The Second Annual Olivia de Havilland + Errol Flynn Blogathon: Dodge City (1939)

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Hi, everybody! I honestly had my doubts that I would be able to write up any blogathon entries while participating in TCM Presents The Master of Suspense: 50 Years of Hitchcock from June 26th until August 7th, but despite the heavy workload I found time to watch Dodge City (1939) once again and write my review! I’d like to thank Crystal of In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood for orchestrating another fun weekend honoring one of the most iconic women in cinema history on her 101st birthday, as well as one of my personal favorite iconic men. I can’t wait to read all of the other amazing entries and participate in this wonderful blogathon next year!

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Theatrical poster for Dodge City (1939).

The film takes place in Dodge City, a small town built at the Western end of a newly established railroad named after the railroad’s constructor and the town’s founder Colonel Dodge (Henry O’Neill). A dear friend of Colonel Dodge is Texan and cattle agent Wade Hatton (Errol Flynn), who soon makes his way to Dodge City with a herd of steer and a wagon trail in tow. Among the settlers in the trail are Abbie Irving (portrayed by our birthday girl Olivia de Havilland) and her brother Lee (William Lundigan). Wade takes an immediate liking to Abbie, but Lee causes trouble by drunkenly firing his gun and causing the steer to stampede, leaving a trail of devastation in their wake. When Lee begins to shoot at Wade he draws his own pistol in order to defend himself, which result’s in Lee’s death when he is unable to escape the stampede that he caused.

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Olivia de Havilland and William Lundigan in a scene from Dodge City (1939).

Wade’s interest in Abbie doesn’t fade despite her loss of interest in her brother’s killer, and when the trail arrives to Dodge City Abbie moves in with her uncle, the town’s resident doctor. And does the town certainly need a doctor as lawlessness and anarchy run rampant as the city grows in population. Shootings are more commonplace than anything else, and Jeff Surrett (Bruce Cabot) and his men serve as the ringleaders of chaos and crime. Wade seems to be the only man in town with enough courage to stand up to the league of bandits, and after stepping in to save his adorable friend Rusty (Alan Hale) from Surrett’s noose, the town rallies for him to become Dodge City’s resident sherriff. At first he turns down the job out of fear of commitment and settling down, but once a young boy in the town is killed by Surrett and his cronies, Wade takes the position and vows to make the streets safe. Will Wade succeed in his task, or will Surrett run him out of town just as he did to the sherriffs before him? Will Wade be able to convince Abbie of his honorable intentions?

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Olivia de Havilland and Errol Flynn sharing a romantic scene from Dodge City (1939).

Dodge City (1939) was the fifth of nine movies made by Olivia de Havilland and Errol Flynn, Warner Brothers’ resident romantic pair at the time. Flynn shines in his first ever Western, though he later wrote in his autobiography, My Wicked, Wicked Ways (1959), that he felt miscast in the genre due to his English accent. He would later go on to excel in Westerns anyway, and scriptwriters found unique and creative ways to write his accent into the story, just as they did with this film. Olivia de Havilland had misgivings about her part in Dodge City (1939) as well, feeling that the project as a letdown in her career. She had grown frustrated with the lack of depth in her roles as an ingenue, and her pleading to Warner Brothers to cast her as saloon girl Ruby Gilman was ignored by the studio (the role would eventually go to Ann Sheridan).

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Olivia de Havilland and Errol Flynn in a publicity still from Dodge City (1939).

In all honesty, I must admit that I don’t understand Olivia’s point of view. While I can agree that the role of Abbie Irving is rather two-dimensional, it gave Olivia ample time onscreen (as much as her leading man Errol Flynn, if not more), and the character was quite motivational and feminist for the time as Abbie maintained a steady job as an instrumental reporter for the Dodge City Star. Even more confusing was the fact that Ann Sheridan’s time onscreen was practically a cameo, and an unmemorable one at that despite my love for her as an actress. Nevertheless, for her own reasons the filming of Dodge City (1939) remained an unhappy time for Olivia as she fell victim to the Hollywood studio system. “It was a period in which she was given to constant fits of crying and long days spent at home in bed,” wrote author Tony Thomas in his book, The Films of Olivia de Havilland (1983). “She was bored with her work and while making Dodge City (1939) she claims that she even had trouble remembering her lines.”

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Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland on the set of Dodge City (1939).

