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Sunday, September 12, 2021

Fifty Years of Film in 50 Weeks, #26: To Each His Own, 1946

"Although (screenwriters) Charles Brackett and Jacques Théry are not telling anything new in "To Each His Own," which follows the broad pattern of countless tales about the grief of unwed mothers, they have worked in a few refreshing twists."  
--NY Times reviewer Bosley Crowther, May 24th, 1946.

To Each His Own, 1946

Director: Mitchell Leisen
Writers: Charles Brackett and Jacques Théry
Cinematographer: Daniel L. Fapp
Producer: Charles Brackett for Paramount Pictures
Starring: Olivia de Havilland, John Lund, Mary Anderson, Roland Culver, Philip Terry, Bill Goodwin, Griff Barnett

'No-spoiler' plot overview 
In a tale told in flashback, middle-aged business executive Miss Jody Norris talks to her London colleague Lord Desham about why she gives her life over to work. As a young woman, helping her father in his drug store in Piersen Falls, USA, during the time of the Great War, she meets a young combat pilot (Capt. Cosgrove) with whom she has a secret and brief affair before he is killed in action. She retreats to NYC to have her baby, a son, and despite her wanting to keep him, he is adopted by her friends Corinne and Alex Piersen who don't know the truth about his birth parents. Jody plays nanny to the little boy until she can find a way to convince them to give her her son back. Meanwhile, she throws herself into work, and nearly single-handedly converts her friend and former beau Mac's bootlegging operation into a cosmetics factory that brings her wealth and status. Her efforts to get her son back don't go as planned, of course, and she must make a choice once her grown son crosses her path.

Production Background
To Each His Own was a significant film for Olivia de Havilland for at least two reasons. First, it won her first Oscar for Best Actress, and second, it was her "comeback" role after her legal battle with Warners' seeking early termination of her contract. She won the lawsuit, and what became known as the De Havilland Law, that prevented movie studios from indefinitely extended actors contracts that limited their options and creative freedom. She had been off the screen for two years prior; her previous film was 1943's Government Girl.

De Havilland campaigned to have Mitchell Leisen direct the film, as she thought the material would be elevated from its soap opera foundation, as she was thrilled with his work directing her in Hold Back The Dawn (1941), also a wartime romantic melodrama. A name largely unrecognized today, Leisen helmed many successful A pictures at Paramount (including Death Takes A Holiday (1934) that I wrote about here), and de Havilland and other actors felt supported by him. Leisen worked closely with Charles Brackett to polish the script and make de Havilland's character more nuanced. The film also marked the debut of actor John Lund, who played both Jody's lover and her grown son. 

Some other notable film-related events in 1946 (from

  • Disney's first live-action feature film The Song of the South was released, with three major segments of animation; it was based upon Joel Chandler Harris' Uncle Remus folk tales regarding Br'er Rabbit; due to extensive protests (mostly by the NAACP) over the stereotypical representations of blacks in the film and the film's romanticizing of slavery, the controversial film was never released on home video for US audiences
  • The most famous role and peak performance of WWII's GI "love goddess" - the beautiful, alluring, and provocative, red-haired pin-up Rita Hayworth - with her sleek and sophisticated eroticism, lush hair and peaches and cream complexion, was in director Charles Vidor's Gilda
  • Director William Wyler's The Best Years of Our Lives won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actor in 1947. It was a classic post-war film that poignantly portrayed the readjustment of veterans and their families after their return home. Double amputee and amateur actor Harold Russell became the only actor to win two Oscars for playing the same role, a returning GI named Homer Parrish. He was awarded a special Academy Award for "bringing aid and comfort to disabled veterans," and then also won the year's Oscar as Best Supporting Actor.
  • French critic Nino Frank was credited as being the first to coin the phrase "film noir" in reference to Hollywood movies in the 40s (dark crime dramas and gangster films, psychological thrillers, etc.) that combined gritty expressionistic cinematography and bleak, hard-boiled writing - from novelists such as James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler, and Dashiell Hammett. His article was published in the French film magazine L'Ecran Francais (August 28, 1946 issue).

My Random Observations

  • Olivia de Havilland owned this movie. In addition to being in nearly every scene, she in effect played two distinct characters: the ingenue and the hard-nosed businesswoman with a secret. The former was shades of Melanie Wilkes, and the latter was a warm-up for her older character in The Heiress. Come to think of it, that was another film requiring her to portray great range. 
    Middle-aged Jody immediately before the flashback begins...

    And with the power of lighting and makeup, she
    is transformed to a younger woman.
  • It was refreshing that the main character was allowed to be unsympathetic at times. When she blackmailed Corinne to get her son back (then at schoolboy age) you rather rooted against her. But when she was sympathetic it wasn't just when she was a young innocent following her heart; it was when she showed a better business head than her male colleagues and worked circles around them.  And she clearly enjoyed the success her career gave her.
Jody gets to work to convert Mac's (Bill Goodwin,
right) bootlegging operation to a cosmetics plant.
  • Any film about unwed motherhood made in the 1940s will be dated, and while you do feel for Jody here, and rue the societal forces that conspired against her, to me adoption by a loving (if vain) mother is a special calling that should be honored. So I winced during those moments when Jody was trying to wrestle "Griggsy" away from Corinne and Alex. And the ending was sour for me (Warning: Spoiler ahead). While it seemed a fait accompli that the adult Griggsy would be made aware and be reunited with his birth mother, the fact that that revelation was made during his wedding I felt was wrong. Even though it was lovely that Lord Desham arranged for the quick wedding before Griggsy was to ship out, the evening should have been about the wedding and not a reunion that really wasn't needed. (And I 100% with Bosley Crowther's statement at the beginning of this post).
Jody preparing to blackmail the unsuspecting
Corinne (Mary Anderson) by offering to bail her husband
 out of financial ruin if they give her back their/her son.
Lord Desham (Roland Culver) encouraging Jody
to tell about her younger years.
  • Who were all these wonderful character actors?! I've been used to recognizing well-loved character actors over and over again, so my experience with this film was just...odd. Perhaps because I've seen fewer Golden-age films from Paramount? Regardless, one I recognized slightly was Griff Barnett as de Havilland's father, as he had some small roles in some Alan Ladd films of the era. He was wonderful.
    Griff Barnett as the wise father.
  • Speaking of Alan Ladd, John Lund bore an uncanny resemblance to Ladd, although Lund was, of course, taller. Ladd and de Havilland had worked together in 1958 in the underrated and heartwarming The Proud Rebel.
    John Lund as Capt. Cosgrove
  • This picture was lush and evocative. I've learned Mitchell Leisen was apparently very attuned to period detail in set design and costuming and insisted on 100% accuracy. That gave his films a sense of time and place that elevated his films.
First indication she's pregnant -- she very deliberately
drinks milk in her father's small-town drug store.

Stylish and successful, Jody takes no prisoners.
Where to Watch
Unfortunately, this one is difficult to find commercially. It isn't available on DVD in the U.S., although it was released on VHS. A rough print is available on here

Further Reading
A detailed analysis of the film is provided in this article in Film Comment magazine.

1 comment:

  1. Difficult to see? Isn't that always the way. I admit it surprises me that the Academy doesn't get behind making all of the nominated films (in all categories) available to a waiting public. I haven't seen To Each His Own in years, but it remains a cherished "late night" memory.