The Film that won Olivia De Havilland her first Academy Award

A few weeks back, I saw a new film in theaters which is surprising considering this has been such a bad year for movies. That film was called A Light Between Oceans. The film was not bad nor was it very good. But, it did make me think about a movie I saw a while back called To Each His Own, mostly because the plot was, like, ninety percent the same.

I’ve spoken about Olivia De Havilland twice before on this blog when I wrote about Gone With the Wind and The Heiress, which makes me laugh because I’ve only recently started watching the bulk of her films. I came across To Each His Own when TCM was honoring De Havilland for her 100th birthday. It’s not remembered as a standout classic film, but more just remembered as the film which won Olivia her first Oscar.

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Wasn’t she gorgeous? #FASHIONGOALS // Courtesy of Culturalist.com

I, however, really enjoyed it. If you’re not familiar, To Each His Own is a small character drama about a middle-aged woman named Jody Norris (De Havilland), who’s looking back on her youth when she lived in a small town and had a baby out of wedlock. Because the town is so small, she concocts a plan to keep the baby without anyone knowing it’s hers.

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The foolproof plan…#UMMM

However, the plan goes awry. The baby is adopted by a friend of hers (whose own baby just died). Jody plans to tell them everything and take her baby back, but her father stops her, telling her she’d ruin her baby’s life (really meaning his reputation). Later, after her father passes, she tries to get her baby back and does but the child doesn’t want her. He wants his “real parents.” Dejected, she sends the child back to live with the adoptive parents. DRAMMMMMMA.

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Some baby MAMA drama. #ImSoFunny

Here are just a few reasons you should check out To Each His Own:

The Cast

Obviously, this was the role than won Olivia De Havilland her first Oscar and her performance is certainly worthy. Not only does she convincingly play her character as a middle-aged woman and a young ingenue, but she also gives us the big emotional moments in a quiet, understated, authentic way. Director Mitchell Leisen was so convinced De Havilland would win an Oscar for her performance that at the end of shooting, he gave her a charm bracelet with a mini Oscar on it.

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If Oscars could be won for BEST HAIR…

Broadway actor John Lund had his theatrical debut with this film. He played Captain Bart Cosgrove, Olivia’s love interest, and also played their son whom she meets in her middle age. He’s quite remarkable because even though you can tell it’s the same actor playing both roles, his mannerisms are completely different.

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He’s singing to her here by the way…

The Direction

The script was by Olivia’s own admission, a “conventional soap opera (TCM Article).” She believed the only person who could make it more than that would be Director Mitchell Leisen, whom she had been directed by in the film which won her her first Oscar nom, Hold Back the Dawn. He was unenthusiastic about directing this particular film, but Olivia insisted and so, he worked to improve the script as much as possible and went all in.

As production went on, he apparently did become more enthusiastic and Olivia credits Leisen’s direction with her Oscar win. In reading about the film, what stands out about his direction is how detail-oriented he was. Whether it was about something out of place for the time period or a slight tweak to Olivia’s performance, he was a perfectionist. He didn’t want to be a hired hand; he was more than that.

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An example of the small moments Leisen captured…

The Story

This is really what it’s all about. Now, it’s true that this story has some soap-operatic elements. However, what I love is that the film is rich in character development and emotional moments. It’s not an original story – there are several variations on this concept including two of my favorite films, The Torch Singer and Bachelor Mother. 

Much of this film surrounds the drama between Jody and the family that is raising her child. It’s a contentious situation. The other family is not willing to give him up and Jody eventually blackmails them into getting him back only to come to the realization that her son doesn’t want to be with her.

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Her eyes are crazy THOUGH…#Amiright?

This is a theme which is shown again in the film I mentioned at the beginning of this article, The Light Between Oceans. That film is dramatically much darker, but it does also cover the heartbreak that occurs when the parent is reunited with their child, only to be ultimately rejected.

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Having to watch your child grow up without you…

To me, this story is really pondering the question, “What makes someone a parent?” Is it simply the biological component or is it being there for the child, as a parent would be? Obviously, in ideal situations it’s both. But, many aren’t that lucky. As a child, having a present adult in your life who loves you and cares about your well-being means more than what it biologically means to be a parent.

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HEART BREAKING…

That’s really what makes the tale so heartbreaking. In both films, it’s not the biological parent’s fault that their child grew up with another family. But, that doesn’t change the reality that the child doesn’t see their biological parent as their “real” one.

