Friday, November 24, 2017

Girl Week 2017: Since You Went Away, a guest post by Joel

We've made it all the way to Day 5 of Girl Week 2017, and once again, Joel gets to steer the ship.

Directed by John Cromwell.
1944. Not Rated, 177 minutes.
Claudette Colbert
Jennifer Jones
Joseph Cotten
Shirley Temple
Monty Woolley
Lionel Barrymore
Robert Walker
Hattie McDaniel
Agnes Moorehead

 As the war raged in Europe Hollywood power producer David O. Selznick decided to undertake a project that he hoped would serve as an enduring tribute to the women waiting and worrying for their men and working to do their bit for the fight for freedom. Almost perfectly cast (more on that later) he gave it his best shot.

Anne Hilton (Claudette Colbert) an upper middle class housewife whose architect husband Tim has just departed to fight in WWII is faced for the first time in her life with managing alone while raising her two teenage daughters Jane (Jennifer Jones) and Brig-short for Bridget (a 16 year old Shirley Temple) amid the upheavals and shortages the conflict has wrought.

Having to economize without the security of her husband’s regular paycheck Anne must let their maid Fidelia (Hattie McDaniel) go-finding another spot for her-and takes in a boarder, the finicky retired Col. Smollett (Monty Woolley). While occasionally being mocked by presumed friend Emily Hawkins (Agnes Moorehead) who thinks nothing of hoarding and other unpatriotic activities they adjust to their new reality of food rationing, victory gardens and lack of luxuries.

One day word arrives that if they hurry to Tim’s training center (many states away) they will be able to see him briefly before he ships out. During their abortive train journey they come face to face with some of the upheaval the war has caused, displaced immigrants, soldiers returning without limbs, people with missing family members and most telling stops for munitions and troop trains.

On their return they meet the Colonel’s estranged grandson Bill Smollett (Robert Walker) who has enlisted as well and come to make an attempt at reconciliation before leaving for an uncertain future. He falls for Jane and vice versa leading to a memorable departure scene. Now with Anne & Tim’s closest friend Lt. Commander Tony Willett (Joseph Cotton) also leaving for the front the women face many crises alone growing stronger along the way while doing their bit for the boys over there!

Beautifully orchestrated by Max Steiner (who won an Oscar for his work) and full of memorable set pieces all of this is realized by a terrific group of performers who manage to create identifiable people despite the script’s occasional heavy doses of schmaltz. The one exception, though she’s not fatal to the picture, is Selznick’s discovery and obsession Jennifer Jones. Desperately in love and determined to prove her the greatest most versatile of all performers he was blind to the fact that she wasn’t much of an actress-arch, mechanical and stiff. In the beginning of the film she affects a high pitched breathy delivery and a golly gosh unctuousness to try and mask the fact that she’s too old for the part which quickly becomes wearing. She improves somewhat as the character matures but I spent her time on screen thinking how much better the film would have been with a truly gifted actress like Teresa Wright in her place.

There is also a disturbing undercurrent to her scenes with Robert Walker. They had at this point been married several years and had two children but Jones’s affair with Selznick had wrecked their marriage and they were in the process of separating. Walker, still in love with Jones and bereft at the end of their marriage, hadn’t wanted to do the film but was forced to via his contract and the pressures of the conflict lead the highly strung man into a downward spiral leading to alcohol, drug and psychological problems and his early death at 32 a few years later after an adverse reaction to a doctor’s injection shortly after he completed his finest performance in Strangers on a Train. Jones did not attend his funeral nor allow their sons too either.

All that aside, and since he was loathe to do things on a small scale, Selznick saw this as a modern day equivalent to his mega success “Gone with the Wind” with a cast to match, and he wasn’t shy about drawing comparisons since the tagline of this was “The four most important words since Gone With the Wind-- SINCE YOU WENT AWAY!” He didn’t quite meet that lofty goal but he did turn out a compelling, impressive and entertaining film.

Yesterday's Girl Week posts:

Click here for more movies from the 1940s


  1. Great review Joel! This is one film that has evaded of many. Poor Jennifer Jones whom I didn't mind in Portrait of Jennie and even the blast Duel In The Sun. For some reason, I fondly remember her falling out of the elevator in the Towering Inferno. It was mean of her not to allow her kids to go to their dad's funeral as what could he do at that point? I have wanted to see this film because I believe it seems to be on a similar wavelength to The Best Years of Our Lives.

    1. Sadly, I need to see every movie you mentioned here. And yeah, Joel is great.

    2. Thanks Dell.

      Portrait of Jennie isn't bad but again I watched it thinking about how much better Gene Tierney would have been in the lead. The film however has a wonderfully dreamy, atmospheric look and feeling to it and a superior supporting cast.

      Duel in the Sun however is utter claptrap savaged by critics at the time of its release as a lumbering bore and nicknamed Lust in the Dust. Gregory Peck is completely miscast as a villainous black sheep and Jones hopelessly out of her depth in a part Ava Gardner could have made work without breaking a sweat as a half breed hellcat.

      I LOVE The Towering Inferno and it's the one film where I think Jones is okay. Probably because the script only calls on her to be dignified and classy. Whatever her deficiencies as a performer she was those two things.

      Though not as profound as Best Years of Our Lives this does have somewhat of the same intentions of readjustment to a radically different reality.

    3. The saddest part of all this is I have The Towering Inferno in my collection. It will probably be on my Blind Spot list for next year.

    4. That would be great!! It's really one of the essential trio of 70's disaster along with the original Airport and The Poseidon Adventure that were stacked with big budgets and bigger stars. And while they were aimed to be popular entertainments not art they were carefully made with the top production effects of the day.

    5. I've seen The Poseidon Adventure and Airport a few times, though not in a quite a while. Definitely need to see this last genre essential.

  2. Great review! Yet another one I haven't seen lol.

    1. It's long (probably overlong) but worth the time for both the story and the craftmanship involved.

  3. I think you're fonder of this one than I am. This plays out (to me) like an American version of Mrs. Miniver, and given the choice, I'd rather watch Mrs. Miniver.

    I think this goes on too long. Cut 30 minutes and we can talk.

    1. Guess, I've got to watch this, now.

    2. I could see where 30 minutes could have been trimmed out of it without damaging the intent but Selznick was aiming for an epic sweep. To him apparently that must have meant an extended running time since most of his independently produced pictures had a problem with narrative length.

      If I had to choose between between the two I'd pick Mrs. Miniver as well. Perhaps that's why I kept thinking of Teresa Wright in Jennifer Jones role.

  4. Terrific Dell! LOVE the pictures you've selected! Especially the one of the two girls in the bathroom and Shirley Temple's bathrobe with the hand embroidered "Brig" on it. All the times I've seen the movie and I've never noticed that detail before. Funny that without having seen the film you still featured two pictures from pivotal scenes.

    Speaking of Shirley she certainly grew up to be a lovely young woman though she didn't work as an actress for very long once she reached adulthood basically retiring from performing at 21 but still having starred in almost 40 films and that's not even counting the series of shorts she made between the ages of 2 & 4!! She's very good in this at 16 just the right age for her character, a little gangly but poised on the cusp of womanhood. Most of her films as a young woman are pretty run of the mill but this, Honeymoon and especially The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer with Cary Grant and Myrna Loy are worth tracking down.

    1. Your writing proved to be a valuable guide. It was also greatly beneficial that more pics were available for this than there were for your first review. Thanks again for sharing, Joel.

  5. Great review, Joel! I need to add this to my list.

    1. Thanks! It's not a perfect film but well worth the time....but it will require a chunk of that because of the length.