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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Goodbye to a Generous Star

Classic movie fans said goodbye to many of their favorites in 2013. We lost a lot of the stars that we thought had finally found a way to beat mortality. How could the always-athletic Esther Williams ever leave us? Didn't Peter O'Toole have a few more lives left in him?

I observed these passings with some personal sadness, though I mostly felt for the families who had lost loved ones who just happened to be adored by the rest of the world as well. Making it into your 80s or 90s is something to celebrate, especially when you have contributed so much. And yet, I was seriously bummed out when Joan Fontaine passed on Sunday, December 15.

There are lots of reasons I mourned Ms. Fontaine with a bit more intensity. She was one of the first stars I admired when I was a gawky middle-schooler learning to love the classics. You could say she started this deeply fulfilling journey with me. As the years passed, she remained a favorite. I came to appreciate her increasingly more as I picked up new subtleties in the best of her performances, including Letter to an Unknown Woman and Rebecca.

I think most of all though, I felt sad to see Fontaine go because she embraced the classic film community with such generosity. As much as she treasured her privacy, she never forgot her fans.

Maybe the press couldn't reach her, but true fans could. She respected the people who reached out to her, whether with a blog post or an adoring letter. Fontaine reportedly granted her last interview to a classic film blog. She spent a great deal of her time responding to queries, autographing photos and sending charming thank you notes. I hear her Christmas card list was enormous, and that this year her secretary had difficulty convincing her to hold off on the significant task of sending them.

This charming lady saved her love for the people who showed her honest affection and appreciation. Even though I never knew her personally, I feel a bit like she was a part of my world, and that's why I'll miss her like a friend.

Rest in peace Ms. Fontaine.

Image Source

Monday, December 16, 2013

Joan Fontaine: Five performances to savor

The LA Times' Susan King remembers Joan in five performances to savor; no argument from me. 

Forever captured on film

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Light in the Piazza (1962)

From 1962, comes Light in the Piazza, a touching romantic drama starring Olivia deHavilland.  Shot on location in Italy, this Guy Green-directed film also stars Rossano Brazzi, Yvette Mimieux, and George Hamilton, with Barry Sullivan taking on a supporting (and very pivotal) role.

Vacationing in Florence, Italy, are Americans Meg Johnson (Olivia deHavilland) and her 26-year old daughter, Clara (Yvette Mimieux). Years earlier, Clara had been kicked in the head by a pony, resulting in a brain injury which left her with the mental capabilities of a 10-year old. As Clara grew to adulthood, she began being attracted to boys---and they to her; feeling that such relationships could never work given Clara's limited mental state, Meg and her husband Noel (Barry Sullivan) determined that their daughter should be taken abroad and, thus, removed from potential love situations.

Obviously, if one is trying to avoid love, Italy is not the place to visit, for, Clara soon makes the acquaintance of Fabrizio Naccarelli (George Hamilton).  Never suspecting that Clara's childlike innocence is because she really is a child, Fabrizio finds her charming and delightful.  Clara adores him too---which greatly unsettles her mother.  Hoping to nip the relationship in the bud, Meg attempts to explain the situation to Fabrizio's father (Rossano Brazzi), but when she is unable to do so, she determines that the only way out is to leave Florence---and Fabrizio.

After meeting up with husband, Noel, in Rome, and learning that he wants to send Clara to a special school, Meg begins to see the whole situation differently. Although Noel insists that Clara's condition is the same and has not improved, Meg, who has been living with the dream that Clara will one day be able to live a normal life, is convinced that the trip has done Clara good and that she has begun to get well.  Further, knowing that Fabrizio adores Clara just as she is, Meg begins to believe that a marriage between them would not only work, but that it would be good for both of them.  Despite her husband's instructions to the contrary, Meg is determined to do whatever it takes to see to it that Clara and Fabrizio are joined together in marriage.  How it all plays out is the balance of the film.

A lovely, charming story, Light in the Piazza is definitely a "discussion piece" kind of film, providing some very thought-provoking questions. Would we really deem a 10-year old capable of handling all the aspects of marriage? Do we think it's right to withhold information from those whom it affects?

The Italian backdrop to the film is gorgeous!  If I didn't already want to visit Italy, I certainly would be wanting to after my viewing of this.  Olivia deHavilland is gorgeous here---stunning, really!  She's 46 and even more beautiful (I think) than she was in her 1940's films!  She gives a terrific, heart-tugging performance. What mom doesn't want a normal life for her child?!  What mom wouldn't do everything in her power to see her child happy?!  I could really identify with her heart, even if not her actions.

Rossano Brazzi is incredibly handsome and dashing---very much the stereotypical Italian gentleman.  And his lovely accent only adds to his charm!  George Hamilton is very good in his role.  While there are moments when his character seems a bit too immature to be a 23-year old man, the bulk of the time, he is kind, caring, loving, and sincere.  Mr. Hamilton brings Fabrizio beautifully to life.

Yvette Mimieux---in one of her earliest films---is really terrific. She's incredibly beautiful here, and she plays the part of the innocent, childlike Clara perfectly. She was 20-years old at the time, portraying a character who was supposed to be 26.  I never took her for 26...and not just because her character's brain injury had left her with a mental capacity of a 10-year old. Had the film not given the age she was supposed to be, because she is so youthful-looking, I would have taken her for about 18, 20 at the most.

Filled with wonderful, gracious characters you can't help but care about, Light in the Piazza is a lovely, charming, heart-tugging film, well worth viewing. Out on DVD, it should be fairly easy to track down.  I hope you get a chance to see it!

