Sunday, May 18, 2008

Joan & Olivia

There is a nice article in The Independent about the sibling rivalry between Joan Fontaine and Olivia de Havilland, both in their nineties now.

I have become a huge fan of Joan Fontaine after watching Letter from an Unknown Woman. She is great in Rebecca and Suspicion too but Letter is in a totally different league. I am not that familiar with her elder sister. The only film of hers that I have seen is William Wyler's The Heiress which I didn't like that much. She is actually quite good in it, in fact she won her second Oscar for this role but the film itself is overly simplistic and even manipulative. I understand it is not fair to criticise a melodrama for being melodramatic, but unlike in a good melodrama the exaggerations, the emotionalism, arbitrary plot reversals etc are not used to challenge viewer's expectations but rather to reinforce pre-existing ideas. All the actors are quite good though, and the film is certainly worth watching. I need to read Henry James' novel Washington Square too, on which it is based.


Jabberwock said...

I had a crush on Fontaine in my early days of discovering classic Hollywood, but somehow I could never bring myself to like De Havilland - thought she came across as cold and calculating, even in her performance as the sweet Melanie in GWTW.

Puccinio said...

Well they're both gifted talents. In any case their sibling rivalry and the coverage over it makes little sense to me. Think it's sad that two old biddies still won't talk to each other. I bet the one who dies first and gets the coverage of the obituaries will be the one that laughs last.

I personally think that Olivia de Havilland is a better actress but Joan Fontaine appeared in more great films. Isn't that how the bouncing ball usually bounces?

I think that ''The Heiress'' is a great film, and Marty Scorsese agrees. It's a very caustic, very bitter film quite unusual for Hollywood to make. She's also great in a fantastic underrated gem of a film made in the late 30's(it's not on DVD) called ''The Great Garrick''. She did well in ''The Snake Pitt'' and ''The Dark Mirror'' as well.

Joan Fontaine worked with Hitchcock twice, then Ophuls and then starred in Lang's last American film(in a thankless but important role) and also appeared in Ida Lupino's directorial debut, ''The Bigamist''. Of the two she was the greater beauty as well, I suppose.

But De Havilland has significance for being an actress who became the first performer in Hollywood to rebel against the repressive salaries and work conditions of the Studio System, something she did at great risk of her career.

Alok said...

jai: Oh yes, I forgot GWTW. She is actually quite good in The Heiress but yes, in a "calculating" sort of way - very actress-y. Joan Fontaine in comparison was more spontaneous.

Puccinio: I think the article was written in a light vein. It may even just be one of those Hollywood legends or myths. The comment about The Heiress was probably unfair.. it is definitely one of the better melodramas of the classic age. The bitter ending was definitely a big surprise.

Thanks for adding to my film IQ btw. I am surprised at how strong your memory is. I can't seem to hold on to anything that is more than a couple of years old.