Revisiting Olivia de Havilland in a TV Movie…
Laura Wynant has just been discharged from a mental health hospital. During a trip out, she’s shaken after hearing some screaming coming from the ground.
ABC Tuesday Movie of the Week – When Michael Calls, OBS International
A few months ago, I was sad to learn that the Golden Hollywood actress Olivia de Havilland had passed away at the age of 104. She was a revered and acclaimed actress in films, TV, movies and more and the older sister of actress Joan Fontaine. Both sisters were national treasures of both Great Britain and the USA from those Golden Hollywood Days and beyond.
Olivia De Havilland started out in movies in the mid-thirties with roles including her arguably most famous part as Melanie Hamilton. Melanie was the girl who got Ashley in Gone with the Wind (1939). Here she starred with Leslie Howard, Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable.
De Havilland’s career ended in the late 1980s in roles including one where she appeared in an all-star mini-series in North & South: Book 2, Love & War (1986). This mini-series was led by Dirty Dancing (1986) star Patrick Swayze and James Read from Beaches (1988). De Havilland was reunited with her one-time co-star from an Agatha Christie whodunnit Murder is Easy (1982), Lesley Anne Down.
This actress is no stranger to Realweegiemidget Reviews. Many of her films are now on my to find and rewatch pile. After reading about her extensive filmography and her early movies are more your thing, I’d recommend checking out the links to the blogathons on my pages of her reviews. There you will find some wonderful tributes to all things Olivia de Havilland and films from her early films.
All my reviews here tell of her post-Golden Hollywood Days in her much later film and TV. Her films – as reviewed here – include her dally into the 1970s disaster movies in Airport 77 (1977) and in The Swarm (1978). In 1981, however, she was reunited with her love interest in Airport 77, Joseph Cotten. This time, this Golden Hollywood pair appeared as a married couple in guest star roles in The Love Boat (1981). This actor she had also co-starred with back in her Golden Hollywood days in Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte (1964).
This film is not that review, but one on the fourth of their collaborations and another 70s TV classic. So enjoy remembering Olivia here with me in this TV movie, based on a Ray Bradbury tale, The Screaming Woman (1972). If you are keen after this to read more on the original story it was reviewed HERE in the TV adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s series with a young future star in the lead.
In this review, however, the Bradbury story was adapted with an extra twist (or two) in the storytelling. Olivia De Havilland appears in a leading role in this horror thriller as the rich, Laura Wynant. Laura initially talks with an employee, and this employee seems concerned about Laura’s mental health. Laura seems disorientated and confused. This employee, Martin talks about his worries about her to her son. It’s revealed that Laura was a patient in a mental health hospital, only recently returning home to the care of her family.
Laura goes out for a trip on the grounds of her palatial home on her pony and cart. She seems quite content and at ease and happy to be home. All this changes, as she sees a strange dog alone pawing at the ground at the site of a recently torn down smokehouse. As she talks pleasantly to the dog, she hears a woman’s screams coming from below the ground.
On hearing this voice crying for help, Laura leaves the scene in great distress and runs all the way home. The scene ends as the camera pans down and we see a woman buried in the ground, and she’s alive. As Laura tells her family and the family lawyer about this screaming, she is convinced this is a reality. However, her family, lawyer and employees are concerned about her health deteriorating (understandably) and that she is hysterical and having a relapse.
Her nasty daughter in law Caroline (Laraine Stephens) feels this is the perfect in to take over her mother in law’s affairs and sell the priceless house and grounds to an interested property dealer. Caroline is also superhappy that the family attorney George Tresvant (Joseph Cotten) is present to hear her mother in law’s apparent descent into illness. This she believes will support her in providing evidence to have her husband take over his mother’s financial affairs. This by declaring Laura as unfit on mental health grounds.
The others present are more concerned about Laura’s health and don’t believe her. Meanwhile, a man returns to the site of the smokehouse looking for his dog and he then smoothes over the area that Laura disturbed earlier. Despite their worries, Laura urges her son and her lawyer to return with her to dig up the woman. Laura is unable to do so as she has arthritic hands.
Her son Howard (Charles Knox Robinson) tries to reassure her as he returns to the scene with her. He then tries to placate her when no screams can be heard. Laura is unable to find the dog and the place where she heard these cries for help. This “disappearance” adds to his doubts. Howard also seems annoyed and upset by the way his wife is reacting to this situation. After Laura is sedated by the doctor, she wakes up only to continue to be concerned that time is running out to help this woman and she may die.
Her character becomes more and more convinced of the woman’s plight. As her family increasingly fear for her health, she goes to great lengths to find this woman. Even when she contacts the police, they doubt her story. After asking a young child to help her – claiming she has lost an earring – the kid also hears the woman’s cries for help. However, his parents are angry about her frightening him, yet she is now partly reassured she is not unwell.
She then calls on another (familiar-looking) man, Carl Nesbitt (Ed Nelson) in a neighbouring house to get help. He invites her into his home and she tells him about this woman’s situation. His wife is apparently visiting her mother. We’ve recently seen this man at the site of the crime and later telling his young mistress Evie (Alexandra Hay), that his wife is no longer a problem… However, Laura (and we) note has an equally familiar looking dog.. (with more to come).
This TV Movie has an eerie and chilling musical score from John Williams. Williams was later behind the scores for The Fury (1978), ET The Extra Terrestrial (1982) and Superman (1978). The score is one of suspense, and fear and this was the last of his television scores. Jack Smight as the movie’s director was behind other stories of suspense. He directed episodes of The Twilight Zone (1959-61) and Columbo (1971) and the film Airport 1975 (1974). Edith Head – who also worked on Airport 77 (1977) with Cotten and De Havilland – was behind the costume design for this movie.
I liked this alternative adaptation of this story, the teleplay was written by Merwin Gerard and was based on the Ray Bradbury short story. The twist of an equally credible leading character with an unbelieved woman with mental health problems transferred well from the original story featuring an unbelieved kid with a big imagination.
De Havilland, an award-winning actress gives an Emmy worthy performance. Yet surprisingly she wasn’t even nominated. De Havilland shines and gives her all in this leading role in this ABC movie from the early seventies. This TV Movie was originally one of a series of movies with Golden Hollywood names in the cast. It featured along with other delights such as Night of Terror (1972) with Agnes Moorehead and Home for the Holidays (1972) with Eleanor Parker. Not forgetting Cruise into Terror (1978) with Ray Milland and John Forsythe heading an all-star cast.
However, I feel the suspense would have increased had we not learned about the woman who had been buried alive at the start. Knowing this twist in the tale before the family – and even Laura – learned the truth – made us conflicted. We both empathise with her and also understand why her character was unbelieved by her family and others. This was after her confused conversation at the start of the film, which suggested a possible memory difficulty.
You understood Laura’s fears for not only this woman and her concerns to be believed in. But these fears for the woman also increased in intensity once the same cries were heard by the child. You then hoped this might lead to more understanding and compassion with him supporting her tale and this woman being saved.
Instead, your worries for her character were magnified as she was confronted by his family. Later Caroline Wynant made the claim that she can declare her mother in law as incompetent. As we discover the identity of the screaming woman’s husband, this added to the suspense and your fears for Laura. This adds to the suspense when he invites Laura into his home and she tells him about the woman’s situation.
This film had a great advantage with the Oscar-winning and much award-nominated, De Havilland in the lead. She proved herself as an actress who can scream as good as any Hammer actress. Her bloodcurdling screams will haunt you for weeks. As she screams and screams again as literally The Screaming Woman, a TV movie which paved the way for her roles where she appeared in a swarm of disaster movies…