Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB. USA, 1944. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Screenplay by Claudine West, Jan Lustig, George Froeschel, additional poetry by Robert Nathan, based on the poem by Alice Duer Miller. Cinematography by George J. Folsey. Produced by Clarence Brown, Sidney Franklin. Music by Herbert Stothart. Production Design by Cedric Gibbons. Costume Design by Gile Steele. Film Editing by Robert Kern. Academy Awards 1944.
Irene Dunne is lovely in this fifteen-hankie tragedy, which begins with her as an aging nurse helping out with injured World War II soldiers and hoping that her son won’t be among them (or, provided he’s not mortally wounded, will be among them). Waiting for the next shipment of patients to come in, she reflects on her entire life, including her initial visit to England with her newspaper man father (a relentless Frank Morgan) and the romance (with Alan Marshal) that has kept her there for decades. Clarence Brown was one of the most reliable creators of sentimental tearjerkers, and while this one is not up there with The Yearling or National Velvet, it does ably show off his ability to move efficiently through quite a lot of melodramatic excess: the plot covers Dunne and Marshal’s courtship, early marriage, his service in World War I, their son’s childhood (played by Roddy McDowall, romancing a pint-sized Elizabeth Taylor in two scenes) before moving ahead to the war that the film’s audiences were still enduring. It’s a worthy tribute to the homefront and the sacrifices being made by women in the war (Gladys Cooper as Dunne’s mother-in-law and what she gives up for the greater good would probably have resonated with many viewers), but its most poignant moments are bogged down by bad dialogue and the film is actually at its most effective when it is trying the least to be meaningful. I’d rather watch Mrs. Miniver or Since You Went Away, but this one is gorgeous to look at and Dunne is every bit the star, holding the entire film up on her determined shoulders with characteristic ease.