Monday, October 29, 2012

The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939)



“A queen has no hour for love, time presses, and events crowd upon her, and her shell, an empty glittering husk, she must give up all the a woman holds most dear.” 

            My epic to watch every film Olivia de Havilland and Errol Flynn made together (epic… I am making it sound like they made a million pictures together) has brought me to their sixth film The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex. I had been hoping to see more Olivia de Havilland in the film but of course this being a film where Bette Davis is the headliner I should have known that de Havilland would barely be in the film. I like both Errol Flynn and Bette Davis I thought I could handle just seeing the two of them together but the two together did not work very well and wound up being one huge bore.
            I have to be honest I was not paying too much attention to the film. I did for like the first half hour and then Bette Davis got too much for me and I found the plot to be confusing. I got out of the plot that Elizabeth is in love with Essex but her love for him threatens the country. She is torn between being a woman with desires and being the queen of a powerful country. Essex comes back after a campaign in Spain and she is not too pleased with him for whatever the reason may be. Essex leaves the court and returns to his family home.
            Without Essex around her Elizabeth is miserable. She thinks she is old and he does not love her. Lady Penelope (de Havilland) sings a song about a woman and her young love to make Elizabeth upset. The queen has a fit and orders Essex back to the court. When he comes back before he sees the queen Penelope warns Essex of the queen that she has been pacing back and forth most nights cursing his name. When she asks if he loves Elizabeth, Essex replies that he does.     
            What drove me nuts most of the film starting from when Essex returns to Whitehall as Elizabeth’s command is that they argued more than anything making it seem as if they hated each other more than loved each other. And their conversations going back and forth between arguing and professing their love just bored me and made me lose all focus and concentration.
            Bette Davis is a great actress and she gave a very good performance but to me she was definitely a modern actress she was good playing characters in a modern setting. I did not like her in a period piece. Now Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland in all but one of their films together (unless you want to add thank Your Lucky Stars) made period films. Olivia de Havilland made a hand full of period films herself. They looked good and acted well in those films. Davis let it be known at Warner Bros. that she wanted to make this film. She wanted to play this prestige role. Davis wanted to have Laurence Olivier in the role but he was set to star in Wuthering Heights. Warner Bros. put Flynn in the role because he was making money for the studio. De Havilland was upset that she came back from playing a central role in Gone With the Wind to playing a second tier role with barely any screen time. I cannot blame de Havilland for being upset that must have been so disappointing. But of course she would have her revenge on the studio a few years later.
            The supporting cast was excellent even if they were not in the film so much. Donald Crisp played Francis Bacon. He looked like he would have fit right in 1500s England. Vincent Price was Sir Walter Raleigh and a bit of a mean streak. Henry Daniell as was probably the best cast. He was usually cast as the angry ambitious guy who wants to bring down the main character and that is exactly what he was in this film. Nineteen year old Nanette Fabray made her film debut. She looked adorable and her character was so sweet.
            Michael Curtiz directed the film and Erich Wolfgang Korngold created the score. Curtiz the more I see his films the more I admire him. He got such beautiful close-ups of each of the cast members. Korngold was a genius at creating mood and atmosphere with his beautiful scores.
            The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex has its moments of being a brilliant film but for me it was mostly boring. There was too much dialogue and not enough action and I felt not so much explaining of what was going on. The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex is worth seeing at least once because it is an excellently well made film.