Olivia de Havilland: remembering 5 of her most iconic performances

An important chapter in Hollywood history has closed with the death of Olivia de Havilland. An embodiment of the Golden Era of Tinseltown, De Havilland established a glamorous image while crusading to break down the strictures of the studio system.

Sister of the equally renowned Joan Fontaine, De Havilland was one of the most notable stars of her day. She also made history via the establishment of the 'De Havilland Law': in 1944, she managed to extract herself from a restrictive working contract with Warner Bros, establishing new codes of artistic freedom and empowering other actors to do the same.

Join us as we recap just five of her most famous performances.


1. Captain Blood (1935)

One of De Havilland's early hits paired her with Errol Flynn, the swashbuckling Hollywood matinee idol. In total, they would make nine movies together, and cement romantic on-screen chemistry that encapsulated Hollywood escapism and bravado. Captain Blood is a nautical pirate picture helmed by Michael Curtiz, who would later achieve success with Casablanca. Flynn portrays Peter Blood, an Irish doctor sold into slavery, and De Havilland plays Arabella Bishop, the wealthy woman who purchases him. The implausible but irresistible star-crossed romance that ensues would become a hallmark of the collaboration between the two stars.

2. The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

Speaking of which, here is perhaps the most famous collaboration between De Havilland and Flynn. The Adventures of Robin Hood has perhaps done more than any other movie in cementing the cliched image of the Sherwood Forest outlaw. From the feather in the cap to the pea-green costume, it's hard to disassociate the British legend from this quintessential Hollywood fantasy. De Havilland is as glamorous and commanding as ever as Maid Marian, the winsome counterpoint to Flynn's jocular, arrow-firing hero. Together, they defined a flirtatious standard of big-screen chemistry that everyone else soon sought to replicate.

3. Gone with the Wind (1939)

Of course, De Havilland's talents weren't defined by the working partnerships with her co-stars. There's a reason why her acting skills were revered in their own right, and Gone with the Wind is the ideal showcase. She was Oscar-nominated for her role in this, perhaps the most famous (and certainly most controversial) epic from the heyday of Hollywood's studio era. Movie mogul David O. Selznick assembled a huge (for the time) budget and a sweeping sense of Technicolor scale to do justice to Margaret Mitchell's novel, wearing down three directors in the process. Although the film is defined by the tempestuous on-screen romance between Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable, De Havilland brings scene-stealing sensitivity to the role of Melanie Hamilton, sister-in-law of Leigh's fickle Scarlett O'Hara.

4. To Each His Own (1946)

De Havilland waltzed off with the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for this emotive drama, scripted by Billy Wilder favourite Charles Brackett. It allows her to dig deeper beneath Hollywood's superficial emphasis on beauty and glamour, zeroing in on the story of one mother and the illegitimate child she's forced to give up for adoption. This was De Havilland's first film role in three years following the events of her lawsuit against Warner Bros; she had to strive hard to establish a new image after the studios labelled her independent image as 'difficult'. Clearly, the Academy Award win put paid to any such concerns.

5. The Heiress (1949)

De Havilland's second, and final, Oscar win came for this sweeping mid-19th century drama. Directed by the master of such things, William Wyler (The Best Years of Our Lives), the film casts De Havilland as an introverted young woman who stands to inherit a great deal of money. This puts her new relationship with a handsome young man (Montgomery Clift) in doubt, as people begin to suspect that he's after her fortune. De Havilland's ability to emotionally re-shape her screen image, and portray a woman naive in the ways of the world (which ran contrary to her trailblazing attitude in Hollywood), saw her rewarded with critical acclaim and awards glory. 

What's your favourite Olivia de Havilland performance? Let us know @Cineworld.