Saturday, July 2, 2016

Olivia de Havilland In It's Love I'm After (1937)

 (This blog post is part of the Olivia de Havilland Centenary Blogathon hosted by In the Good Old Days of Old Hollywood and Phyllis Loves Classic Movies)

Today Olivia de Havilland is best known as Melanie Wilkes in Gone with the Wind (1939) or the female lead in the eight movies she made with Errol Flynn. When people think of other movies she made, it is often apt to be one of her dramas. That having been said, from the start of her career Olivia de Havilland made her fair share of comedies. In fact, one of my all time favourite Olivia de Havilland movies is a comedy: It's Love I'm After from 1937.

It's Love I'm After (1937) came about because British film star Leslie Howard wanted a change of pace. In the early to mid-Thirties Leslie Howard starred in a number of very serious dramas, including Of Human Bondage (1934), The Petrified Forest (1936), and Romeo and Juliet (1936).  He then decided that it was time for him to appear in a comedy. He suggested to producer Hal Wallis that they do a film adaptation of the story "Gentlemen After Midnight" by Maurice Hanline. "Gentlemen After Midnight" centred on a star of the stage who is constantly getting into spats with his leading lady (his on-again/off-again fiancée) and then finds his life is complicated even more when he agrees to get a starstruck fan over her infatuation with him.  Leslie Howard took the lead role of actor Basil Underwood, while Olivia de Havilland was cast in the role of starstruck debutante Marcia West.

The role of Basil Underwood's leading lady (and technically the female lead in It's Love I'm After) Joyce Arden proved more difficult to cast than the other two roles. Leslie Howard thought a stage actress with experience in comedy would be best in the role, and campaigned for either Gertrude Lawrence or Ina Claire. Unfortunately neither of them were well known for their work in movies. Producer Hal Wallis set up a meeting between director Archie Mayo and Miss Lawrence, and Mr. Mayo was convinced that Miss Lawrence could succeed in the role. Unfortunately Archie Mayo and Hal Wallis then watched the movie Men Are Not Gods (1936), in which Gertrude Lawrence starred. They both agreed that she didn't photograph well. Ultimately It's Love I'm After started shooting without the role of Joyce Arden even cast.

Eventually Hal Wallis decided that, like Leslie Howard, Warner Bros. star Bette Davis also needed a change of pace. Bette Davis had also played in several very serious dramas recently, including Dangerous (1935), The Petrified Forest (1936), and Marked Woman (1937).  As to Miss Davis, she was not particularly anxious to appear in It's Love I'm After. First, she had appeared in several films in a row without a break. Instead of taking on another film role, what she really wanted was some time off. Second, she thought the better female role was actually that of lovesick fan and heiress Marcia West, who was already being played by Olivia de Havilland. Third, she really did not like the fact that Leslie Howard would receive top billing over her. Fourth, she had already appeared with Mr. Howard in two films (Of Human Bondage and The Petrified Forest) and their relationship was not particularly smooth. Fortunately Hal Wallis was finally able to convince Bette Davis to take the role.

The rest of the cast of It's Love I'm After was filled with established comic actors, including Eric Blore as Underwood's valet Digges, Spring Byington as Marcia West's dizzy Aunt Ella, and George Barbier as Marcia's father William. Patric Knowles played Marcia's fiancé Henry Grant, who turns to Basil Underwood to take care of her obsession with him. Soon to be known for playing Nancy Drew, Bonita Granville played the rather clever Gracie Kane.

Despite difficulties in casting its leading lady, It's Love I'm After would prove to be a success on all levels. Casey Robison's script took the story "Gentlemen After Midnight" and transformed it into a top notch, Hollywood screwball comedy. Starting with the simple premise of a man asking a Shakespearean actor to cure his fiancée of her obsession with him, complications pile upon complications throughout the film. What is more, witty lines come almost one after another. The entire cast acquits themselves quite well. Leslie Howard shines as the egoistical, swaggering Basil Underwood, as does Bette Davis as the sharp tongued, often exasperated Joyce Arden. They are very convincing as two people who are in love, but whose personal failings really won't let them do anything about it. Eric Blore must also be commended for his role as Underwood's valet Digges. He successfully portrays a man who is often exasperated by this employer's misbehaviour, but at the same remains intensely loyal to him.

