Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5. USA, 1944. Vanguard Films, Selznick International Pictures. Screenplay by David O. Selznick, adaptation by Margaret Buell Wilder, based on her book. Cinematography by Stanley Cortez, Lee Garmes. Produced by David O. Selznick. Music by Max Steiner. Production Design by William L. Pereira. Costume Design by Elmer Ellsworth. Film Editing by John Faure, Arthur Fellows, Marsh Hendry. Academy Awards 1944.
Claudette Colbert says goodbye to her voluntarily enlisted husband and goes home to wait out the Second World War with her two daughters (Jennifer Jones, Shirley Temple). Things are tight around the house, which means letting their maid (Hattie McDaniel) go while taking in a boarder (Monty Woolley) to help make ends meet. Wooley’s estranged grandson (Robert Walker) shows up and becomes smitten with Jones, while father’s best friend Joseph Cotten shows up to keep Colbert company, and a whole slew of personal relationships play out over the impressive three-hour running time of this hopelessly sentimental melodrama. As much as it amounts to a lot of shameless enlistment propaganda (JOIN THE ARMY AND DANCE WITH GIRLS!), it’s also buoyed by terrific performances and is immensely moving. Colbert’s intelligence is so potent that the sermonizing that producer David O. Selznick is performing (like telling off war-profiteering society dames like Agnes Moorehead) always feels like it is coming straight from the heart. Jones is adorably endearing and her relationship with Walker (from whom she was getting divorced to marry Selznick at the time) has genuine chemistry that makes their now-famous farewell at a train station a tearjerker in itself (even if you can’t help but think of the spoofed version in Airplane). This one is not as well remembered as Mrs. Miniver or The Best Years of Our Lives, likely because so much of its drama is situated so directly in the culture and politics of its time, but as a tribute to the heroism on the homefront it works beautifully.