To Each His Own Review

To Each His Own, the 1946 woman's picture made at Paramount, earned Olivia de Havilland her first of two Academy Awards, and the film is very much her show. The actress had the task of playing the same woman in very different periods of her life, roughly twenty years apart from each other. She's perfect both in the physical transformation, which is key mainly for believability purposes, and the more difficult emotional transitions in the character's behavior across that period of time. What I've always liked about de Havilland is that, despite having a definite alluring quality at times, she was no glamour-puss and entirely unafraid of giving herself over, without hysterics, to her roles. It's a bit difficult to understand why de Havilland hasn't gained a greater recognition for her work over time, and perhaps she's more respected as an actress than a movie star. For instance, there isn't a DVD box set devoted to her like those enjoyed by contemporaries Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and Barbara Stanwyck. Her name just doesn't seem to have that same click.

During her time under contract at Warner Bros. from the mid-thirties to the early forties, de Havilland was more or less reduced to starring opposite the studio's popular male leads, particularly Errol Flynn with whom she made eight movies. There was, of course, Gone With the Wind also, requiring a loan-out from Warner Bros. Another loan-out, this time to Paramount for Hold Back the Dawn in 1941, was something of a turning point for de Havilland. It earned her the first of four Oscar nominations in the lead actress category while also sort of pointing the way in which her career would go for most of the decade. At least four powerful and dominant roles followed in the decade, including To Each His Own. With Hold Back the Dawn as well, these films find de Havilland embodying characters who are victims but not weak-willed. They suffer nobly. The twist among these is The Dark Mirror, in which she plays twins - one of whom is a killer protected by the other one, thus making one de Havilland character the willing victim of another.

The task in To Each His Own may have been even more difficult considering the evolution that her character Jody Norris undergoes. She begins the film in London as an American on watch in wartime during New Year's Eve, joined by the very British Lord Desham (Roland Culver) with whom she's not yet acquainted. A conversation between the two leads to a lengthy flashback. Jody is back in the small New York town of Piersen Falls where she works at her father's drugstore. She's much younger and becomes a willing participant in the dance of seduction by a visiting military pilot (John Lund) trying to drum up support for war bonds. The seemingly constant presence of war, reminded during both time periods seen in the film, is an interesting touch.

Jody's resulting pregnancy from her dalliance with the pilot is played out in one of the more unapologetic instances of premarital sex seen on film in this era. It's not only careful to avoid condemning Jody's indiscretion but actually remains completely sympathetic to her situation, blaming the closed-minded nature of the town for how she would be viewed. Her father proves very accepting and gives Jody a speech about how the child would be the one to suffer even more than she if the pregnancy was brought out into the open. So Jody makes a difficult choice which ultimately backfires. She's left without her child, bitter and alone. This is what eventually leads her to London. The idea was to bury herself in work and that soon enough becomes a successful cold cream manufacturer which expands overseas from its original New York City base. The factory is transformed into a munitions plant because of the war.

The bookend to the flashback is a return to Jody and Lord Desham in London. She's found out that a certain Griggsy will be on leave in the city for a brief period of time. This turns out to be her son, played by John Lund. That he's the same actor who was the pilot Jody fell for during his stopover in Piersen Falls introduces an awkward, almost incestuous dynamic to their interactions. Read into what you like. There's a definite emphasis on the power of motherhood, and how that was ostensibly stripped away from Jody without her consent. She burrows herself into this hole of discord and loneliness as a result, refusing to fall in love and, probably, form any significant bonds of human contact.

To Each His Own reunited the actress with Mitchell Leisen, her director on Hold Back the Dawn. The two films also share a screenwriter, Charles Brackett. But whereas the earlier picture also had Billy Wilder alongside his frequent writing partner Brackett, To Each His Own doesn't involve the future director in any way. The difference is perhaps easily detected, with this picture lacking Wilder's biting cynicism and instead settling for more simple ambitions. It isn't that To Each His Own in any way needed Wilder, only that his absence can be felt by what the film is (or isn't) and its resulting sincerity. The weepy, melodramatic nature of the picture would have been shaken back to something resembling reality had Wilder been involved. Still, it's that very heightened sense of operatic conflict, shared by many films this decade which dealt with mother and child difficulties, that likely serves to define To Each His Own for most viewers. It presents a dire situation at a high pitch, understanding its intended audience at every step of the way.

An ever-burgeoning contingent desires to elevate Leisen as a director of esteem, with a laudatory 1998 article in Film Comment magazine even declaring To Each His Own to be his masterpiece. Creatively, Leisen clashed with Wilder, who had quite a few negative words for the director. Preston Sturges, too, was deeply unhappy with how Leisen directed his screenplays. More recent and perhaps impartial views have applauded Leisen for his set design, romantic inclinations, and overall attention to more feminine aspects of his films. It's almost always the female characters dominating Leisen's films. That was, seemingly, his strength, along with a longstanding interest in art direction (and a knack for having superb screenwriters). I wouldn't begrudge Leisen that. I'd only suggest that he put less emphasis on humor and plotting than a director ideally should.

Nonetheless, To Each His Own remains one of his more successful and best films. It's classic material orchestrated extremely well. Leisen's characteristic attachment and empathy for his female protagonist is relatively unencumbered by the also forgiving screenplay. The film uses its flashback structure without manipulation while still essentially supporting the actions of de Havilland's Jody. Thus, you get the weepy, woman's picture routine but also the satisfaction associated with a somewhat happy ending. The latter feels very much in line with Leisen's interests. I still think it's a stretch to characterize him as a full-blown auteur, but if there's any one theme that his films seem to follow it would probably be the reassurance that while things might not work out perfectly they will at least be fulfilling in some way.


The Disc

Odeon scoops R1 by introducing To Each His Own to the English language DVD market. It was made for Paramount but is now a Universal property, licensed in the UK by Odeon. The disc I received was just a DVD-R screener so certain details like region-coding information may not be entirely reliable. My copy is single-layered and PAL.

The film is presented here in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio. It's advertised as having been digitally remastered and indeed looks quite good, with strong black levels and minimal damage in the print. There is some flickering at times. A healthy, but not overbearing, amount of grain exists in the progressive transfer. Amount of detail and sharpness are more than reasonable, particularly considering the low price point being asked for the disc. Fans really shouldn't be disappointed one bit by this release.

Audio is the expected English mono - dull, flat and of limited ambition, The good news is that it doesn't harbor any loud hiss or instances of pops or crackle. Subtitles are unfortunately not offered.

An image gallery is the only extra feature, and just barely qualifying at that. It features publicity and promotional images.


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