Flynn and de Havilland’s distaste with their roles just goes to show that sometimes great films come out of the misery of the artists who made them, because while I’m not often a fan of Westerns I find Dodge City (1939) to be among my favorites, and the picture will always go down as one of the quality films from one of the best onscreen couples. While their acting in the film was excellent as usual, the Technicolor by Natalie Kalmus and Morgan Padelford and cinematography by Sol Polito undoubtedly impressed me the most, and I don’t exaggerate when I say that it’s the most beautiful looking Western ever made (the only one that even comes close for me is Red Canyon (1949), which looks strikingly similar). All in all, if you’re looking for a unique and excellent Western to watch on Olivia de Havilland’s birthday, this is obviously the movie for you!

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Five Stars Blogathon — My Top Five Favorite Classic Film Stars

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Hello, everyone! I’m back after yet another long absence, but I promise that I have some very exciting original content in the works, all having to do with stars and food! Today, however, I’m celebrating National Classic Movie Day, what should be my favorite day of the year yet is a holiday that I wasn’t even aware of until this wonderful blogathon idea came about! Speaking of which, I’d of course like to thank Rick of Classic Film and TV Café for giving me such a difficult task as listing only five stars that I consider my favorite. If you’d like to see more lists and more stars than you can count in the sky, you can find a list of all of the blogathon’s participants here!

5. Grace Kelly

77Let me admit first and foremost that Grace Kelly was not my first favorite actress. That honor goes to Natalie Wood, who would undoubtedly be on this list if I had only one or two more spots to fill. However, Grace was the first actress that I became truly obsessed with and wanted desperately to become. She simply oozed elegance and talent from the moment that I first saw her in Dial M for Murder (1954) almost ten years ago, but I didn’t truly appreciate her until I saw her photograph in Entertainment Weekly’s book, 100 Greatest Stars of All Time, and there read about her incredibly charmed life. Little by little her influence took over my wardrobe, my manner of speaking, and the way that I carried myself as I began to watch the rest of her filmography. Grace only made eleven films, but I’m proud to say that I’ve seen and treasured every single one. Few women have ever had what it takes to make the transition from socialite to actress, and even fewer still have ever been taken seriously after the fact. Grace not only survived, but thrived in Hollywood during her time there, winning a well-deserved Academy Award for Best Actress for The Country Girl (1954) as well as the heart of Prince Rainier of Monaco. Alfred Hitchcock, the iconic director to whom Grace Kelly was a muse, was quoted as saying, “They all said at first she was cold, sexless. But to me she was always a snow-covered volcano.” I completely agree, and as an actress, princess, and philanthropist, Grace did it all with a style and gentle femininity that no one else could ever possess, and I believe that she was more like a shooting star than a twinkling one, a fleeting and rare beauty the likes of which will never be seen again.

Favorite Film — High Society (1956)

4. Errol Flynn

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I think it’s safe to say that Errol Flynn is my most enduring love on this list. He started out as one of my favorite actors and has continued to be among the best in my book since the beginning of my appreciation of classic film. I feel like I’ve adored him since I’ve known what a classic film was, and what makes him stand out even more among the rest is the fact that he is one of the few actors who have had the talent that’s required in order to have a genre all to themselves. No one could star in a thrilling swashbuckler the way that Flynn could, and hardly anyone dared to try, yet in all honesty the way that he handles a sword has little to do with my love for him. Like I’m sure it’s been with everyone else ever since Errol Flynn cemented himself as a legend, his reputation preceded him, and as soon as I saw his devilish smile, heard his unique and seductive accent, and read about his notorious philanderings, I knew that I had fallen and would never want to get back up. His movies are the evidence that’s left of the endless charm and wit that he possessed that no other actor could ever come close to having for themselves. While many have tried, who could really strut into a banquet hall with a buck slung over his shoulders as effortlessly and formidably as Flynn did in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)? No one, that’s who. Underneath all of that magnetism there was still a very real man with very real feelings that he didn’t reveal to many that knew him, and his offscreen love for Olivia de Havilland that was only chronicled in his autobiography released after his death shows how far from his sleeve his heart remained. I think that his complexity and inaccessibility makes him even more attractive, and for that reason and so many others Flynn will remain the apple of my eye for all time.

Favorite Film — Captain Blood (1937)

