Five Top Five of November — Vivien Leigh

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Hey, classic film fans! I know it’s been quite a while since I have updated this blog, but I was unexpectedly ill. I know I was unable to do a couple of the blogathons that I signed up for, but I have one of them mostly completed and I’m back and announcing some original content for this month: my Five Top Five series! On five various classic film stars’ birthdays throughout November, I’ll be ranking my top five favorite films of theirs and offering my recommendations. I’m obviously starting today with the incomporable Vivien Leigh! I sincerely hope you all enjoy my lists, and if they’re well-recieved I may even make a Five Top Five for December!

5. That Hamilton Woman (1941)

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Birthday girl Vivien Leigh looking lovelier than ever in That Hamilton Woman (1941).

This was birthday girl Vivien’s third and final collaboration with her offscreen love Laurence Olivier, and quite easily the best of the three. Vivien portrays Lady Emma Hamilton, mistress to Lord Horatio Nelson, and ironically this was the only film that Leigh and Olivier made while they were actually married. The film has everything from romance to action, and loads of drama. While it truly is a masterpiece as far as art direction and cinematography go, it fails to capture the attention of the audience during its entire two-hour running time. The film can hardly be blamed, though, considering the fact that it takes place during the span of twenty-five years, and it was directed by Alexander Korda, who often sacrificed excitement in his films for the sake of asthetic. All in all, I would say that if you’re a diehard fan of Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier and don’t mind some dull moments, I would strongly recommend giving this historical melodrama a go today!

4. A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

I’m going to begin this one with an unpopular opinion: When it comes to Vivien’s most famous roles, A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) has always ranked pretty low in my mind. Truthfully I would probably have placed it last on my list were it not for the fact that it’s truly a mesmerizing film with superb acting from everyone involved. Even in my youth I held a distaste for Marlon Brando’s role of Stanley Kowalski and Vivien’s infamous portrayal of Blance DuBois. Both seemed to be unlikable characters to me, but as time went on I learned more about the actors personal lives, and how separate they were from the fictitious characters that the two of them played onscreen. In fact, I would cite this film as one of the few that really served as hurdles for me in learning that just because a character in a film is unlikable, it does not make the film poor as a whole. I’ll admit that I haven’t seen this picture since I came to that realization, but I would strongly recommend it to anyone who is even remotely a fan of Vivien’s and wants to see her acting prowess in all its glory.

3. The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961)

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Vivien and Warren Beatty make a steamy pair in The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961).

Among Leigh’s final films we find another one of her gems in this Tennessee Williams adaptation. She plays the aging actress Mrs. Karen Stone, who accompanies her husband on a trip to Rome only for him to pass away during the flight. Karen ends up making the best of it once she sets her eyes on the youthful Italian Paolo di Leo in what was Warren Beatty’s first starring role. Despite the fact that Leigh has the lead, it’s difficult not to want to pay more attention to her character’s captivating lover, and it’s no wonder because Beatty beat out dozens of other actors for the part. This film has ranked among my favorites since I first watched it years ago, and I still believe that it truly shows how wrong some of the studios were in their reluctance to cast aging actresses. It’s even quite depressing to see her taking on such a brilliant and challenging part while knowing that she only starred in one more film after the completion of this one, but it’s a must for any fan of Vivien’s who wishes to scratch beneath the surface of some of her more glamorous parts.

2. Gone with the Wind (1939)

I know what you’re thinking. This is a perfect movie if there ever was one, and I quite agree, but there is one more film of Vivien’s that I find to be perfect as well that holds just a bit larger of a place in my heart. Still, I intend to give credit where credit is due, and Gone with the Wind (1939) is a masterpiece. Vivien is superb in her breakout role (one that she beat out hundreds of other legendary actresses for), and it makes me both sorry and glad that she took the part of the notorious Scarlett O’Hara because she was rejected for the role of Cathy in Laurence Olivier’s Wuthering Heights (1939). Her acting in this and many other of her great works show that she would have excelled in both parts, but the world certainly will never forget her Oscar-winning performance. Of course the supporting cast is incomporable as well, and the film won eight Academy Awards in all. No birthday marathon or salute to Vivien Leigh would be complete without this four-hour epic that truly defines what it means to be a classic.

1. Waterloo Bridge (1940)

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Vivien and Robert Taylor melting everyone’s hearts in Waterloo Bridge (1940).

Here’s a classic that I find is hardly talked about nowadays. In Vivien’s first film after making Gone with the Wind (1939), she portrays demure ballet dancer Myra Lester, who in an almost two-hour flashback gets swept up into a whirlwind romance with a British officer during World War I. A miscommunication leads the blissful couple into dark and dangerous territory, however, when Myra is led to believe that her fiancé is dead. It appears considering the release date that this was supposed to be an early source of comparison for World War II, and the absolute beauty of the story, screenplay, and cinematography makes it a tough act to follow. I think it’s a real shame that this film is among Leigh’s lesser known ones, and she pairs with Robert Taylor so perfectly that it makes me wish that the two of them had been onscreen lovers more often. It does take a couple of watches for the audience to really build connections and emotions for the characters, but I would absolutely recommend this flawless picture to any fan of romantic dramas and our birthday girl, as it is certainly among my favorites of all time.

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