I watched two war movies this weekend. The luminous 1944 movie: Since You Went Away, a movie chock full of old fashioned Hollywood stars (and good ones at that) and a gritty 2010 movie,The Green Zone. Both these films were excellent, put me in a contemplative state and impressed me once again of the power of moving images with sound.
Since You Went Away, directed by John Cromwell (a journeyman studio director) and produced (and written for the screen by David Selznick) from a novel by Margaret Buell. The cinematography of shadows and flickering, filtered soothing light was Stanley Cortez’ and Les Garmes’ and it is something to behold. (Cortez won an academy award) I’ve seen the film before but it seemed to be in pristine tones this time, so the film may have been salvaged and restored – and a glorious restoration it is. Keep in mind that WW II was a necessary war (black and white war, one could say)- and in 1944 the tehnical skills of that medium was at it apex.
It starred Claudette Colbert as Anne Hilton, Jennifer Jones and Shirley Temple as her daughters, Joseph Cotton as Lt. Commander Tony Willett, Monty Woolley as Col. William G. Smollen, Robert Walker as Corporal William G. Smollett II and Hattie McDaniel as Fidelia and the bitchy stand-in for all immoral, hoarding, selfish, unpatriotic Americans and the necessary dark shadowy female – Agnes Moorhead.
I’ve never seen Claudette Colbert better – never. Her role as a central force, a touchstone of the family during the dark years of conflict was an exercise of empathy, elegance, relaxed confidence and quiet determination to keep the home as “normal” as possible even with the background of war. There was no clanging patriotism in this movie – only quiet scenes like Jennifer Jones’ work with the wounded boys at the nearby hospital as she worked as a nurses’ aid. Her growth from a l7 year old schoolgirl to a young woman witnessing the aftereffects of war on young men not much older than herself is clearly registered on her young, innocent face and in the kind of sympathy only a child can evince. Because the two adults in the film were muted and strong at the center – Jennifer becomes a better young actress before our eyes. While in the beginning Jennifer was somewhat overwrought – that changes completely. Shirley Temple was the younger sister and the weakest of the cast but she played her role well enough – a ’40s young teenager, funny and quirky.
Joseph Cotton (whom I liked very much for once) played the stock character role of a male suitor who lost out to the husband who is away at war and remains a bit in love with Anne. But he puts a bite into that role – a dangerous bite and his welcome charm and playful sophistication (hiding a deeply patriotic naval officer – he has a Navy Cross we discover) are a welcome force in the household of four women. He looked pretty good in those whites. (Not as good as Redford in The Way We Were, but who ever did) Heck, I welcomed his presence myself. At times, I considered myself a fifth woman in the home. If there is a heaven, I’d like to visit Anne some day – show up spontaneously in her l944 life. Offer myself as a new neighbor, with a cake or pie (I saved my stamps for the sugar) and in the hopes she would offer me a cup of coffee. Of course, she would and I could enjoy that comfortable home. The family is upper middle class – but not in today’s sense but in that time when the home seemed just about right, not over the top but furnished warmly with those beautiful white billowing curtains and lovely chairs covered in chintz. Ever notice all those chairs in the 40’s films. Think it may have been because people actually sat around and talked instead of watching television.
To Be Continued