3. Jayne Mansfield

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I just want to take this time to mention that I have a thing for blondes. I feel that blondes exude the ultimate level of femininity and sex appeal that makes everyone around them stop and stare, and there were so many who made their mark in the golden age of Hollywood that I could have easily filled all five of the spots on this list with fair-haired icons that I admire. Grace Kelly already stole my heart and the fifth spot on this list, so the three ladies who battled it out for the third were Marilyn Monroe, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and Jayne Mansfield. I have such a deep affection for all three and feel that they could have each made their way to this ranking for various reasons. Still, I’ve decided to give this title to Jayne Mansfield, because she holds the nearest and dearest place in my heart. Jayne was criminally underrated in my opinion, and while it’s easy to say that the studio system decimated nearly as many careers as it created, I feel that Hollywood was possibly the most unkind to Jayne, and as a result she doesn’t have the respect and acclaim today that she most certainly deserves. All she wanted was to be a star and a mother, but in return she was put forth as a second-rate Marilyn Monroe, and that is exactly what history has accepted her as, though nothing could be farther from the truth. Jayne was practically a genius, fluent in five languages and a virtuoso of the piano and violin. Motherhood and her fans were the most important things in her life, and her kindness and enduring generosity stretched like a blanket over her children and the public. All in all, the misconceptions about Jayne are insurmountable, and I consider myself to be one of the biggest fans of the person that she truly was. Her devotion to her children and her relationship with her daughter Jayne Marie in particular, combined with the struggles that she faced during her lifetime remind me so much of my own mother that an even deeper level of adoration is given to her when I watch her films (if that’s even possible), and because of that and so many other things, my love for Jayne won’t ever fade.

Favorite Film — The Girl Can’t Help It (1955)

2. Rita Hayworth

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Can you believe that even after all of that  deliberation over my favorite blonde bombshells, I chose a redhead as my favorite actress? Of course not just any redhead either, but the redhead in my eyes. To me, Rita Hayworth is the pinnacle of Hollywood perfection. It took all of Hollywood and its electrolysis treatments and acting lessons to get Rita to the top, but once she was there she exploded onto the silver screen like an atomic bomb (she did have one named after her, after all). Rita had the opposite effect on me that Grace Kelly did. I discovered both of them in the same book, and while Grace was an instant favorite, Rita took years to take up the second largest spot my heart, but now that she has, she isn’t going anywhere. Both Rita and Grace embody everything that I want to be, but while Grace exudes a cool and unattainable kind of perfection, Rita is the kind of flawless that seems within the realm of possiblity to achieve. The shy and sweet personality that she maintained offscreen led everyone who knew her to consider her one of the nicest people in Hollywood, yet those same qualities made her easy for others to take advantage of. Onscreen, however, a completely different person took over, a daring and sexy femme fatale that no one could hurt or destroy. Her acting and dancing abilities were unrivaled, and her singing would have been too had Columbia head Harry Cohn allowed her to use her quality singing voice in her films. Still, her talents led her to excel in every type of film under the sun, from dreamy Technicolor musicals like Cover Girl (1944) and Down to Earth (1947) to chilling noirs like Gilda (1947) and The Lady From Shanghai (1946). While most consider her simply a love goddess, I consider her a glimmering and talented woman whose cinematic accomplishments are severely underappreciated today.

Favorite Film — Cover Girl (1944)

1. Tyrone Power

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Somehow for me writing about Tyrone Power is the toughest part of making this list. On one hand I feel that my adoration for Ty goes beyond words, but on the other there’s so much that I could say about him that I could probably fill a book. He’s yet another star on this list that I’ve had a passion for for many, many years, ever since I first saw him in Marie Antoinette (1938). He was the epitome of a Casanova, and the amourous dialogue that he delivered to Norma Shearer in the film was the best that I had ever seen. In just under three hours he swept both of us off our feet, and after that I dove straight into the rabbit hole, immersing myself in facts about him and his life and watching as many of his films as I could get my hands on. Over the years, I’ve practically become a historian of Tyrone Power, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I consider him to have two eras in film: the light-hearted romantic movies that he made when he started out as a young matinee idol, and the rugged aventure films he made after returning from his service in World War Two that offered him more challenging parts and scripts. Ty himself preferred the latter, but I simply can’t resist how downright beautiful and charming he appears in films like Love is News (1937) and Thin Ice (1937). Like Flynn, he had a bit of a rebellious streak that makes me even more devoted to him. He loved to play practical jokes on his friends and costars, and was considered one of the funniest men in Tinseltown who wasn’t a professional comedian. Underneath the fun and games, however, was a complicated actor who struggled to break away from his romantic leading man image and be taken seriously in pictures. He even went as far as to say that he wished that he could have been in a car accident bad enough to ruin his looks and lead him to take on character actor roles that would allow him to rely on his talent. His biggest dramatic success came late in his life with Witness for the Prosecution (1957), too late to save himself from the ill health that he brought upon himself. His magnificent performances have been unfortunately consigned to oblivion for the most part, and I think that it’s a crying shame. The title that history has given Ty, “The Forgotten Idol”, may be true for many today, but he means so much to me that I won’t be able to forget him for as long as I live.

