Thursday, January 29, 2009
Since You Went Away. Feature film. (1944, 177 mins) IMDB
t's 1943. WWII is raging all through the world and, finally, the US has got involved. Hollywood did its part. It made films about the war effort and this is one of them. It's a war propaganda film. The message is political: do your part. Sacrifice. Volunteer. Buy War Bonds. Whatever it takes. From start to finish the film is filled with this message. (You could fill pages with examples). It ridicules people who are above making an effort (e.g., a scene on a train). You would think such a film would be tiresome and boring and preachy but it isn't. Go figure. GREEN BERET, a John Wayne war-propaganda film about Vietnam was exactly that and I don't think the nature of each war was the difference.
While all that preaching is going on we see different love stories--a wife whose husband leaves to be in the Army, a grandfather whose grandson leaves, a young woman who falls in love with this awkward grandson and their engagement to be married.
It's a story of making the best of a difficult situation.
The film focuses on a mother and wife of two teenaged daughters. Her husband has left to fight. She must somehow make ends meet with a sudden reduction in income. Enter lodgers and visitors. A servant who leaves and comes back. (The same McDaniel servant in THE GREAT LIE with the same illiterate dialogue.)
The film doesn't make villains out of the enemy, although there are brief derisive caricatures of Japanese. The villain is simply the circumstances of war--the separation of people, the lack of basics. There are no battle scenes. No headlines or newreels about this campaign or that battle. We're never told where the story takes place except in the US, probably somewhere near the Great Lakes (i.e, NY, Ohio).
Given the gravitas of the subject, you would think the movie is entirely a drama, but it isn't. It's played as a comedy for the first two acts. There are dances, and humour and comedic moments. It plays to that. But the comedy fades as the ending nears.
Why I think it works, for the most part, is the range of characters. Interesting characters who rub against each other.
Monty Woolley plays the grandfather, retired general and lodger who is bristly as he was in LOOK WHO'S COMING TO DINNER. As the story progresses, his heart warms. We like the fact he's softened.
When I saw Robert Walker playing his young grandson I knew I had seen him in something before and I had, but here he is a shy, mousy type--quite a contrast to the bold and flamboyant character he plays in Hitchcock's STRANGERS ON A TRAIN. Given his personal life, I'm surprised he was in the movie. He plays the love interest to Jane, his wife in real life, who was slowly wooed away by David O. Selnick who produced this film. His career never went that far, but he seemed to have talent to play many roles.
The ending has a magical, tear-jerker power that I'm sure is a major reason why people like it, no love this movie. We remember the powerful effects of good endings, the emotions of tears and joy and vindication, even if we can't remember the details.
Posted 2009/01/29 at 03h32ET in Movie Commentary.