SUNDAY DINNER FOR A SOLDIER is a heartwarming piece of WWII Americana about a poor Florida houseboat family who are determined to scrape together their meager resources and provide a soldier with a festive Sunday meal.
Anne Baxter plays Tessa, who is raising three young siblings (Connie Marshall, Bobby Driscoll, and Billy Cummings) with little help from her good-for-nothing grandfather (Charles Winninger). The title soldier, Eric, shows up about an hour into the movie and is played by John Hodiak.
Baxter is excellent as Tessa, a genuinely good person who wants the best for her brothers and sister. Baxter was at her loveliest in her '40s films. I've never been a particular fan of Hodiak but he does a nice job in this film, particularly as his character interacts with the children. His joy at feeling like part of a family is very appealing. Sparks flew off camera between Baxter and Hodiak, who married in 1946.
The children are all quite natural and winning, which was particularly noted by the New York Times. Bobby Driscoll went on to work on the Disney films SONG OF THE SOUTH (1946), SO DEAR TO MY HEART (1948), MELODY TIME (1948), TREASURE ISLAND (1950), and PETER PAN (1953). Connie Marshall appeared in several good films, including SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY (1946), DRAGONWYCK (1946), MOTHER WORE TIGHTS (1947), and MR. BLANDINGS BUILDS HIS DREAM HOUSE (1948). Billy Cummings appeared in a dozen films as a child including THE SULLIVANS (1944), BELLS OF ROSARITA (1945), and FIGHTING FATHER DUNNE (1948).
Winninger is a character actor I sometimes find on the annoying side, and his character in this one certainly fills the bill, playing a man who has taken his orphaned grandchildren into his home but refuses to grow up.
The supporting cast includes Anne Revere (who is particularly good in an energetic performance as a peppery but sympathetic neighbor), Jane Darwell, Marietta Canty, and Chill Wills. Rory Calhoun can be glimpsed as a soldier near the end, and Robert Bailey plays Tessa's wealthy but dull beau.
The film's unique storyline and setting, combined with an excellent cast, make for a most enjoyable family film. The movie also provides an interesting peek at home life during the war years, which included ration coupons, victory gardens, and helping out the local USO.
The movie was directed by Lloyd Bacon. It was filmed in black and white and runs 85 minutes.
SUNDAY DINNER FOR A SOLDIER has not had a video or DVD release, but it can be seen from time to time on Fox Movie Channel.
2012 Update: SUNDAY DINNER FOR A SOLDIER is now available on DVD-R from the Fox Cinema Archives.