With this heavy weeper from director Mitchell Leisen, Olivia de Havilland sealed her date with the Academy winning the Oscar for Best Actress. Rightly so as it’s a wonderful role that casts Olivia as the beautiful girl next door working at the soda stand waiting for the man who will sweep her off her feet to that of an aged spinster whom life has attempted to cheat out of the joys of Motherhood.
Having moved over to Paramount from Warners, Olivia looks shockingly old and weathered as the film opens in London during the blitz of WW2. She’s short with her answers and rather rude to Roland Culver upon initially meeting him while on air raid duty. All of this leads to his prying and she has guarded secrets from her past that will unveil themselves slowly as she waits alone for an incoming train. Cue the flashback to begin.
Enter the beautiful girl next door. Olivia lives in a small town where her father runs the local pharmacy and she tends to the customers. She could easily have her pick of her adoring beaus including Bill Goodwin and Philip Terry who frequent the bar. Her life is about to take a turn when a young flying ace played by debuting John Lund arrives in town on a bond drive. Olivia is swept up and struck by cupid’s arrow. She gives in to her desires and finds herself with child.
“You’ve sinned and you’ll pay for it all the rest of your life.”
Not an enviable position for a single woman during the early part of the 20th century. When news arrives of Lund’s death in the war she must find a way to save face and raise her child.
Fate isn’t on Olivia’s side when her plans to adopt her own child go awry. By sheer misfortune the child winds up in the home of Mary Anderson and her one time admirer Terry who raise the child as their own after losing their first born shortly after birth. It’s a crushing scene for Olivia who faces the facts that she will watch the child grow up from a distance yet mother him when opportunity presents itself.
Anderson takes note and the plot will lead to one of jealousy and accusations.
As time goes by and the child grows, Olivia finds herself a successful business woman who never stops wanting to gain custody of her own son. When finally given the chance, she comes to realize that the boy misses Anderson who he naturally believes is his mother and while it may break Olivia’s heart it surely crushed audiences of the day who felt her pain. I might add the scene still holds up and got to me as well.
The final reel of the movie plays out in the present with an aged Olivia discovering that her son is arriving in London. He himself is now a flyer in the war and she intends to connect with him under the guise of being an old family friend. Even here her time with the young man once again played by John Lund is far too short as he would far prefer finding solace in the arms of the young nurse he wants to marry.
While there are tears at the fadeout for both Olivia and us, they are tears of joy that I won’t spoil. The plot and film may have lost some of it’s cutting edge reality by today’s standards on what is acceptable in society but Olivia’s heart breaking performance holds up wonderfully.
For her first film in three years, Olivia must surely have left mouths agape in the opening scenes. She doesn’t look made up at all. She really does look frumpy and tired. Kudos to make up supervisor Wally Westmore. The smile isn’t there and the light is gone from her eyes that film fan’s so loved during her rise to stardom. She had me fooled until the flashback that gave us the stunning beauty we know her to be. A fine role and well deserved Oscar for Olivia in this Charles Brackett scripted film.
Brackett was on a steady run of success with titles like this and his association with Billy Wilder during the forties that yielded Five Graves to Cairo, The Lost Weekend and the ultra classic, Sunset Boulevard among others. He was also credited on 1941’s Hold Back the Dawn that also starred Olivia under Mitchell Leisen’s direction.
Keep the tissue handy and do your best to catch this Oscar winning performance from Miss Olivia next time it turns up on TCM. Thankfully To Each His Own was preserved by the UCLA Film and Television Archive.