outside his apartment, just as she does every single night. Meanwhile, a street band plays a watered down piece by Strauss. "Do you like to listen to street singers?", he asks. She pauses. "Neither do I", says Stefan. This suggests they need more romantic music, perhaps a full orchestra even. (Later on, destiny has them both meeting up at an opera.)

They go on to have a wonderful, dreamlike evening filled with dinner, long talks, dancing - all the romantic elements of a "perfect date".

They take a long walk together through Prater Park, and as they walk we hear a famous waltz that is often associated with amusement parks or trapeze acts, "Over the Waves" by Juventino Rosas. Because the music is so familiar to us, we think of happy times in our own lives.

The next scene is my favorite in the film.

Ophuls directs a simply amazing sequence. Lisa and Stefan find themselves on the most interesting amusement ride -- a little train car with a window, and on the outside is a moving drape with scenery that simulates a moving ride. Scenes of Paris, Rome, and Switzerland generate romantic images.

One of the great scenes of all time, so brilliant because the ride is symbolic of their night together - temporary and phoney

It's kind of cute when Stefan continues to buy more time on the ride. And the conversation on the ride is a fascinating look into these characters. We learn more about Lisa; she traveled quite a bit with her father and mother when she was a child, she says. Stefan asks her more about her father, but she quickly changes the subject, for reasons that are left to us to interpret. Her father may have died when she was a very young girl.

In a music hall, they dance to "Viennese Gals" by Carl Michael Ziehrer (thanks Hal for the information), performed by an all-female band. And they dance all night, right up until closing time. One of the musicians delivers one of the best lines in the film - "I like to play for married people, they have homes".

When the band finishes and steps down, Stefan goes up to the piano and plays a Mozart piece (by either Liszt or Mozart, I couldn't tell) while Lisa watches in awe. Ophuls took great care to film the piano-playing convincingly; I'm not sure if Louis Jourdan played in real life, but he really gets the fingering accurate in this scene.

Another shot that really impressed me is when Ophuls captures Lisa looking up at him playing. This reminded me of Lulu at the end of Pandora's Box

The night of bliss culminates when they finally make love that night, which is implied. There's no need to be overtly graphic; we get the idea when they embrace and kiss in the shadows of his flat. In fact, some of the most emotional scenes in the film are dealt with rather quickly; there aren't any drawn out scenes that you might see in other films considered melodramas.

The next day, Stefan tells Lisa that he must leave for a short 2-week trip to Italy where he will perform with his orchestra.

But he doesn't come back after 2 weeks.

In a twisted turn of events, Stefan abandons her; he never comes back to her. We realize that he never thought of her but anything but just another one of his one-night-stand girlfriends.

While he's away, Lisa bears Stefan's child, a boy, and marries a wealthy man, Johann Stauffer (Marcel Journet). She names her son "Stefan"

The story fast-forwards about 10 years. We realize that Lisa has come along way from naive teenager when we first met her - now she's a mature adult, giving advice to her young son, a very intelligent boy. Joan manages this transition brilliantly.

In a later scene, Lisa has to put her son on a train for school. In a great example of Ophuls' repeating elements - the son assures Lisa that he will see her again in two weeks. This reminds us when Stefan promised her the same thing. Both of those scenes mark dramatic changes in her life.

One night, Lisa and her husband prepare for a night at the opera (Mozart's "The Magic Flute"). As the couple returns to their seats after intermission, Ophuls shows us a long take of the couple ascending the staircase of the lobby, a magnificent shot. Suddenly - she sees Stefan in the lobby. Stefan eyes her too, and Lisa is so filled with emotion that she needs to leave the opera house right when Act 2 begins.

"Suddenly, everything was in danger, everything I thought was safe"

She meets Stefan outside and they talk for several minutes. His mind clouded, he doesn't remember the night they had together, but he keeps asking her, "I've seen you somewhere before, haven't I"?

During our class discussion, one of the students thought that he had a mental illness. I thought he was drunk myself. He certainly became a dissolute by this point. In the theater, ordinary people gossip about him as being a has-been.

