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  Since You Went Away Baby Please Come Home
Year: 1944
Director: John Cromwell, Edward F. Cline, Tay Garnett
Stars: Claudette Colbert, Jennifer Jones, Joseph Cotten, Shirley Temple, Monty Woolley, Lionel Barrymore, Robert Walker, Hattie McDaniel, Agnes Moorehead, Alla Nazimova, Albert Basserman, Gordon Oliver, Keenan Wynn, Guy Madison, Craig Stevens
Genre: Comedy, Drama, War, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Anne Hilton (Claudette Colbert) cannot believe it. Why would anyone, let alone the Government, call up her husband to serve in the armed forces? She knows there's a war on, it is inescapable in 1943, but who would seriously think her kind, gentle husband would be fighting material? And yet he has been drafted and today after seeing him off at the station, she returns to an empty house, feeling dreadfully bereft. She does not live there alone, however, as she still has her two teenage daughters Jane (Jennifer Jones) and Bridget (Shirley Temple), known informally as Brig, to keep her company, but the war will continue to affect their lives in seismic ways they cannot escape...

The shadow of Mrs Miniver, that Oscar-winning juggernaut that drove home the point to America of what was happening in Europe before their nation entered the war, loomed large over producer David O. Selznick's Since You Went Away. He wanted to make something for the war effort as every other studio was at the time, and ostensibly thought this would be his contemporary answer to his own massively successful Gone with the Wind, which remains the most profitable and widely-seen film of all time if you adjust the figures for inflation. Yet he must have regarded Greer Garson in that previous movie and jealously considered it as something he should have achieved with his studio.

Thus, instead of setting a story on the British home front with a somewhat American view of what life was like there, he cut out the middle man, or the Atlantic anyway, and served up life in the United States among those either left behind by the war, or those who were able to return for whatever reason. The results were another enormous success for him, not quite Gone with the Wind-sized, and it has not endured as far as some of his other hits, but it did what it set out to do at the time, and that was boost the morale of Americans - and any other nation's representatives who happened to be looking in, unless they were German or Japanese, naturally - they were the enemy.

Selznick marshalled a highly impressive cast to play out the year in the life, from winter to sentimental as you like Christmas, not simply the three female leads, for this adaptation of the much-read Margaret Buell Wilder novel (whose diary entry format was referred to intermittently). Although this was a determinedly woman-centric take on the conflict, there were men here too, from Joseph Cotten as family friend Uncle Tony about as dashing as he was ever allowed to be (and the focus of Jane's teenage crush) to poor old Robert Walker as Bill, the nervous and ungainly recruit who manages to win over Jane thanks to his innate sweetness and good heart (ironically, the troubled Walker and Jones were married at this point, but headed for divorce). For added texture, Bill's grandfather Colonel Smollet is the Hiltons' lodger, played by the always welcome Monty Woolley, that elaborately bearded character actor of Cole Porter pal fame.

These characters move in and out of each other's lives as Selznick deliberately allowed this to sprawl to nearly three hours in duration, that notion a film gains in importance the longer it becomes part of serious cinema even then. The Colonel, for example, is a typical Woolley bluff old cove, but has comedy bits when the Hiltons' bulldog takes a liking to him, then dramatic scenes as he refuses to reach out to Bill and reassure him, even show him any affection at all, when he mistakenly believes it will make him man up, which of course it does not since it is Jane's love that brings him out of himself. Colbert was almost overwhelmed in her own supposed showcase as the tearful wife and mother, but let's not underestimate her, as she was a star for a reason, and provided the emotional centre of the piece, however shaky and tested that was throughout. As a mix of light and shade, we were never allowed to forget the deadly gravity of the war, from the black armbands on minor players to the deaths hitting home to the characters, even addressing the Holocaust which was unusual in Hollywood movies of the day, and if this was unabashedly corny, it succeeded like gangbusters if you were sympathetic, as the American public were back in 1944. Music by Max Steiner.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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