Flynn is Sherwood Forest’s merry troublemaker, a noble Saxon who wages guerrilla war against the diabolical Prince John and the Normans, with de Havilland’s Lady Marian as a persuadable royal. Flynn’s combination of rapier dexterity and rapier wit is the main attraction here, giving the film a lightness and joy that is supported by studio artistry, like a climactic sword fight staged heavily in silhouette.
Gone With the Wind (1939)
As the famed “search for Scarlett” ballooned to 1,400 actresses, de Havilland set her sights on playing Melanie Hamilton, Scarlett’s sister-in-law and eventual best friend, working hard behind the scenes to get Warner Bros. to release her from her contract to do it.
Over the four-hour-plus running time, Melanie gets a full arc, marrying her cousin Ashley Wilkes, the man Scarlett secretly loves, surviving a dramatic child birth without medical assistance, reuniting with her husband after the Civil War and dying from another pregnancy near the end. De Havilland plays both confidant and romantic obstacle for the lead character, and a paragon of loyalty and moral decency.
Stream it on HBO Max, which recently added an introduction, by Jacqueline Stewart, that gives context to the film’s controversial attitudes about race. Rent it on Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play and Vudu.
Hold Back the Dawn (1941)
A winning prototype for the Gerard Depardieu/Andie MacDowell rom-com “Green Card” nearly half a century later, “Hold Back the Dawn” stars de Havilland as a schoolteacher who’s conned into a marriage of convenience by a Romanian gigolo (Charles Boyer) waylaid in Mexico.
His plan is to gain U.S. residency and dump her for a glamorous dancer (Paulette Goddard), but their sham marriage evolves into something approaching a legitimate one. Scripted by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder as their famed partnership was just hitting its stride, “Hold Back the Dawn” is a clever and intoxicating love triangle, with a novel twist of Paramount studios itself playing a role in the resolution.