Scared, Lisa - along with Johann - leave the theater and return home. Having seen the two together outside, Johann is now suspicious, and wants to know what is going on. "We have a marriage" he reminds her. "You have a will - you can do what is right or throw your life away (by going back to him)".

But Lisa can't help it - she still loves Stefan, and thinks about him constantly. At one point, she concludes, "He needs me as much as I need him". The next night, Lisa returns to Stefan's apartment. Johann Stauffer follows her and notices that she goes in the apartment. Our instructor explained that Johann would be even more inflamed with him than he is with her, since he let her inside.

When she arrives, Stefan is excited at the chance to talk to this mysterious, familiar-looking woman again, and plans to celebrate the occasion with dinner and wine. He's still a bachelor, and still lives with his faithful servant, who remembers Lisa from over 10 years ago when she helped him carry up a carpet. Because the servant is mute, he cannot communicate this to Stefan.

Lisa is prepared to remind him about the night, and to tell him he has a son. "I have something to tell you", she says...but never finishes. Stefan keeps talking without letting her finish. For the most part, he talks about being washed up, and no longer does concerts like he used to.

Lisa wonders if he can still play the piano, but it's locked up, and is hardly ever used anymore, he tells her.

The music has been silenced, and this devastates her inside. Our instructor said that it is at this moment when she realizes she was never really in love with him, but the music all along.

She leaves. Ophuls gives us a nice shot of her walking down the stairs, a high angle shot. --- It's the same shot we saw early in the film, where she - as a young naive girl - noticed Stefan with the other woman (another example of repeating elements). Now, she's the woman she always wanted to be, but she's a different woman now.

Her life then takes a turn of events that changes her fate forever. She is infected with Typhus, which she caught from being on the train car with her son, who dies from the disease.

Knowing she will die, she writes a multi-page letter to Stefan...

The story resumes in the present, with Stefan continuing to read the letter to the very last page.

He finally sees photos of the son he never knew he had. "You would have been proud of him" she wrote in the letter.

Stephen then goes off to the duel - with Johann, we learn - and we don't know what happens after that. We hear the bells from the ironically named St. Steven's Cathedral - another exaple of Ophuls' repeated elements.


This is a fun movie to discuss. Everyone in the class was impressed with it. We talked about whether or not this is a melodrama (our instructor doesn't think so, and I tend to agree). Others in the class, including myself, agreed with our instructor that this is really about a romance between a woman and music, not necessarily a man and a woman.

Regarding the Stefan character, Ophuls perhaps saw himself in this character, and could relate to his womanizing (Ophuls was known to have a mistress). It's not until the very last scenes with Stefan do we as the audience really start to feel some kind of sympathy for this character. Fitting, because the film is mostly all from Lisa's point of view. Some have even called this a woman's picture.

We also talked more about Ophuls being the paradigm case of auterism, because he inpired the whole theory. Film critic David Thompson is a fan of Ophuls' films and has written many positive things about this film in particular.

Ophuls and screenwriter Howard Koch (Casablanca) stay true to the the original novel, according to our instructor.

It's certainly a film that would be enjoyed by any fan of classical music. Ms. Fontaine herself has always been a fan, and I could see her enjoying making this movie. But I'm surprised she did not write more about the making of this film in her 1978 autobiography, No Bed of Roses.


The performances of the two leads, director Max Ophuls' fluidity of the camera and the beautiful music throughout combine to form a beautiful piece of cinematic art.

Once you see it, you will never forget it.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Blooper reel with Olivia swearing

The first minute and 30 seconds of this is really forward to 1:30 minute into the video to hear Humphrey Bogart, John Garfield, Barbara Stanwyck, Gary Cooper and other Warner stars swear like sailors.

Olivia comes in at 5 minutes, 01 seconds, and says, "Son of a B----" and GD. Oh, Olivia!

I don't know what all these other films are, but the film that Olivia was working on was "Devotion".

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Gloria Stuart remembers Olivia and Joan

Today, July 4th, is the birthday of Gloria Stuart (born 1910); she turns 100 years young today.

