‘To Each His Own’ movie review: Best Actress Oscar winner Olivia de Havilland stars in Mother Love tearjerker
Olivia de Havilland, 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.
Mitchell Leisen ‘eschews strong moralizing’
For To Each His Own, screenwriter (and producer) Charles Brackett – working with Jacques Théry, instead of frequent partner Billy Wilder – updated the unwed-mother films of the early 1930s. The melodramatic progression of the story unmistakably recalls pre-Production Code potboilers such as The Secret of Madame Blanche (Charles Brabin, 1933), starring Irene Dunne, and The Sin of Madelon Claudet (Edgar Selwyn, 1931), which earned Helen Hayes a Best Actress Academy Award.
Mitchell Leisen, for his part, characteristically 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 detached – 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.*
Olivia de Havilland: ‘Shrewd characterization’
As a plus, Olivia de Havilland is given the opportunity to portray young and old, impassioned and embittered, and mostly succeeds; hers is a mature, shrewd characterization that only falters in authenticity in the opening bookend segment.
On the downside, John Lund is both flat and unappealing in the dual role of Captain Cosgrove and his grown son. True to the form of “women’s pictures,” the film’s leading male is bland, especially against an outstanding female star.
Olivia de Havilland won her first Best Actress Academy Award for her work in To Each His Own. Three years later, she became a two-time winner with William Wyler’s drama The Heiress.
© Doug Johnson.
* Note from the Editor: Edited by film historian Anthony Slide, It’s the Pictures That Got Small: Charles Brackett on Billy Wilder and Hollywood’s Golden Age consists of Charles Brackett’s diary entries from the early ’30s to 1949. As found in the book, Brackett had to fight with the Production Code’s Breen Office, named after top censor Joseph Breen, to keep To Each His Own intact.
To Each His Own (1946).
Director: Mitchell Leisen.
Screenplay: Charles Brackett and Jacques Théry. From a story by Charles Brackett.**
Cast: Olivia de Havilland.† John Lund. Mary Anderson. Roland Culver. Phillip Terry. Bill Goodwin. Virginia Welles. Victoria Horne. Frank Faylen. Willard Robertson. Doris Lloyd. Ida Moore. And in uncredited roles: Anthony Caruso. Gino Corrado. Franklyn Farnum. Julia Faye. Louis Jean Heydt. Mary MacLaren. Gigi Perreau.
Censorship + Ginger Rogers & Greta Garbo considered
** Also via It’s the Pictures That Got Small: the husband and wife team of Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich had been working on what eventually became To Each His Own as early as fall 1943.
† Final one from the Charles Brackett diaries: Besides Olivia de Havilland, three other actresses were considered for the female lead in To Each His Own. They were Ginger Rogers, Greta Garbo, and – according to Brackett’s interpretation of a Mitchell Leisen query – Claudette Colbert.
‘To Each His Own’ Oscar win
To Each His Own was nominated for two Academy Awards, earning Olivia de Havilland her first Best Actress Oscar following two nominations and a major lawsuit against her former studio, Warner Bros., that kept her off the screen for more than two years.
Her previous Academy Award nominations were as Best Supporting Actress for Victor Fleming’s Gone with the Wind (1939) and as Best Actress for Mitchell Leisen’s Hold Back the Dawn (1941). De Havilland lost to, respectively, Hattie McDaniel in Gone with the Wind and to younger sister Joan Fontaine in Alfred Hitchcock’s Suspicion.
To Each His Own cast information via the IMDb.
John Lund and Olivia de Havilland To Each His Own images: Paramount Pictures.