Favorite Film — Love is News (1937)

 

 

 

 

Olivia de Havilland Centenary Blogathon: My Analysis of The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939)

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I would like to begin by thanking the two gracious hosts of this wonderful blogathon, Crystal of In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Phyllis of Phyllis Loves Classic Movies. I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate the birthday of such an iconic actress, and it’s easy to see that both of you worked very hard to make this possible! I’m incredibly honored to participate in this blogathon, I wish Olivia an incredibly happy hundredth birthday, and without further ado, on with the post!

After the resounding success of Gone With the Wind, our birthday girl Olivia de Havilland had hoped that Warner Brothers head Jack Warner would recognize her star potential and offer her more prominent and challenging roles. However, realizing that he could have a diva in the making he decided to try putting her in her place and giving her the thankless role of Penelope Gray, Queen Elizabeth’s lady-in-waiting in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, presenting her with a measly third billing below the title and the names of stars Bette Davis and Errol Flynn. Despite the fact that Olivia was hardly present during the entirety of the film, it allowed her to be paired with some of her most frequent costars and collaborators. It marked her sixth of nine films with love interest Errol Flynn, her second of four films with Bette Davis, and her eighth of eleven films with director Michael Curtiz.

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Theatrical poster for The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939). Notice de Havilland’s paltry billing below the title.

Interestingly, the artists involved with the film faced off almost as much as the characters did. This was Flynn’s sixth collaboration with Curtiz, and it appeared that his dislike for the director grew more intense with each passing film that they made together. To make matters worse, Bette Davis had initially campaigned for Laurence Olivier to be cast opposite her, and felt that Flynn was unfit to speak the blank verse of period pieces like The Private Lives. Her distaste for him climaxed when they were rehearsing a scene in which Elizabeth slaps Essex hard across the face, and Davis decided to slap him for real. Errol took the blow but vowed to retaliate if Bette chose to slap him again once the cameras started rolling. Luckily the take that was used in the film was an artificial slap, but it wasn’t until decades later that her opinion changed of his performance. While watching the film with costar Olivia, she exclaimed, “I was wrong, wrong, wrong. Flynn was brilliant!”. Just like Errol Flynn, it took decades for Bette Davis to change her opinion of Olivia de Havilland as well. Olivia had been a fan of Bette’s long before she first starred with her in It’s Love I’m After, but she was later quoted saying, “We had to make three pictures together for her to warm up to me.” while Bette replied, “I was probably jealous of you, you were so damn good looking.”. The two remained close friends until Davis’ death in 1981.

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Our birthday girl Olivia de Havilland looking as lovely and regal as ever as Lady Penelope Gray in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939).

The first thing that I noticed as I watched the film was how astoundingly beautiful both the cinematography and Technicolor were. The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex truly looks like a storybook in every sense of the word from the ornate costumes designed by Orry-Kelly to the obviously artifical foliage seen in the sets. De Havilland looks more like a Disney princess than a lady-in-waiting, while Davis looks surprisingly accurate as Queen Elizabeth II, and it is said that Davis herself took drastic steps to make the look possible, including shaving her eyebrows and two inches off of her hairline in order to achieve the illusion of baldness underneath her lavish wigs. She later mentioned that her eyebrows never grew back correctly, and that she had to use an eyebrow pencil to fill them in afterwards.

The story itself, based on the 1930 play Elizabeth the Queen by Maxwell Anderson, was obviously a poor depiction of Elizabeth’s reign. In fact, Flynn’s character was a cousin to Queen Elizabeth in reality, and many other aspects of the film appear to be fabricated. The film is entertaining in parts nonetheless, yet incredibly frustrating as both of the main characters are intensely opinionated and fight like cats and dogs the entire time, which leads to their relationship’s ultimate demise. Both Flynn and Davis seemed to portray themselves in the picture, which unfortunately only added to its inaccuracies. The only actor in the film who gave a truly unique performance was Olivia de Havilland, portraying a madly jealous and infatuated Penelope Gray who had the audacity to butt heads with and sabotage her queen at every turn.

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Frequent costars Olivia de Havilland and Errol Flynn in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939).

Despite how obviously immature her character seemed to be in her love for Essex, I still rooted for de Havilland to end up with Flynn in the end (but don’t we all?). I found myself on the edge of my seat waiting for her character to appear only to be let down as I sat through what seemed to be an hour and forty minutes of the Bette Davis show. Still, there were a couple of other supporting performances worthy of a mention, like Vincent Price and Nanette Fabray, both of whom I was delighted to see in practically cameo appearances. All in all, the film is a magnificent spectacle visually with a borderline fictional story that somehow managed to keep my attention, but if you’re looking to watch an Olivia de Havilland film on her hundredth birthday, I would recommend that you look elsewhere as she is practically nowhere to be seen.