In her 1999 autobiography, I Just Kept Hoping, she recalls some of her early film roles after being named one of the 1932 WAMPAS Baby Stars (along with Ginger Rogers and Mary Carlisle). Most of her early films were comedies and what she called "dreadful musicals", and she compared her career with the success of her contemporaries when she wrote:

"Bette Davis, Loretta Young, and Olivia de Havilland were getting wonderful dramatic parts. Why not me? What had I ever done to deserve all this dreck?"

Arguably her best remembered film from this time period remains Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, starring Shirley Temple. Though she never achieved the success of the aforementioned stars, she did get her share of attention, from fans and from the gossip columns:

"Fan letters were a whole new world to me, and gifts arrived in the mail and at my door all the time. Garters were a favorite from men. Combs, barrettes, jewelry, bits and pieces, came from the ladies."
"Publicity could be fun - and confusing. Once a studio publicist made up a story about my nearly stepping on a rattlesnake in my garden. The gossip columns gobbled it up. A couple of years later, looking over Hedda Hopper's column, I read that Joan Fontaine had had a near-fatal encounter with a rattlesnake in her garden. My instant reaction was "Poor Joan!" before I caught myself, laughing."

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Happy Birthday Olivia!

To celebrate, Turner Classics is showing 4 of her films today:





Also, read Shelbi's tribute here: Olivia of the Golden Age

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Lighthouse On the Harbor

A poem dedicated to Olivia


I went searching for a lighthouse
that could guide me to the shore.
There once had been a glimmer
but, alas, it was no more.

The sky was dark and moonless
with not a star in sight,
the wind was whipping harshly,
and the cold began to bite.

The waves were crashing loudly,
and the tide began to rise.
The undertow had pulled me
farther from the midnight skies.

I was drowning in my sorrows,
pulled under by despair.
I felt my body thrashing
but I could not meet the air.

I felt the end draw nearer
as each moment passed me by.
With no hope for sweet salvation,
I heaved one final sigh.

I let myself sink lower,
'til my feet did touch the floor.
I could feel the sand beneath me
as my soul shook to the core.

But something jerked me forward,
and I was raked across the tide
until my body broke the surface
and my hands did touch the sky.

I looked on the horizon,
and to my utmost glee,
I saw a lighthouse shining,
and an angel beckoned me.

I swam with vim and vigor,
eager to meet land,
and my heart swelled with great rapture
when my fingers touched the sand.

I stood up and I smiled
when the angel touched my face.
I was grateful for this second chance;
moreso for her grace.

I'd an angel's light to guide me
from a sea of wrath and fear
to a shore where hope runs rampant,
and reflections stare back clear.

I once was so transfixed
by all the reasons I stood out
that I never learned to love myself,
and was overcome with doubt.

I began to slowly purge myself
of gluttony and sin
until all the mirror showed me
was brittle bones and skin.

No soul behind my eyes,
and no heart within my chest,
I became a perfect robot,
but I was sicker than the rest.

For in my journey to conform,
I drifted out to sea.
My secret almost drowned me
and I nearly ceased to be.

But then an angel called me
and led me to a mirror
where, for the first time, I did see myself,
and the truth became much clearer.

I hated what I saw,
for that girl was not alive-
she had purged into oblivion,
her beauty was contrived.

Olivia, the angel,
had that for which I longed:
a beauty that came freely,
not by doing oneself wrong.

And so, her hand in mine,
I walked a winding road
towards health and love and freedom-
things Bulimia forbode.

The journey made was long,
and I took many a wrong turn,
but I made the greatest effort,
and I've so much left to learn.

For I'll never be so free
as to say I do not suffer,
but I'll stay so far away
as to say things could be tougher.

And I'll always have my angel,
with her halo and her wings,
to steer me down this narrow path
amd remind me of these things.

My angel is Olivia;
she's the reason I'm alive,
with her smile sweet as candy,
and beauty one could not contrive.

She saved from myself
in the very bleakest minute.
She showed me what I could be,
all my heart, and what's within it.

And you still hear it beating,
for I overcame great strife
with the help of sweet Olivia,
for she gave the gift of life.

Happy 94th birthday, Olivia!!!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Tale of Two Sisters

This is Part 3 in a three-part review of the book Sisters: The Story of Olivia De Havilland and Joan Fontaine (1984) Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Prior to purchasing "Sisters: The Story of Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine" by Charles Higham, the reviews I had read were almost wholly negative. While I anticipated the arrival of the book, I was hellbent on being pleasantly surprised with the material therein.