As to Olivia de Havilland, Bette Davis may well have been right in assuming that the better female role was that of starstruck debutante Marcia West. The script not only makes Marcia a more interesting character than actress Joyce Arden, giving her much more to do and some of the film's best lines, but Olivia de Havilland excelled in the role. She is very convincing as Marcia, who is so obsessed with Underwood that she ignores his misbehaviour and his all too high opinion of himself. She has a number of great lines, which she delivers with precision. What is more, Miss de Havilland was arguably at her most beautiful, which makes Joyce Arden's jealousy of Marcia all the more convincing. Although she was only 21 Olivia de Havilland had already played more mature roles in such films as Captain Blood (1935), Anthony Adverse (1936), and The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936), so it is refreshing to see her play a character her own age.

It's Love I'm After received largely positive reviews. In The New York Times it was written of the film, "It is a rippling farce, brightly written and deftly directed, and it has been played to the limit by an ingratiating cast." Time magazine referred to It's Love I'm After as "..refreshing, impudent fun: a buoyant cinema making faces at its precise old aunt, the theatre." The film also did moderate business at the box office.

Olivia de Havilland and Leslie Howard would appear in only one other movie together, a rather famous one called Gone with the Wind (1939). They would never have a chance to play opposite each other again. Leslie Howard was returning from Lisbon, Portugal to Bristol when the BOAC plane in which he was travelling was shot down by the Luftwaffe in 1943.

Today It's Love I'm After is not nearly as well known as other screwball comedies of the era, such as It Happened One Night (1934),  My Man Godfrey (1936), and Bringing Up Baby (1938). This is unfortunate, as it is truly one of the classics of  the era. It benefits from Archie Mayo's skilled direction as well as Casey Robinson's witty and at times biting screenplay. It has one of the best casts of any of the screwball comedies and that cast performs remarkably well. It's Love I'm After really deserves to be better known than it is. It also serves as a reminder of just how good Olivia de Havilland, better known for films in other genres, was at a comedy.


Judy said...

I've got to see this - what a great cast, and sounds like an unusual screwball plot. You make me realise that I haven't seen enough of de Havilland's comedies. Thanks for highlighting this overlooked film!

Caftan Woman said...

Before our current ease of recording "It's Love I'm After" would be shown on local television at the most awful times. Oh, the sleepless nights I had trying to watch this movie lengthened by commercials. But it was worth it!

Jocelyn said...

I loved this one; such a delightful confection. Leslie Howard was a revelation. And Ms de Havilland was gorgeous and pitch perfect. She really had some great roles to grow from at an early age.

Silver Screenings said...

This sounds wonderful! I see there are clips on YouTube, but I'm going to find a site where I can stream it. With a cast like this, I don't want to miss it. :)

Phyl said...

What a glowing review!! I love screwball comedies so I can't wait to watch this one!!! Olivia is fantastic at comedy roles, even if she didn't always want them :)

Thanks for this great entry to the Blogathon!!!

Joe Thompson said...

I'm convinced after reading your glowing review. I want to watch it.


You are the second blogger to give a lot of praise to this movie in the last few months. Now I really need to check this film out! It certainly will be worthwhile.
Don't forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)

Hamlette said...

I'm not a huge fan of screwball comedies, but once in a while I find one I like, and this sounds like it might fit that category. Great review!

Wayne Brasler said...

I've always (at 75) known about this film but never seen it. Suddenly, there it was on television late at night so I recorded it and finally got to watch it today. It is a gem. First of all, the casting is clever; certainly Olivia got the opportunity to show her ease with and deft talent with comedy and put all her cleverness and wit on display. Davis is, of course, perfection. She did not want to make the film but here she is absolutely enchanting. Leslie Howard, who I have always considered a fragile actor who always seemed on the verge of a mental breakdown, is simply wonderful here. The entire cast is splendid and many of the actors clearly are having a ball (particularly Spring Byington, Bonita Granville and Eric Blore. It is a screwball comedy yet doe not exactly fit the mold, well-worth seeing and all these decades later admirable.