It’s a sincere and moving melodrama

In the hands of less talented people, this film could have been a sappy, annoying soap opera. But because of Leisen and De Havilland’s brilliant performance, the material is lifted into being a emotional and earnest story about the love between a mother and her child. I don’t want to ruin the film’s ending, but I will say it’s a beautiful one. Any mothers out there will probably tear up. Who am I kidding? I’m not a mother and I teared up. All of you will be tearing up…or maybe I’ll say, you should be.

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Olivia De Havilland is EVERYTHING. 

Below is a link to the full movie, on Youtube. Enjoy the feels. 😭

Main Photo and Gifs – Copyright of Paramount Pictures

 

#FeministClassics: ‘The Heiress’

Olivia de Havilland, who you might know as Melanie from Gone with the Wind, recently celebrated her 100th birthday. The occasion reminded me of a movie I saw a few years back at The TCM Classic Film Festival – William Wyler’s 1949 classic The Heiress. 

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Black & White + Rain + Love Scene = Perfection

Turner Classic Movies, celebrating Olivia as their star of the month this July, had the film on their digital counterpart, available to stream. I expected to be able to get other things done while the movie was on, but that proved impossible. I was too caught up in the drama and the emotions.

If you’re unfamiliar with the film, The Heiress follows Catherine Sloper (Olivia de Havilland), a young, introverted heiress lacking proper social skills by 19th century societal standards. At a party, she meets Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift), a poor, but handsome man who woos Catherine with great tenacity. Catherine falls for him easily, having not been paid attention to very often, if at all. Catherine’s father (Ralph Richardson) disapproves of the union because he believes Morris’s intentions dishonorable. Simply put, her father believes Morris only wants her for her money. Catherine wishes to give up her inheritance if it means Morris and her can be together. So I don’t ruin its ending, let’s just say, drama ensues!

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Catherine, I feel you! #AwkwardGirlProblems

A little background on the film itself – the film was adapted from a stage play which was adapted from a Henry James novel called Washington Square. De Havilland saw the play and knew she had to play Catherine in a film adaptation. She approached director William Wyler and then sought the film rights.

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De Havilland and Clift on set with Director William Wyler

Clift was originally not wanted for the role of Morris as it was thought that he would appear too modern to be a 19th century gentleman. Clift and de Havilland apparently didn’t see eye to eye on their acting techniques either. Clift believed Olivia came to set knowing her lines and nothing else. He believed she put everything into the direction she was given which he didn’t believe to be “real acting.” Olivia respected Clift, but thought that everything he did acting-wise was for himself. Still, she said it helped her give the best possible performance as Catherine is supposed to feel isolated.

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Montgomery Clift, DON’T COME ANY CLOSER!

I remember seeing this film at the festival at the end of a very long day. I was ready for bed and honestly thought I might fall asleep in it. As it turned out though, the film was so mesmerizing I was overcome by a second wind. Much of that was due to Olivia’s performance – she was so incredibly understated and nuanced. A less talented actress could have made Catherine seem wooden or boring. Olivia makes you feel for her – you can see the thoughts behind her expressive face. The scenes between Clift and De Havilland at the party are some of my favorites because they so remind me of how I feel at parties.

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I would’ve probably kicked him a few times too. #AwkwardGirlProblems

Taking place in the late 19th century, it’s fascinating to examine the gender roles. This film almost feels like the anti-Pride and Prejudice. In Pride and Prejudice, you have a poor, but intelligent woman rejecting the concept of marriage without love, even if it means security. Whereas, in The Heiress, you have a wealthy, but naive girl rejecting the idea of a life without love, even if the person doesn’t necessarily want her for her.

The most gut-wrenching bit of the film for me is when Catherine’s father and aunt tell her they believe Morris only wants her for her money. Moreover, her father tells her she has nothing else that anyone could love her for. I was so angry on Catherine’s behalf. Just because a girl is introverted and slightly awkward and can’t play the piano, she’s not worthy of love? Absolutely ridiculous! But the idea that the two people Catherine is closest to see her as nothing is emotionally terrifying. It made me think about how much of our sense of self is built on the validation of the people around us.

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Catherine’s father = Father of the Year #NOT

The film is absolutely beautiful – the cinematography, the music, the costumes. However, at its core, the film is a classic because it is still relevant. It questions societal norms, especially in regards to an unmarried woman. Olivia’s performance is stunning and by the end, unsettling. She won her second Academy Award for the role. Her speech captures her essence – it doesn’t seem that Gone with the Wind‘s ‘Melanie’ is far from who the real Olivia is.

Also, small BTS story – When Catherine climbs the stairs, dejected in the second half of the movie, Wyler began to get frustrated. Olivia, who was known for her professionalism, ended up throwing the suitcase she had been carrying at Wyler. Wyler, seeing it was empty, told the crew to fill it up so that when she walked up the stairs, she’d feel the full weight of Catherine’s despair. And I’ve got to say, it kind of worked!