Alas, one cannot always get what they want.

The story itself is quite interesting, as the lives of these two sisters are both thrilling and tragic; full of success and defeat; and last, but certainly not least, legendary.

The savage sisterly feud of which Charles Higham writes stands as one of the most iconic and enduring celebrity catfights in Hollywood history. Both women have taken public, and private, shots at one another; and both sisters have been left deeply hurt.

The subject matter being this book's only real redeeming quality, I have very few positive things to say about it. The writing alone became very tedious rather quickly. Charles Higham's prose seems to carry a very slow pace. Because of this, I found myself often bored, flipping through the rest of the book to try and find the TRULY juicy details. There also seem to be a number of factual errors in Higham's story. It also became apparent to me that the storyline could get confusing, the way Higham jumps from one sister's life to another. That being said, one must still give him credit for his ability to intertwine the sister's lives in an accurate chronological fashion.

Poor editing aside, Higham seems to have dropped a few bombshells within his book; most of them, it seems, are directed at Olivia. The following things about which I was most shocked are:

1.) The abuse (mental, physical, and sexual) both young girls endured at the hands of their tyrannical stepfather, George Fontaine.

2.) The accusation that Errol Flynn once, in a drunken stupor, tried to break down the door to Olivia's dressing room and rape her.

3.) The inclusion of Olivia's court testimonies stating that first husband Marcus Goodrich began to abuse and terrify her shortly after their son's birth.

4.) Olivia's alleged extramarital affair with Luther Davis in the mid-1960's.

It was the shocking and scandalous passages that held my attention. Had Higham not spiced things up, it is sufficient to say I would have put this book down. It was my dedication to Olivia and Joan that inspired me to see this novel through.

All of this being said, I would only recommend this book to die hard fans of Olivia de Havilland and/or Joan Fontaine. Only they will have what it takes to finish this book.

Monday, June 28, 2010

"Letter From An Unknown Woman" (1948)

"Letter From An Unknown Woman" was originally a 1922 novella by Austrian writer Stefan Zweig (1881-1942). Hollywood adapted the story in 1933 as Only Yesterday with Margaret Sullivan and John Boles, and directed by John M. Stahl (Leave Her to Heaven, Imitation of Life). Undoubtedly, fans of the original novel - including those in Hollywood - wanted to see a more accurately adapted film version, set in the turn of the century Vienna.

After Joan Fontaine's marriage with Brian Aherne ended in 1945, she dated respected producer John Houseman, and the two were engaged for a time (the engagement ended due to John's overbearing mother, per Joan's autobiography)

In 1948 Joan and her husband, producer William Dozier, formed a new production company called Rampart Productions, where they would serve as co-executive producers on film projects.

In the meantime, filmmaker Max Ophuls was looking for work since he moved to America. He became good friends with top talent such as Preston Sturges and Houseman (who eventually produced the film for Rampart). In 1946 Ophuls was fired from the first production he was associated with, possibly due to arguing with others in the studio system; he very much wanted to be in control of all aspects of the film, and especially wnated to be as mobile as possible with his camera as he shot the actors. Douglas Fairbanks Jr. gave him his first break with The Exile, a mild success with audiences (I haven't seen that film yet). For his second project, it's quite likely that Ophuls was familiar with the Zweig story enough to want to film it.

It's not hard to understand why Joan and Dozier would be attracted to the Letter project. For one, Joan was working on Billy Wilder's musical The Emperor Waltz for Paramount that same year, and like Letter, was also set in Austria. Wilder may have even talked her into the project, if not suggesting it personally. Secondly, music is a main theme of both Letter and Waltz, and Joan is a lifelong classical music fan (one of her favorite composers is Rachmaninoff).

Speaking of music, so many of Joan Fontaine's films are remembered for their musical scores or themes - Rebecca & Suspicion (score by Franz Waxman), September Affair (where Joan plays a pianist), Serenade (with Mario Lanza), and Tender is the Night (featuring its Oscar nominated title song).