NOTE:  This article has also been published at They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To (HERE), where July 2013 is "Olivia deHavilland Month."

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A Life In Full Bloom: Joan Fontaine's Graceful Second Act

A few months ago Carmel Magazine's Rebecca L. Knight interviewed Joan at her house in Carmel for a short feature.

In it Joan talks of her love for her dogs, her roses, and Cary Grant!

The interview can be found here, pages 82 through 85, or you can read it in full below.

Special thanks to tumblr user theotherdehavillandgirl for finding the interview!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Recommended: An Olivia-Joan Facebook Fan Page

For lots of great photos of Olivia and Joan, be sure to check out the page devoted to them, The Olivia de Havilland & Joan Fontaine Society 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943)

Note: This post is part of the John Garfield centennial blogathon hosted by Patti of They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To 

This year marks the 70th Anniversary of Thank Your Lucky Stars, a spirit-lifting all-star musical from Warner Bros., featuring some of its top players in cameos, including  John Garfield. This year also marks the 100th anniversary of Mr. Garfield's birth (he was born March 4, 1913).

Olivia appears in the film too, in a short routine which I'll write about toward the end of this post.

All of the songs and dances are tied together in a plot involving two producers (Edward Everet Horton and SK Sakall) looking for stars to perform at their benefit concert.

The movie opens with Horton & Sakall in the audience of comedian Eddie Cantor's radio show in Hollywood, California. The show - one of the biggest variety shows on the air at the time - regularly featured singer Dinah Shore, and she appears in this film too, playing herself. After she performs, the producers are determined to recruit her for the benefit.

This was Ms Shore's first movie appearance, and she performs 3 songs in the film.  

Mr. Cantor has a duel role as himself and as a mild-mannered taxi driver, Joe.  Everyone mistakes Joe for the real Cantor, even Dinah at one point.

One of the funniest parts of the movie has Cantor trapped in a room with a bunch of dogs and maple syrup. There's no easy way to describe it; you just have to see it.

The other two actors driving the plot along - and adding a little romance to the movie - are Joan Leslie and Dennis Morgan playing aspiring showbiz performers. Joan shows off her comedic chops throughout the movie, and does a funny imitation of her Yankee Doodle Dandy co-star Jimmy Cagney (who's not in this picture).

John Garfield appears within the first 10 minutes and plays himself as a guest on the Cantor show. Paroding his tough guy image, he is seen "threatening" Cantor backstage before the two exchange some funny wisecracks on stage. He then performs a unique rendition of "Blues in the Night", which was first introduced in the 1941 Warner Bros. film of the same name and became a big hit. According to IMDb, Garfield was originally considered to play the lead in Blues in the Night, but for whatever reason he turned it down. Perhaps his singing the tune was a way to make amends.

John Garfield singing - one of the film's highlights 

And that's just the first star cameo. Many more are to come. Olivia de Havilland performs alongside Ida Lupino (her Devotion co-star) and George Tobias (her Strawberry Blond co-star) in a silly jitterbug dance. It's funny to see Olivia jive dancing and chewing bubblegum at the same time. This was a rare time Olivia ever sings in a film, although this is not entirely true because her voice was actually dubbed by another singer. Overall, the skit lasts only about 5 minutes; arguably, it's not one of the more memorable ones in the film. Sorry, Olivia.

Some other of my favorite bits in the film feature some of Olivia's best-known co-stars: Bette Davis, Errol Flynn, and Hattie MacDaniel.

"You're Never Too Young Or Two Old" is performed by Bette Davis, the first and only time she sings a song on film. And it's her own voice, too! In the number she laments the lack of available men during the war. The catchy song was nominated for an Oscar for Best Song that year.

"That's What You Jolly Well Get" is set in an English pub, and  Errol Flynn is amusing as a jolly chap who performs the song with a strong cockney accent and beer in hand. It's funny to see him in his handlebar mustache. One of the signs in the barroom reads "Drink Wine in Winter for Cold and In Summer for Heat". 

"Ice Cold Katie" features Hattie MacDaniel (as "The Gossip") in an ensemble number about a girl who will not return the affection of a young soldier (Willie Best) waiting at her doorstep. Ms McDaniel and a chorus of singers and dancers urge Katie to "marry that soldier".

"Katie" is played by Rita Christiani; "The Justice" is played by Jess Lee Brooks
Adding to the fun with various other musical numbers include Spike Jones & the City Slickers, Ann Sheridan, Alexis Smith, and  Alan Hale & Jack Carson.  

Non-musical cameos by Don Wilson, Frank Faylan, and Mike Mazurki as Cantor's bodyguard.

Humphrey Bogart is the only big name in the picture who does not sing or dance.

All of the stars in the film donated their salaries to the Hollywood Canteen, where solders came for entertainment during WW2 (Mr Garfield and Ms Davis were co-founders).

Thank Your Lucky Stars is available on DVD.

If you see it, you'll thank your lucky stars that you did!

This post is featured in Patti's blogathon devoted to the films of John Garfield in celebration of Mr. Garfield's centennial year.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Coming Next Weekend: John Garfield Blogathon

Next weekend, Olivia & Joan contributor Patti will be hosting a John Garfield 100th Birthday Blogathon, over at They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To.
Olivia & Joan will have a special post on the all-star musical  Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943), in which Mr. Garfield's sketch is one of the highlights.

Also in the film, Olivia de Havilland performs in a song-and-dance number with Ida Lupino and George Tobias.  

Bette Davis and Errol Flynn also perform.

I'll talk more about the movie on Friday March 1st. Stay tuned!

For more information on the blogathon, visit Patti's blog here to view the current schedule or to sign up.