Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Having Fun With Olivia

Olivia de Havilland, who marked her 100th birthday about three weeks ago, was an astonishingly fortunate woman in her youth.

She was one of those women who always looks younger than she is. Now, that is one of those things that most people attempt but few achieve. The ones who manage it seem to do so effortlessly. Perhaps some do. Perhaps others achieve it only after spending several hours working on it every day.

From what I have heard, de Havilland was one of those people who achieved it with no special effort. As a youth, I guess she was a natural beauty. It isn't necessary to guess, though. You can see it for yourself. She was in her early 20s when she made "Gone With the Wind."

She put that trait to good use in "The Ambassador's Daughter," which premiered on this day in 1956. In reality, de Havilland was 39 when the movie was being made — and turned 40 just before its theatrical premiere — but her character was probably in her 20s and, as the title suggested, the daughter of an ambassador (played by Edward Arnold), the ambassador to France to be specific.

A senator from America (Adolphe Menjou) declared Paris off limits to servicemen due to their misbehavior, and de Havilland's character took it upon herself to prove that U.S. servicemen could be gentlemen. She decided to do this by dating a serviceman who would not know her true identity. The serviceman (John Forsythe) was under the impression that she was a model, and he took her to nightclubs and on a humorous excursion to the Eiffel Tower.

There were some moments of deception on both sides.

Forsythe's character offered to buy de Havilland's character an airplane ticket to America when news of an emergency back in the States reached her, and she was suitably impressed — until she learned that counterfeit airplane tickets were a commonplace scam used by U.S. servicemen to score points with girls.

Forsythe, on the other hand, had been told that de Havilland was a Christian Dior fashion model, but when he went looking for her at a Dior fashion show, he discovered that Dior's staff had never heard of her. Then he saw de Havilland watching the show with the senator — and assumed they had some kind of relationship.

Everything got cleared up at the end when the two attended a performance of "Swan Lake."

Myrna Loy as the senator's wife, in a rather understated role for her, joined forces with de Havilland to persuade the senator to lift his ban. Thus, all was well that ended well.

Director Norman Krasna built his reputation in screwball comedies — which would, understandably, make potential viewers think they would be in for an off–the–wall experience with "The Ambassador's Daughter." But they would be wrong. It was a romantic comedy, but that really isn't the same thing. The dynamics of a romantic comedy and a screwball comedy are different — in often subtle ways but still different.

The cast seemed to have a good time, but as for the audience ... I can only guess.

Well, it would be hard not to have a good time watching de Havilland have a good time.