Joan, in her autobiography, remembers working with Ophuls: "With [Ophuls], I communicated intuitively. After a take, Max would come over to me and start to speak in German, which I scarcely understood. I would nod before he had said six words and he would then resume his position behind the camera. After the next take was completed, he would rush over and say, "How you know egg-zactly vot I vont? Preent dat!"

Letter didn't do well at the box office when it was first released, and this may have contributed to the demise of Rampart Productions, which folded after just two productions: Letter and You Gotta Stay Happy (with Jimmy Stewart). Ironically, the inspiration for the name "Rampart" was to project feelings of sturdiness and longevity. Also sadly, Joan and Dozier were divorced in 1951.

I don't say this about too many films, but Letter is a masterpiece. One of Joan's best films, and, as many have said, one of Mr. Jourdan's best as well, next to Gigi. Many feel they both give the best performances of their careers in this movie.

Over the years, Letter has earned the respect of many film historians and buffs. This film was the #1 most requested film from fans of Turner Classic Movies for quite a long time before finally airing in April of 2010 as part of a Louis Jourdan marathon.

I will have a deeper analysis of this film in an upcoming post, for those who have already seen it.

Stay tuned!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Joan Fontaine for Chesterfield Cigarettes (print ad)

from the January 3, 1949 edition of Life Magazine

Joan's encounter with Ginger Rogers' mother Lela

Lela Rogers (1891-1977) was a Hollywood screenwriter, publicist, and from 1938-1945 worked as an executive assistant at RKO.

The following is an excerpt from Ginger Rogers' autobiography "Ginger: My Story" (1991). (My notes in blue)

While I was working, my mother [Lela Rogers] also found an outlet for her abundant energies and talent. Mother's long experience in Hollywood made her very knowledgeable about the business. For some time, she ran a workshop in East Hollywood called the Hollytown Theater, where aspiring actors had an opportunity to train and to appear in plays. The RKO front office decided that it would be good for the younger contract players on the lot to have someone to guide them. Lela was asked to come to RKO and shift her workshop activities to the Hollywood Playhouse. In no time she was casting and producing plays in the little theater on the RKO lot. The producers often dropped in to observe the new talent. After seeing a few of the plays she directed, I was very proud of her.

Mother contacted all the contract players to offer them acting lessons and asked J.R. McDonough, head of the stuido, to use his authority to get the young players to respond. Most of them, including Lucille Ball, Betty Grable, Joy Hodges, Leon Ames, Anne Shirley, Tyrone Power, [This is interesting because Ty's films were at Fox; perhaps Ginger was mistaken when she wrote this?] and Phyllis Fraser, did; only one person failed to answer, Joan Fontaine. [Most of Joan's early films were with RKO before her breakthrough role in Rebecca] Mother was sitting in her office with Al Nash, a writer, when she telephoned Joan to ask her why she had chosen to stay away.

"Lela Rogers," Joan said in a businesslike tone, "You can't teach me anything."

Mother gasped at this, hung up the phone, and repeated the conversation. Al said, "I guess you can't win 'em all."

Sometime later, Joan Fontaine called Mother's office and said, "Mrs. Rogers, if you have nothing better to do tonight, there's a preview over at the Fox Wilshire of my new movie. Maybe you'd like to see it." Mother said she'd be delighted. That evening she took Al Nash with her. The movie was Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca. When Mother left the theater, she turned to Al and said "You know, that kid knew what she was talking about. What a talent. She certainly didn't need me. All she needed was Hitchcock!"

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Max Ophuls (1902-1957)

Last night I had my first class in a 6-week film appreciation series devoted to the films of Max Ophuls, who directed Joan Fontaine in Letter from an Unknown Woman and is regarded as one of the great auteur directors of cinema history.

The films in the summer series are:

June 16: Liebelei (1932)
June 23: Letter from An Unknown Woman (1948)
June 30: Caught (1949)
July 7: Le Plaisir (1952)
July 14: The Earrings of Madame de... (1953)
July 21: Lola Montès (1955)

Our instructor is of the opinion that Ophuls fits the definition of "auteur" much more than the films of Jean-Luc Godard or François Truffaut, also regarded as auteurs.