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Just an independent woman doing her thing!

The film was apparently going to be remade in 1993 by Director Mike Nichols and Tom Cruise. However, after screening the film, they didn’t believe it could be improved upon. A remake was finally made in 1997 with Jennifer Jason Leigh, though, of course, it didn’t surpass the success and critical acclaim of the original.

The vintage trailer for The Heiress is below.

WARNING: do not plan to get anything done while watching this film. IT WON’T HAPPEN.

The Merits of “Gone With the Wind”

Fiddle Dee-dee!

This last weekend, I attended the American Cinematheque’s annual screening of Gone With the Wind. Before the film, James Curtis, the author of William Cameron Menzies: The Shape of Things to Come, congratulated us. Why? He told us that although there’s been a lot of talk about Star Wars: The Force Awakens taking the #1 box office success crown, that is not in any way accurate, when you factor in inflation. With inflation, The Force Awakens is #14 and #1 is still Gone With the Wind. And we who attended the Aero Theatre on Saturday night were the most recent people to contribute to that figure.

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I was so happy to see that Gone With the Wind attracted such a large crowd. The theater was almost completely full and that made the experience so much more enjoyable. Gone with the Wind isn’t just meant to be seen on the big screen; it’s meant to be experienced with a full audience. I first saw the film a few years ago when it was shown at the TCM Film Festival. I remember that I didn’t want to go. It was between Gone with the Wind and something else I can’t recall. My dad and I argued, but he ultimately convinced me that I should give it a chance.

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I saw it in Grauman’s Chinese theater with a completely full audience and had the time of my life. It was one of the most fun experiences I’ve had in a theater. I was genuinely surprised at the depth of the characters and the grey moral area they were treading. And funnily enough, I loved the script. The reason I say it’s funny is that the project went through many writers – so many writers that it’s a miracle the film is coherent. Somehow, despite all the obstacles, everything came together on this film.

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There are many moments in Gone with the Wind that are controversial. Before I even attended this last weekend’s screening, a friend had commented on my Facebook post, calling the film racist. She wasn’t wrong. The portrayals of the slaves in the film are very stereotypical and not very nuanced – they were “happy slaves.” However, I do believe that you need to look at films in the context of when they were made. While the roles for these African American actors could have and should have been better, at least Gone with the Wind was giving them roles. And of course, Hattie McDaniel, who played Mammy, was the first African American woman to win an Academy Award.

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Additionally, there are many moments in the film that are morally ambiguous. Rhett basically raping Scarlett is one of those moments. There are uncomfortable moments in the film and I’m astonished that they got past the censors of the day. However, moral ambiguity makes for interesting characters because people are complex. They don’t just do things for one reason.

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Scarlett, though she’s a horrible person for much of the film, is very complex. I actually find her a very tragic character because she’s so passionate about what she wants and will do anything she can to get it, but she’s ultimately reaching for something that doesn’t exist. When she finally realizes what she does want, which is Rhett, it’s too late. There’s a scene in the film where she tells Rhett all the reasons why she’s going to hell. It makes you see Scarlett in a different light. She understands on some level that she’s done wrong, but not enough to put someone else’s needs in front of her own.

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The cast really makes the movie. Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable and Olivia De Havilland sell the story. Clark Gable did not even want to be in the film though, calling it a “woman’s picture.” It would be very hard to imagine it without him. Vivien Leigh beat out every young actress of the time for this role. She put everything she had into this part and her performance is enough reason to watch the film. Olivia de Havilland is also wonderful in the film, the only character who is completely sympathetic (although Melanie, her character, did marry her cousin. Ew!).

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My dad told me one of the things he thought didn’t work in the film was the casting of Leslie Howard as Ashley. Leslie Howard actually hated the part; he thought he was too old for Ashley. I actually don’t mind him though because I think it makes Scarlett’s wanting of him even more hilarious. She’s so blind to her own feelings and of what would make her most happy.

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Also, the music of the film is pretty incredible. Max Steiner wrote an unbelievably beautiful and sweeping score. It’s intrinsically connected to the film. You can’t have one without the other.

There are so many stories behind this film and I really recommend watching the documentaries included on the Special Edition DVD. Honestly, the making of this film is probably more interesting than the film itself. It was a true epic; the last of its kind made is probably Titanic. It appealed to audiences because it had a little something for everyone. How many films can you say that about today?

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If you have the chance to see this film in a theater, I would urge you to do so! It’s a totally different experience and you can’t fully appreciate the film on a television or god forbid, a computer screen.

75th Anniversary Trailer below…