December 9, 2014

Olivia de Havilland, Hold Back the Dawn

as EMMY BROWN
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It seems as though Olivia de Havilland's work in Hold Back the Dawn is primarily associated with being the nominated performance to which she was pitted against Joan Fontaine in an epic SISTER VS. SISTER showdown, and not as much is written about the actual performance itself. And perhaps rightfully so. After having recently rewatched Gone with the Wind, I found myself supremely impressed by the warm veritas of de Havilland's Melanie Hamilton, much more so than on my very first watch years ago. Her role as Emmy here in Hold Back the Dawn is pretty much in the same vein as that of Melanie, and I mean that as both a good and a bad thing.

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 photo ScreenShot2014-12-07at43507PM1.jpgFor starters, I'll say that I think de Havilland is an impeccably warm and hospitable presence. She underscores Emmy with a sweet naiveté that made me care for her as well as fear for her impending heartbreak once Charles Boyer's secrets are inevitably revealed. Much like her work in Gone with the Wind, de Havilland has a knack for using her softness to make herself captivating, and she certainly does so here. But there is something so desperately lacking to this performance in comparison to her Melanie, and I feel that it has to do with de Havilland being hampered down by her script. Emmy isn't given a lead character-treatment (had this been in the supporting category I'd probably be more impressed) and thus the role itself is too thin for my liking. de Havilland is far too intelligent an actress to successfully pull off the notion (not that she even tries) that she would be so gullible as to fall for and marry a foreigner within a day of meeting him (on a tangent, WTF is it with old movies and people excitedly proclaiming their love for each other/marrying each other after having known each other for day or two?). The character is rather one-dimensional, calling for a lot of awestruck and glazed facial reaction shots to reinforce this idea that Emmy is an innocent and naïve woman, with not much else to show. And it doesn't seem like de Havilland is up for the challenge of digging deeply into the character to layer her with something other than blatant awe. Thus, this performance felt like it wanted to be another Melanie Hamilton, but just without the benefit of more screen time and better characterization. Save for a solid scene with Paulette Goddard and the resulting follow-up scene with Boyer and Walter Abel, I found Emmy to be too much of a simple person (warm as she is) to truly, connect to. It's a character archetype I've seen numerous times by now--that of the very loving, very kind girlfriend or wife--but unfortunately I don't think de Havilland brings anything to the table here that I haven't seen before from countless other ladies.

Another big fat THANK YOU to Alex in Movieland for hooking me up with this movie :)
(Now please get back to blogging ASAP so I don't feel so dreadfully alone in doing all this)

8 comments:

  1. What's your thoughts on Boyer?

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    1. I thought Boyer was pretty good! Certainly worthy of a nomination (I'd obviously put him in over Cooper or Grant), and I think I prefer his performance here than to the two I've already reviewed.

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    2. I deslike Boyer very much overall, but I think he's perfect here.

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  2. Ouch. I thought she was lovely and perfect for the role and almost sells the story.

    "had this been in the supporting category I'd probably be more impressed" - should we judge like that? :) I mean screentime is always a factor, but... Does this mean you'll give Geraldine Page for Interiors (-2) just because she's in it for just 15 minutes? :)

    and yes, what did you think of Boyer?

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    1. It's hard for me to explain, but my grading criteria is a completely different monster for supporting as it is for lead. With supporting I factor in how the performance made me feel for its limited time frame. With lead, I expect a sizable screentime, so when a borderline supporting role gets nominated for lead it really has to POP and make a huge impression on me as well as the film in order for me to give it a higher rating (hence my 3 for Greer in Chips...criminally small, but highly impressionable for me in spite of a tiny screen time :D) And unfortunately, de Havilland just didn't make a very good impression on me with this one. Ironic because she made a huge impression on me in Gone with the Wind, and she probably has more screen time as Melanie than she does as Emmy.

      I really liked Boyer :) And I thought Paulette was awesome as well, so I agree with you on both of those :D (i think it was you that told me you liked Paulette..?)

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    2. No, it wasn't me about Paulette. :)
      I just liked Boyer, Olivia and the film overall.

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    3. realized part of my comment got deleted on accident...

      "hence my 3 for Greer in Chips...criminally small, but highly impressionable for me in spite of a tiny screen time" BUT if I were rating Greer in Chips for the Supporting category, I'd definitely bump it up to a 4, because of the performance and because she obviously does a great job at supporting Donat :D

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  3. The movie is a classic

    http://www.classicmoviesandtvcom.com/product/hold-back-the-dawn-dvd-olivia-de-havilland-charles-boyer-1941

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