His films are known for two distinctive styles: 1. Mobile framing / mobile cameras and dolly shots, and 2. Long takes, shots that endure for a long time.

He was born Maximillian Oppenheimer in 1902 in Germany on the border of France, and he grew up speaking both languages fluently. He pursued a career in acting at a relatively young age, and took the stage name of Max Ophuls once he started work in the theater. He either appeared in or directed hundreds of plays over time, and in the late 1920s even pursued films; he went to Berlin's UFA studio to work as assistant, and then made some attempts at his own films.

His first film attempt was a 40 minute comedy called "Dann schon lieber Lebertran" (1931) which translates in English as "I'd Rather Have Cod Liver Oil". Ophuls wasn't happy with the film, and never attempted such a comedy again.

He made Liebelei in 1932, which was based on a play by Arthur Schnitzler about relationships and affairs. Our instructor said that in English, the word "Liebelei" translates into "Games of Love". She said that the Viennese people are fascinated with issues of love and death, and that this would be something audiences would be able to relate to very well in this era of Freud. There's all sorts of situations the main characters find themselves in, love triangles and the like, and it's an impressive film from a new director. Even though Ophuls' background was in theater, this isn't a "theatrical looking" film. But the print we watched was very bad. It was also a poorly recorded VHS tape copy. The white subtitles were often cut off on the left side and very hard to read whenever there was something white in the foreground. I will have to watch the movie again another time, perhaps if its ever restored. Our instructor said this movie is the only German film that is avialable of his.

A Jew, Ophuls had to flee Germany not long after this was made. He moved to France, but he wasn't safe from the Nazis there either.

In the United States, he wanted to do more films, and befriended Preston Sturges, who helped him along the way. In 1946 he was slated to direct a film Vendetta, but was fired for reasons I don't know about exactly yet. He tried again and directed The Exile produced and starring Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. His next film was with Joan, Letter from An Unknown Woman, which is arguably his most famous work. He made 4 films in the US before moving back to France, where he directed some wonderful movies such as Le Plaisir, which I haven't seen yet but is part of the film series. Ophuls himself was the set designer on the picture, and he was nominated for an Oscar in the US. I can't wait to watch that film.

On the sets, he drank Schnopps with his lunches every day, he was that kind of guy. Peter Lorre was a good friend of his. People who worked with him loved working with him, including James Mason who even wrote a poem about him.

He died in 1957 of heart disease and was buried in Paris.

This is the official description of the film series from the website and print ads:

"The camera exists to create a new art and to show above all what cannot be seen elsewhere: neither in theater nor in life. Otherwise, I'd have no need of it; doing photography doesn't interest me. That, I leave to the photographer." (Max Ophüls)

Long praised as a consummate auteur, Max Ophüls commanded control over all aspects of his films, including cinematography and post-production work. His style, exhibiting a commitment to grace, beauty, and sensitivity, celebrates what the camera is able to create. Choreographing the extreme feelings involved in human relationships with an endlessly mobile camera and long takes, Ophüls explores dimensions of time, movement, and fate. The compositions in his films overflow into what film theorist Laura Mulvey calls "ecstatic and extended moments," into which he often incorporates strong visual irony. Ophüls, German-Jewish by birth, was truly an international director. At Ufa in Berlin, he made his first films, among them Liebelei (1932). In 1941, after failed attempts to stay in Europe during Hitler's regime, directing films in Holland, Italy, and France, Ophüls finally moved to the United States as one of the last exiled directors to arrive. Among his American films are Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948), starring Louis Jourdan and Joan Fontaine, and Caught (1949), with Barbara Bel Geddes and James Mason. Upon returning to Europe and settling in Paris in 1950, Ophüls made the films that form the high point of his career, including his last, Lola Montüs (1955), his only film in color. In this class, we will experience the pleasure of being able to watch most of Ophüls' French films, which disappeared from public view, but recently have been re-released.

