Olivia de Havilland received her second Oscar nomination for playing Emmy Brown, a naive young woman falling for a Romanian gigolo in the Best Picture nominee, Hold Back the Dawn. The relationship between Joan Fontaine and Olivia has always been extremely complicated, they've always been extremely competitive. And it all became worse when Joan won her first Oscar over her sister in 1942. Apparently (though I don't really know how credible an imdb board can be), it was later revealed to Olivia that she lost only by seven votes and she would have won in a tie if she had voted for herself instead of the great Barbara Stanwyck. Now figure...
Hold Back the Dawn was quite boring when I was watching it. Now, however, I feel much better about it and in conclusion, I can say that I actually liked it very much. It was well-written and directed, it wasn't too clichéd and there was something engaging about it that did not let you take your eyes off the screen. Charles Boyer was a great actor in my opinion (moreover, Olivia also spoke about him with real fondness) and he was always able to avoid the most typical flaws. I think he would have deserved a Best Actor nomination for this movie. Paulette Godard was also good, though I wasn't that impressed by her.
Olivia de Havilland is a strange case, for me at the very least. On the one hand, I cannot overlook her overall effect on American cinema and the 1940s. On the other hand, sometimes I just cannot put up with her. To those who need further explanation, I'll tell that I hate when I suspect that something/someone is fake. It really gets on my nerves to see typical, obvious acting by anyone. In To Each His Own and The Snake Pit, that was the case with Olivia. She sacrificed the credibility of her whole performance in order to make the audience sob and care about her. Why? I really don't understand that, I would have cared about her anyway. Second, her presence is not strong enough I think in many cases. It might also be the fact that she was given these good Christian virgin roles, which is not very complicated.
Now you can imagine how much prejudice I had with this performance. However, I must also say, that there were two sides of my expectations. I thought she would both fail and succeed for me, and by this I ended up expecting absolutely nothing. I sat down and watched her. And that was the very best decision. Ironically, one of the expectations has proven right (yes, I am going to tell which).
The character is called Emmy Brown. Every time I heard her name, either the Emmy award or Doctor Emmett Brown came to my mind. Although it did not mean anything at the time, now it's quite funny. At least for me. Emmy (in a way) is extremely similar to Catharine Sloper in the fascinating movie, The Heiress. They are both extremely naive, shy and sensitive, and they are so easily influenced by a kind word from a man. They are not saying much, however they have a real depth. However, I never heard that silent scream on Olivia's face now, which was apparent in The Heiress. Emmy is not a bitter spinster yet, she's young, caring, loving, inexperienced. Olivia perfected these naive roles and Emmy perfectly represents this. Olivia really understood Emmy, I think and somehow I felt this, I barely noticed those obvious moments. It's very strange that she worked quite well with me this time around.
I was quite scared in the beginning that she was going to be weak once again, but everything went smoothly and easily after a while (exactly when Emmy starts her relationship with Georges). There's a kissing scene, where Olivia is so brilliant at showing how scared this young woman is from that man. Her chemistry with Charles Boyer is just fantastic and I feel that both performers were able to benefit from this fruitful working relationship.
Still, there's one scene which totally blew me away, and there I said, 'OK Olivia, I give up! You won.' Those who have seen the movie must know which scene I'm talking about (yes, it's the blessing in the church). Olivia's playing with her face is so thrillingly brilliant. It was simply terrific to follow her emotions all the way. It was a very interesting and memorable sequence which totally won me over. The other one was her confrontation scene with Paulette Godard, where a more bitchy side of Emmy is shown apart from her naivete. It's so interesting to see her stick to her beliefs about Georges so staunchly. It was again an excellent sequence.
Although sometimes Olivia's performance in this movie is a bit slow-paced, she's still able to be very impressive and loveable. I'm not saying that I was blown away, I was quite impressed by her this time around. This was the perfect prologue to her once-in-a-lifetime work in The Heiress. I might even reconsider my thoughts about her. Well done.
I think I'll leave Bette last to let the big Bette fans wait. Plus I feel the need to make Joan the next. We'll see.