Friday, June 26, 2015

1946: Olivia de Havilland for To Each His Own

Olivia de Havilland plays Jody Norris, who falls in love with a WWI pilot and gets pregnant. Unfortunately, her boyfriend is killed in action shortly thereafter, and she's forced to give up their son to avoid scandal. She never stops thinking about him, and tries several times to find a way to raise him without anyone getting suspicious, but he has his own adoptive parents who love and care for him.

I did not have high hopes for this movie, mostly because it was so hard to find. Most of these films I either already owned or could get from the library, or failing that, could at least find on something like YouTube, Netflix, or Hulu. But this movie was never released on DVD, and in the end I had to stream it from a sketchy website that took ages to load. I figured that if it was worth watching, it would be more readily available. Perhaps it's only because my expectations were so low, but I actually really liked To Each His Own. I have no idea why it's called that, but it's engaging, entertaining, and emotional. And Olivia de Havilland's performance is wonderful.

The movie opens during WWII, when Jody's a middle-aged woman. Since I knew nothing about this movie going into it, I didn't know that most of it was flash-backs, and my first thought was, how odd that they would cast the approximately 30-year-old de Havilland in the role of a 45-year-old. And my next thought was, wow, 30-year-old de Havilland is pretty convincing as a 45-year-old, once they make her up to look older. When the flash-backs first started, it seemed like she was playing a completely different character. Initially I thought this was a flaw, but as the story progressed, it made sense. Jody has such a complicated life that she essentially is a completely different person during WWII than she was during WWI. Throughout the film, de Havilland does a tremendous job of portraying the gradual transformation that her character goes through. Her demeanor changes as she becomes slightly more defeated with each failed attempt to get her son back, until eventually she stops trying and moves across the ocean. She never completely gives up hope, though, as demonstrated by how excited she is when she learns that he happens to be nearby. I didn't always agree with what her character was doing, like when she blackmailed her son's adoptive mother into giving him to her, but I always believed in her, which to me is the mark of an excellent performance.

This character is quite similar to the one Helen Hayes won Best Actress for in The Sin of Madelon Claudet. The main difference is Hayes's character's baby sends her on a downward spiral, whereas de Havilland's character is still able to become a successful businesswoman. They both gave remarkable performances, and it's difficult to determine whose was better. It's very interesting to me how many Best Actress winning roles so far have been devoted mothers, especially in the 1940s. I can't help but wonder how many of the Best Actor winning roles are devoted fathers. My guess would be not nearly as many, but I'm not sure. All I know is that, regardless of how similar it may be to others, this is definitely one of the better performances I've seen so far, which I was certainly not expecting. I can't wait to see how good she is in her other winning role, since I've heard that that was way better.

Olivia de Havilland is currently the oldest living Best Actress Winner, at almost 99 years old (her birthday's actually next Wednesday). This also makes her the second longest-living Best Actress Winner ever (Luise Rainer lived to 104). She was also the first sister of a Best Actress Winner to win Best Actress, and personally I think this blows Joan's performance in Suspicion completely out of the water. Olivia de Havilland was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for Gone with the Wind, which she lost to Hattie McDaniel for the same film. She was also nominated for Best Actress for 1941's Hold Back the Dawn (which she lost to her sister) before winning for To Each His Own. She was nominated again for 1948's The Snake Pit (which is also an amazing performance, by the way), and won for her final nomination in 1949, so I'll talk more about her soon. But first comes Loretta Young, in another movie that's been difficult to track down.

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