Therese Grisham has a Ph.D. from the University of Washington in Seattle and was awarded a Fulbright lectureship to the University of Dresden, following which she won a teaching award in film studies. She now teaches film aesthetics and history at Columbia College Chicago and film analysis and media and culture at DePaul University. She has previously taught courses at the Facets Film School, including Watch the Skies! Science Fiction, The 1950's and Us, Through a Technicolor Mirror: The Films of Douglas Sirk and Julien Duvivier: Master of Versatility.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

"The Adventures of Robin Hood" (1938)

Every review I've read of the lackluster 2010 Russell Crowe version of "Robin Hood" made reference in one way or another to the classic 1938 Errol-Olivia version, a testament to it's endearing popularity.

For example, in his May 12, 2010 review, Roger Ebert wrote:
Little by little, title by title, innocence and joy is being drained out of the movies. What do you think of when you hear the name of Robin Hood? I think of Errol Flynn, Sean Connery and the Walt Disney character. I see Robin lurking in Sherwood Forest, in love with Maid Marian (Olivia de Havilland or Audrey Hepburn), and roistering with Friar Tuck and the Merry Men. I see a dashing swashbuckler.

That Robin Hood is nowhere to be found in Ridley Scott's [2010] “Robin Hood”...

I recently purchased the 2-disc DVD of the blockbuster 1938 version, and it's loaded with incredible extras: great commentary by Rudy Behlmer (he talks about everything you ever wanted to know about the movie), several documentaries, outtakes, home movies, and the radio version. It's one of the most colorful films I've ever seen; every scene is a visual feast for the eyes.

The commentary on the DVD reminds us that for many years, the only way people were able to see this movie was in black-and-white on television.

The film (directed by Michael Curtiz and a number of other 2nd unit directors) won a well deserved Oscar for Best Art Direction for its impressive sets. The DVD commentary points out the particular shots that were combined with beautiful matte paintings (example below).

And if Best Costume Design was a category back then, I'm sure designer Milo Anderson would have won by a landslide. And needless to say, Olivia looks lovely in every scene. :)

The below review is from the May 23, 1938 of LIFE; in those days the mag always had a "Movie of the Week" feature, and Robin Hood was that week's feature. I like this piece because it makes reference to the 1922 Douglas Fairbanks version. Below is the write-up, with my notes in blue

From LIFE, May 23, 1938

The saga of Robin Hood is the kind of movie material that screenwriters dream of. It is almost pure action. Blackest villainy opposes purest virtue. And there are so many fables, so little fact, that each teller of the tale can shape it anew.

Somewhere far back in British history there must have been a Robin Hood, but who he was, when he lived, whether he was one man or many, no one knows. Some say he was a leader of the Saxons, who protected his people against the Norman conquerors. Some say he was a Norman knight. Certain it is that as early as the 14th Century Robin Hood figured in folk tales as the gay, fearless outlaw of Sherwood Forest who robbed the rich and gave to the poor, the nemesis of fat bishops and cruel nobles, the popular hero of yeomanry as King Arthur was the hero of knighthood.

Warner Bros.' lavish Robin Hood, made in Technicolor at a cost of $2,000,000, follows in famous footsteps, for millions of moviegoers remember the Robin Hood of Douglas Fairbanks in 1922. The Warner version has no Fairbanks but it has in Errol Flynn the only actor in Hollywood today who could fill Fairbanks' shoes or Robin Hood's. (James Cagney was originally slated to star)

The picture places Robin in the reign of Richard the Lion-Hearted (1189-1199) (played by Ian Hunter) . When Richard goes to the Crusades and Prince John (Claude Raines) imposes his cruel rule on England, Sir Robert of Locksley, a Saxon knight, takes to the forest with a band of followers and calls himself Robin Hood. In the end Richard returns to set things straight, make Robin an earl and bless his marriages to the fair Maid Marian (Olivia - this was her third movie with Errol).


Anita Louise was originally considered for the role of Marian.

The 1938 version was ranked among 100 films on AFI's 100 Years-100 Thrills list in 2001.

Spoiler alert: The shots you see below were cut from the ending of the movie; it was meant to be the final scene - Robin and Marian riding off into the sunset.

Oh I wish they could have kept this in the final cut!

If you are lucky enough to live near Austin, you can see the movie on the big screen (!) at the Paramount Theater on June 26 (2 PM) and 27 (7:10 PM). Apparently there will also be an indoor archery contest. Huzzah! More information can be found here.