The World War II homefront drama I'LL BE SEEING YOU seems to me to be one of the great unsung Christmas movies. Not many people seem to be familiar with this touching story about two lost souls finding each other at Christmas, despite the fact it stars two of the very best actors of the '40s, Ginger Rogers and Joseph Cotten. I had never seen it myself until about four years ago; tonight was my second time to watch it.
The film is set between roughly December 23rd and New Year's Day. Mary Marshall (Ginger Rogers) and Sergeant Zachary Morgan (Joseph Cotten) meet on a train. Zach is on furlough and, having no family, he decides to get off at Mary's stop in hopes of seeing her again. Mary is visiting her aunt (Spring Byington), uncle (Tom Tully), and cousin Barbara (Shirley Temple) for Christmas, and the family is happy to host a soldier for dinner. From there, a romance blossoms between Mary and Zach.
Unbeknownst to Mary, Zach is suffering from shell shock, or what might today be called post-traumatic stress syndrome; he's been furloughed from a hospital as part of his recovery process. And Zach is unaware that Mary is on Christmas furlough from prison, where she has served three years for involuntary manslaughter. Mary must return to prison on New Year's Day.
Though the film tackles difficult subject matter, it's filled with warmth and Christmas spirit. My favorite scene in the movie is when Aunt Sarah (Byington) carries a plum pudding to the table on Christmas Eve, followed by her husband leading an impromptu carol singalong. It's a lovely scene which feels very real, including the good-natured joshing about the aunt becoming tipsy on sherry the previous New Year's.
The film is really a five-person character study. The performances of Byington, Tully, and Temple are as important to the film as the outstanding acting by Cotten and Rogers. Byington and Tully, in particular, really make the movie. I think this is one of Byington's finest performances, and Tully has just the right touch as Mary's somewhat blustery uncle ("Fine, fine!"), who initially feels a bit awkward with her, given her situation, but is a good man at heart. Temple successfully conveys a girl on the way to adulthood who initially resents or fears Mary, but then learns some important life lessons.
Look for John Derek (then billed as Dare Harris) as the lieutenant who takes Barbara to a New Year's Eve dance. Chill Wills and Kenny Bowers are also in the cast.
The lovely voice singing the title song at the New Year's Eve party belongs to Louanne Hogan. Hogan was the singing voice of Jeanne Crain in several films including STATE FAIR, CENTENNIAL SUMMER, and MARGIE.
As a side note, a couple years back Starbucks included Peggy Lee's rendition of I'LL BE SEEING YOU on their annual Christmas mix album. I thought it was a wonderful choice to include the song, given its role in a film which should be a holiday perennial.
Of particular note is Mark-Lee Kirk's set decoration. The Marshall home is warm and comfortable, though perhaps a bit shabby here and there. It looks like a "lived in" home owned by people who have enough, but not a lot extra.
Also worth noting is the film's subtle references to gas rationing, pointed out by Jacqueline in one of her most interesting posts at Another Old Movie Blog. Understanding wartime gas rationing and how it's reflected in the film adds another dimension to the movie.
This movie was directed by William Dieterle. According to IMDb, George Cukor also did uncredited work on the film. The cinematography was by Tony Gaudio, who had worked at Warner Bros. for many years, shooting classic films such as THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (1938), THE LETTER (1940), and HIGH SIERRA (1941).
I'LL BE SEEING YOU is available on DVD in a beautiful print.
It's also been released on VHS.
This World War II story is of its era yet also seems timely today, with our country once more at war. Highly recommended for holiday viewing.