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To Each His Own Movie (1946): Sincere Tearjerker

To Each His Own movie Olivia de Havilland John LundTo Each His Own movie with Olivia de Havilland and John Lund. By the mid-1940s, Suffering Single Moms had been a Hollywood staple for decades – e.g, Dorothy Donnelly, Pauline Fredrick, Ruth Chatterton, and Gladys George in various versions of Madame X.
  • To Each His Own (1946) movie review: Starring Best Actress Academy Award winner Olivia de Havilland – fresh off a landmark labor battle against Warner Bros. that had kept her off the screen for more than two years – Mitchell Leisen’s Mother Love tale features some heartfelt melodramatics.
  • Besides earning Olivia de Havilland an Oscar, To Each His Own was shortlisted in the Best Writing, Original Story category (Charles Brackett).

To Each His Own movie review: Best Actress Oscar winner Olivia de Havilland delivers a mature characterization in Mitchell Leisen’s earnest tearjerker

Olivia de Havilland[1], who had starred in the 1941 melodrama Hold Back the Dawn, returns to the wartime milieu in To Each His Own (1946), once again under the direction of Mitchell Leisen, who guides the proceedings with his characteristic sincerity while cleverly skirting the Production Code’s restrictive guidelines.

In To Each His Own, de Havilland plays Jody Norris, a small-town woman who falls quickly in love – much like her character in Hold Back the Dawn – but this time during World War I, when Jody’s brief liaison with daredevil flying ace Captain Cosgrove (John Lund) results in an out-of-wedlock child.

When Cosgrove is killed in battle, the young mother anonymously gives up her baby to a childless couple in her hometown, remaining a caregiver to the boy until her secret is revealed.

Afterward, she relocates to New York City, where she establishes a flourishing cosmetics empire. The child passes in and out of her life over several decades leading to World War II and London, where Jody has reestablished herself.

No moralizing

For To Each His Own, screenwriter and producer Charles Brackett[2] – working with Jacques Théry[3], instead of frequent partner Billy Wilder (Hold Back the Dawn, The Major and the Minor, etc.) – updated the unwed/abandoned/widowed mother movies of the silent era and early 1930s.

The melodramatic progression of the story unmistakably recalls pre-Production Code potboilers such as Edgar Selwyn’s The Sin of Madelon Claudet (1931), which earned Helen Hayes a Best Actress Academy Award, and Charles Brabin’s The Secret of Madame Blanche (1933) – itself a reboot of Frank Borzage’s 1925 silent The Lady – starring Irene Dunne in the old Norma Talmadge role.

Director Mitchell Leisen, for his part, eschews strong moralizing. Thus, To Each His Own is surprisingly direct in its handling of an unwed mother, paralleling Jody’s increasing coldness with the dispassionate – but honest – flashbacks that comprise the bulk of the film.

Perhaps because the “illegitimate” child’s father is a fallen hero and the United States was emerging from the Second World War, the censors were more forgiving of the subject matter.[4]

To Each His Own movie Olivia de Havilland Bill GoodwinTo Each His Own movie with Olivia de Havilland and Bill Goodwin. Due to her legal battle against Warner Bros., de Havilland was gone from the screen in 1944–45. She returned in 1946 with To Each His Own, Devotion (shot in 1943), The Well Groomed Bride, and The Dark Mirror.

Outstanding female star

As a plus, Olivia de Havilland is given the opportunity to portray young and old, impassioned and embittered, and mostly succeeds. Hers is a shrewd, mature characterization that only falters in authenticity in the opening bookend segment.

On the downside, Paramount leading man John Lund is both flat and unappealing in the dual role of Captain Cosgrove and his grown son. True to the form of a “women’s picture,” the film’s male romantic interest is the embodiment of blandness – especially against an outstanding female star.

As it turned out, Olivia de Havilland won her first Best Actress Academy Award for her work in To Each His Own. Three years later, she would become a two-time winner with William Wyler’s psychological drama The Heiress.

To Each His Own (1946)

Director: Mitchell Leisen.

Screenplay: Charles Brackett & Jacques Théry.
From a screen story by Charles Brackett.

Cast: Olivia de Havilland. John Lund. Phillip Terry. Roland Culver. Mary Anderson. Bill Goodwin. Victoria Horne. Frank Faylen. Virginia Welles. Willard Robertson. Doris Lloyd. Ida Moore. Clyde Cook.

To Each His Own Movie (1946): Sincere Tearjerker” review text © Doug Johnson; excerpt, image captions, bullet point introduction, and notes/endnotes © Alt Film Guide.


To Each His Own (1946) Movie Review” notes

Olivia de Havilland ‘competitors’

[1] As found in It’s the Pictures That Got Small: Charles Brackett on Billy Wilder and Hollywood’s Golden Age – consisting of Brackett’s diary entries from the early 1930s to 1949; edited by film historian Anthony Slide – besides Olivia de Havilland, three other actresses were considered for the female lead in To Each His Own: Ginger Rogers, Greta Garbo, and, according to Brackett’s interpretation of a Mitchell Leisen query, Claudette Colbert.

The scent of Madame Blanche

[2] Although Charles Brackett received original (screen) story credit, It’s the Pictures That Got Small makes clear that the husband and wife team of Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich – among whose credits is the abandoned mother melodrama The Secret of Madame Blanche – had been working on what eventually became To Each His Own as early as fall 1943.

Jacques Théry

[3] Among Jacques Théry’s relatively few big-screen writing credits was the “adaptation” – from an original screen story by Benjamin Glazer and Hans Székely – for Mitchell Leisen’s Arise, My Love (1940).

The final screenplay was credited to Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder.

Charles Brackett vs. the Breen Office

[4] In Charles Brackett’s diary entries found in It’s the Pictures That Got Small, the writer-producer explains that he had to fight the Production Code’s Breen Office, named after top censor Joseph Breen, in order to keep To Each His Own intact.


To Each His Own Movie” endnotes

Bill Goodwin, John Lund, and Olivia de Havilland To Each His Own movie images: Paramount Pictures.

To Each His Own Movie (1946): Sincere Tearjerker” last updated in December 2021.

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