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

 

The Genius of Robert Redford and ‘Ordinary People’

Robert Redford, renowned Actor, Producer and Director, celebrated his 80th birthday yesterday. In honor of his birthday, I thought I’d discuss one of my all time favorite films, the wonderful 1980 family drama Ordinary People.

I first saw the film in high school right smack dab in the middle of teen angst. While I had never dealt with anything close to what this family was dealing with, I deeply related to Timothy Hutton’s Conrad. I remember being so emotional after my first viewing of the film that I had to excuse myself, embarrassed that I was crying.

If you’ve never seen Ordinary People, the film follows an upper class suburban family dealing with the aftermath of an accident which left the eldest brother dead. For Conrad (Timothy Hutton), it’s especially hard – he was with his brother during the fatal boating accident. After leaving the hospital (where he stayed after he attempted suicide) , his parents Calvin (Donald Sutherland) and Beth (Mary Tyler-Moore) try desperately to pretend they’re just an ordinary family. More than anyone, Beth has trouble expressing her emotions as well as any affection towards the only son she’s got left.

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Awk…ward

Here are just a few reasons Ordinary People is a classic film staple:

The Cast

The cast makes this film what it is. Don’t get me wrong; it has many other strengths. However, without this cast, none of it would work.

Timothy Hutton was just 19 and if you can believe it, Ordinary People marked his first role in a film. And what a debut it was – Hutton was real, honest, raw. Perhaps, it was precisely because he was new that his performance was so natural. He’s one of the major reasons I fell in love with the film. He reminded me of another great actor, Logan Lerman. Hutton’s performance specifically made me think of Lerman’s performance in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. What can I say? I like emotional men…

Hutton won the Oscar that year for Best Supporting Actor…

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A good looking man, no?

Judd Hirsch was also wonderful as Berger, Conrad’s therapist. Redford had seen him in Taxi and thought his rapid-fire way of talking would be perfect for Dr. Berger, as he’s supposed to be a little nutty or off kilter. Hirsch looked back at the film for EW’s anniversary piece, saying, “The only person I hung out with was Timothy. He was so young and green and had just lost his father [the actor Jim Hutton] a few months earlier” (EW).

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Hirsch telling it like it is…

Mary Tyler-Moore played Beth, Conrad’s mother. This was quite the departure for her as she was known for playing upbeat, positive characters – specifically in the enormously popular sitcoms The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Mary Tyler-Moore show. With this film, Redford sought to explore Mary Tyler-Moore’s dark side. And her performance is fantastic, complex and subtle.

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A complex character to be sure…

Donald Sutherland played Beth’s husband and Conrad’s father, Calvin. Originally Redford wanted to see him for the role of Dr. Berger, but Sutherland convinced him he should play the husband. Sutherland’s Calvin is the parent really looking out for Conrad – he spends much of the film worried and trying to appease Beth, who believes they shouldn’t talk about any of their problems. He plays another great father in Pride and Prejudice so one could say, this film was just the start of this “type.”

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Quiet and reserved, but completely powerful

Elizabeth McGovern played Conrad’s romantic interest, Janneane Pratt. She was just about to start at Juliard, but Redford begged her to wait a few weeks. The film is certainly not hers, but her limited role gave her a chance to shine.

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Love that late 70s, early 80s hair…

The Screenplay

The film was based on a novel by Judith Guest. In the same EW article I mentioned, Judith spoke about the adaptation process, saying, “Ordinary People was my first book, and I was just thrilled that Viking was going to publish it. Then Redford called one day. I have a couple of brothers who are a bunch of jokesters, so when I got this call saying, “Hi, Judy, this is Robert Redford,” I said, “Yeah, sure it is.” I’m sure he gets that all the time. He just said, calmly, “No, it really is” (Guest, EW).

Alvin Sargent, who also wrote Paper Moon and Streisand’s A Star is Born, adapted Guest’s novel for the screen. Redford apparently sent Guest many drafts, asking her advice and giving her permission to criticize whatever she liked.

To me, the film is about loneliness and tragedy and the struggle to live through the worst moments in our lives. It’s also about understanding one another. Every character in the film is given depth, their own reasons for looking at the world the way they do. No one is a villain – they’re just imperfect people.

The plot in this film is small. It’s a character story. That starts at the script stage…and considering Sargent won an Oscar for his adaptation, I’d say he did pretty well.

The Direction

This is what it’s all about. Ordinary People was Robert Redford’s directorial debut. Funnily enough, Redford didn’t win any Oscars for his esteemed acting career. He, of course, won for directing Ordinary People and it is well deserved. The film is sensitive and unbelievably moving and that’s really because Redford believed in it. He put so much into it. For all aspiring directors out there, this is certainly one to watch.

It’s cathartic, superbly well-acted, and incredibly impactful.

Whenever a movie hits in such a big way, we wonder how it happened. And of course, the movie studios, try to replicate it. Success, many of them believe is just an equation. This element + this element = a great film. Unfortunately, in this medium, that’s not how it works. When a film works, it’s like lighting in a bottle. You have no idea how it happened – it just did. All you can do is appreciate it.

As an aspiring screenwriter and an avid movie-watcher, what I take away from the film is that caring is the key. You can’t watch this film and not see the love and sweat that went into getting it made. Studios didn’t want to make it at the time, believing it wasn’t commercial enough.

Ordinary People, to me, is an encouragement that little films, emotional films, films focused on characters, can also be successful. Redford, of course, founded The Sundance Institute to help fund independent films. And when you consider what this film was up against in the 1981 Oscars (Raging Bull and The Elephant Man), it’s an incredible statement that the film took home the Best Picture Oscar.

Vintage trailer below. Get ready for emotions you didn’t even know you had…😭