Happy birthday to Ms. de Havilland!
I’ll admit, while I’m very familiar with Olivia de Havilland in Gone With the Wind, I’ve never really had the opportunity to look at much of her other work. It’s one of the reasons I love participating in blogathons–it’s fun to explore new films and information. The 1937 film, It’s Love I’m After is definitely one of those. It was Leslie Howard’s third and final film with Bette Davis and his first of two with Olivia de Havilland.
The movie opens on New Year’s Eve with Basil Underwood (Leslie Howard) and his acting partner, Joyce Arden (Bette Davis) performing Romeo and Juliet. It’s the last scene, the house is packed and people are hanging on Basil’s every word. Most enthralled of all is Marcia West (Olivia de Havilland). She’s there with her fiancé, Henry (Patric Knowles) but has eyes only for Basil.
What she doesn’t know is that Basil and Joyce are bickering all through the scene, even when they’re supposed to be dead. She’s telling him to keep his eyes away from the box seats, and he’s telling her not to upstage him. When Juliet finally falls on Romeo in death, he groans. The house doesn’t notice, though, and the place rings with their applause. They’re completely unaware that Basil has called Joyce his “little garlic blossom.”
After the show, Marcia goes backstage to see Basil. She doesn’t beat around the bush–photographs or autographs aren’t what she’s wanting. Nope. She just wants Basil to know she loves him, and she wants him to remember it when he’s old and forgotten. He’s so intrigued that he doesn’t hear Joyce taking verbal jabs at him from her own dressing room. Marcia wafts away without telling Basil her name, and out the stage door. Basil tries to pass the encounter off as some silliness. The girl was a kid doing a school paper. The way Joyce looks at him, she isn’t buying it.
Basil and Joyce love each other, but they have a combative dynamic which has kept them from the altar. They’re scrapping one minute and passionately embracing the next. The two of them are just making up at their hotel suite when there’s a knock on the door.
The visitor is Henry, who’s come to see Basil. He doesn’t know if he’s there to tell Basil off or punch him in the nose, but either way, he’s put out that Marcia is in love with Basil. Coincidentally Henry’s dad bailed Basil out when the stock market crashed, and so Basil is full of goodwill. He doesn’t take Marcia’s ardor very seriously, and compares it to a play he was once in called The Loving Triangle.
Henry doesn’t have the foggiest what he’s talking about, so Basil and his faithful butler, Digges (Eric Blore), re-enact bits of it. The hero meets a girl in Venice, but doesn’t know who she is, and falls madly in love. Back home he reunites with a friend who had saved his life during the war, and when he meets his friend’s fiancé, it’s the mysterious girl he has just met. In the third act the hero sacrifices his own love by being a cad to the girl, who marries his friend. Everyone’s happy, and finis.
Initially weirded out, Henry has a revelation: Why can’t Basil bring The Loving Triangle to life? All he’s got to do is act like a cad to Marcia so she turns her attention back to Henry. Then Basil can marry Joyce and live in wedded bliss. Basil himself is weirded out, because it would be a case of shameless manipulation. He also has a tour coming up, so he can’t commit a lot of time to it. Then he figures that if he does this favor for Henry, it will polish up his image for Joyce.
Joyce isn’t buying this line, either. She comes out of her room dressed up and starry-eyed, only to throw vases at his head when Basil tries to let her in on the plan. He’s not standing her up, just postponing the wedding. Again.
Henry drops Basil and Digges off at the West estate on Long Island, where a sleepy butler lets them in. Everyone’s asleep, of course, but Basil and Digges make such a racket that they raise the roof, and Basil is particularly obnoxious. Among other things, Basil shouting the word “ire” over and over makes them think there’s a fire, and the Wests hurry out with lamps ready to break windows.
When they see Basil, though, all the women get starry-eyed and the men groan. Mr. West blusters out that Basil needs to leave. Marcia is, of course, beside herself with glee, and insists on Basil and Digges staying.
Basil sets out to put in the performance of his life, and that is to make Marcia hate him. He overdoes it just a bit–at one point he and Digges are out in the hall during breakfast yelling about kippers–but he has the pain-in-the-neck act down nicely.
There are only two problems. One, Marcia’s so deeply enamored with Basil that she makes excuses for everything he does, and two, Basil gets slightly taken with Marcia himself. It’s left to poor Digges to keep him in line by chirping like a madman when Basil and Marcia get a little too cozy. It doesn’t help that Marcia has an aviary, and its occupants are very vocal. Almost as vocal is Marcia’s young cousin, Gracie (Bonita Granville) who has a habit of listening at keyholes and then telling her mother what she saw.
As if those aren’t enough, there’s one more obstacle: Joyce shows up, and she’s jumping mad.
Olivia de Havilland plays the fervent fan with a fluttery energy that’s hilarious, and she scares Leslie Howard’s Basil with her ardor. It’s a good time watching him fend her off, and he probably deserved it. According to TCM, Howard drove de Havilland bonkers during the making of the film. He had a lot of creative control over the production, and he was notoriously meticulous. In the end, though, de Havilland came off looking like a winner.
It’s Love I’m After is a fun movie that promises fireworks but feels like it loses its nerve in the end. A few minor tweaks could have definitely upped the discomfort factor, such as busybody Gracie spilling the beans about what Basil’s really doing. Or Marcia could have done more hanging around the stage door before she gets up her nerve to talk to Basil. Basil also could have played up the jerky and egotistical parts of his act. When “The End” flashed on the screen, I felt like, “That’s it? That’s all we get?” I’m not going to spoil anything, though, because it’s a cute film and very enjoyable.
For more of the lovely Olivia, please check with Crystal. Thanks for hosting, Crystal–it was a pleasure as always. Thanks for reading, everyone! Another “Stage To Screen” is in the pipeline, and it’s slightly nutty. Hope to see you tomorrow… 🙂