Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Madame X, Take 3210542184375

I recommended one of the many versions of the movie Madame X back in February, 2009. While I mentioned that Helen Hayes would go on to win an Oscar for a very similar movie, I failed to mention another movie with much the same plot that also won its star an Oscar: To Each His Own, which is airing on TCM overnight tonight, at 1:30 AM ET.

Olivia de Havilland stars as Josephine "Jody" Norris, and at the beginning of the movie we see her in London during the air-raids of World War II. She's unmarried, and so has the time to serve in a civil defense capacity. Being unmarried also gives her the time to look back on life and see how she's gotten to this point. Cue the inevitable flashback... back to World War I. Jody is in a small town somewhere in Middle America. Local boy Alex Piersen (Philip Terry) is in love with her, but she claims she can't marry him, so he marries the wealthy Mary Anderson. Meawhile, the World War I equivalent of the flyboys come to town drumming up support for Liberty Bonds, and Jody falls in love with one of them, a captain played by John Lund. He goes off to France and gets killed in a plane crash, but not before knocking up Jody, leaving her with child -- not widowed.

What's a girl to do? Jody goes off to the big city to have the baby and then claim to adopt it, but the small town isn't having anything of that, so the Piersens wangle custody right from under Jody's nose, which forces Jody to leave town and go into other lines of work. Here is one of the big differences between To Each His Own and the all the Madame X clones: in Madame X, the woman usually winds up descending into a life of crime; after the imposition of strict Code enforcement, Jody ends up in control of a perfume business when she thinks she's going to work legitimately, but is actually working for a bootlegger. (The movie doesn't sufficiently explain how Jody avoids legal trouble.) Jody becomes wealthy, and tries to use her economic power to get custody of her son. Mrs. Piersen, who is insanely jealous, absolutely refuses, and eventually, Jody goes off to England to run the European branch of her business empire.

Fast forward to World War II, and who's in the US Army? Why young little Piersen, who by now has grown up to look remarkably like his biological father. (This is unsurprising, since the character is played by John Lund in a dual role.) Jody sees this as her opportunity to help her biologicial son in a way she couldn't back in America....

To Each His Own is terribly melodramatic, which may color your opinion of the movie: if you don't like this sort of story line, you'll probably be groaning throughout the movie. De Havilland, however, gives a performance that is probably the best of all the Madame X equivalents I've seen. It's too bad the same can't be said for John Lund, who is as wooden here as he was when I recommended The Mating Season. Thankfully, he doesn't take up too much screen time, as his father character dies close to the beginning of the movie, while his son character only appears toward the end.

To Each His Own deserves at least one viewing, but you're going to have to catch the TCM screenings, as it doesn't seem to have been released to DVD. Fortunately, in addition to tonight's showing, it's scheduled for Mothers' Day in a few weeks' time as well.

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