Monday, March 28, 2022

Olivia de Havilland and Richard Burton in "My Cousin Rachel"

My Cousin Rachel (1952) is an American gothic mystery directed by Henry Koster and starring Olivia de Havilland and Richard Burton in his American film debut. The cast also includes Audrey Dalton, Ronald Squire, George Dolenz, and John Sutton. The screenplay was written by Nunnally Johnson, who also produced, based on the novel of the same name by Daphne Du Maurier. The cinematography was by Joseph LaShelle and the music was by Franz Waxman.

Philip Ashley (Burton) is raised by his older and wealthy cousin Ambrose Ashley on a large estate on the coast of Cornwall. Ambrose's declining health requires him to move to a warmer climate. He ends up in Florence, Italy, where he marries his cousin Rachel Sangalletti (de Havilland). Philip begins to receive disturbing letters from Ambrose complaining that Rachel and his doctor aren't treating him well.

Philip travels to Florence only to discover that Ambrose died of a brain tumor. A man named Guido Rainaldi informs him of this fact and provides a death certificate to prove it. Rachel left before Philip's arrival and according to Rainaldi, Ambrose left his entire estate to Philip (upon his 25th birthday) and nothing to Rachel. In spite of this, Philip suspects foul play in regard to his cousin's death.

Was Rachel responsible for Ambrose's death? And if so, what were her motives?

Richard Burton and Olivia de Havilland

Henry Koster (1905 - 1988) was a German-born film director. He signed a contract with Universal Pictures in 1936. At the time, he didn't speak English but he convinced the studio to let him make Three Smart Girls (1936), which was Deanna Durbin’s first starring film role. The movie was a huge success and saved Universal from bankruptcy. Koster convinced Universal to sign Abbott and Costello to a film contract. The comedy duo was a box office sensation during the 1940s, making the studio millions. Later in Koster’s career, he directed Harvey (1950), My Cousin Rachel (1952), which was Richard Burton’s American film debut. He directed Burton again the next year in The Robe, which was the first film to be filmed in CinemaScope. Other films include Desiree (1954) with Marlon Brando and Jean Simmons, Flower Drum Song (1960) starring Nancy Kwan, and The Singing Nub (1965) starring Debbie Reynolds.

Olivia de Havilland (1916 – 2020) was a British-American actress and two-time Best Actress Academy Award winner. De Havilland’s career spanned more than five decades. She was one of the leading actresses of the 1940s and was the last major surviving star from Hollywood’s Golden Age. Some of de Havilland’s classic films include The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), Gone with the Wind (1939), Hold Back the Dawn (1941), To Each His Own (1946), The Snake Pit (1948), and The Heiress (1949).

Richard Burton (1925 - 1984) was a Welsh actor who was a star on both stage and screen. He was nominated seven times for an Academy Award but never won an Oscar. He made his American film debut in My Cousin Rachel (1952) for which he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. He didn't win but his film career took off with the blockbuster Cinemascope classic, The Robe (1953) co-starring Jean Simmons and Victor Mature. Burton's other film roles include Prince of Players (1955), Alexander the Great (1956), and Look Back in Anger (1959). He hit his stride in the 1960s, marrying Elizabeth Taylor in the process after their affair during the making of Cleopatra (1963). Other films include Beckett (1964), The V.I.P.s (1963), and The Sandpiper (1965) both co-starring Taylor. He had a box office hit with the John Huston directed The Night of the Iguana (1964). Burton continued making films up until the time of his death and is remembered as one of the greatest actors of his generation.

Oliva de Havilland, Audrey Dalton, and Richard Burton

My Cousin Rachel trivia
  • It was reported that Richard Burton and Olivia de Havilland didn't get along during filming.
  • The film was proposed as a comeback for Greta Garbo with George Cukor directing.
  • Vivien Leigh was also considered for the role of Rachel.
  • The film marked the American film debut of Richard Burton.
  • This was de Havilland's first film after her Oscar-winning The Heiress (1949).

Why watch this film
  • It's an opportunity to see Burton early in his American film career.
  • This was a prestige picture for 20th Century-Fox with de Havilland at the height of her powers.
  • The production, partially filmed in Cornwall and on the Fox soundstages is impressive.
  • The film was nominated for four Academy Awards including Burton's for Best Supporting Actor.
  • It's a gothic mystery romance based on the novel by Daphne Du Maurier like they don't make anymore.

To watch the film on YouTube, click on the link below.

To join the discussion on April 4, 2022, at 6:30 p.m. Central Time, click here. Once you RSVP, you will receive an invitation and Zoom link to the discussion.

Discussion questions
  1. Do you think Philip had good reason to be suspicious of Rachel?
  2. If Rachel was responsible for Ambrose's death, what were her motives?
  3. What did you think of Richard Burton's film debut?
  4. Did Olivia de Havilland have the right amount of mystery in her portrayal of Rachel?
  5. Were you surprised by the ending?
  6. What are your conclusions? Guilty or innocent?


  1. I'm looking forward to seeing this one -- I haven't seen Richard Burton in much (Look Back in Anger is another one on my watchlist), except Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Cleopatra, and (ye Gods) The Exorcist II! I'd love to know the back story about his relationship with Olivia!

  2. I recently read a biography of Olivia de Havilland. Olivia admired Burton on stage in "The Lady's Not for Burning" and wanted him to appear with her onstage, offering him $1000/wk and he refused. She was happy he was cast as her costar in Rachel, but Burton said she was a snob and refused to let him share star billing with her. She said he was a little crude, made a pass at her, and apparently made a comment that was reported at the time where she said he was a "course-grained man with a course-grained charm, and a talent not completely developed, and a course-grained behavior, which makes him not like anyone else." Burton, as is well known, wasn't the easiest person to get along with. Olivia was ten years his senior so perhaps there was a generational thing going on as well. I'm on Team Olivia!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...