NOTE: This review of THIS ABOVE ALL (1942), starring Tyrone Power and Joan Fontaine, is my contribution to Power-Mad, a blogathon celebrating the May 5th Centennial of the birth of my favorite actor, Tyrone Power.
The blogathon is hosted by Patti at The Lady Eve's Reel Life and Patty at They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To. Please check their sites for links to posts by over two dozen contributors celebrating the life and career of a remarkable man. My thanks to them for hosting this much-deserved Tyrone Power Centennial event!
Prudence Cathaway (Fontaine) shocks some of her patrician relatives by enlisting in the ranks of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, rather than taking a role as an officer. On a blind date she meets Clive Briggs (Power), a somewhat mysterious but oh-so-handsome man of the "lower classes."
Clive and Prudence quickly fall in love, but it soon becomes clear that secretive Clive is wrestling with a serious problem. Prudence learns that Clive served with distinction at Dunkirk, but why is he now so bitter about the war, and why does he have nightmares? Prudence and Clive must overcome not just the class divide but Clive's personal demons before they can find lasting happiness.
Power's introduction is handled masterfully, as Clive and Prudence meet in a blackout. For most of the scene we only hear his melodious voice and see his face in shadows or lit by a match. Clive and Prudence don't actually get a good look at one another until their next meeting, and when they do, they're immediately smitten with one another.
Power and Fontaine are mesmerizing and achingly beautiful to watch together; it almost makes me tear up watching them at the height of their talent, their eyes sparkling with joy, and knowing they're both now gone.
Power, like many American stars in films set in England, doesn't attempt a British accent, let alone one of the lower classes. It was a wise choice, as Power's voice is so distinctive in the first place, and an accent may have been distracting. It's said more than once that Clive is an educated man, which also helps to explain his cultured speech.
(Speaking of speech, at one point there's an odd moment as Clive and Prudence walk in the shadows and we hear Fontaine's voice, but her lips clearly aren't moving.)
Power's questioning character somewhat foreshadows his Larry Darrell of THE RAZOR'S EDGE (1946), as he struggles with big "What's it all about?" type questions and struggles to find peace. Clive may not always act admirably, but thanks to Power's sensitive performance he retains audience sympathy, conveying between the lines that he's a decent man who's a little confused but will ultimately do the right thing. The scene where the tormented Clive confides in a one-armed minister (Alexander Knox) is quite moving.
Fontaine captures the confidence of a woman who has had a secure upbringing and the love and support of her doctor father (Philip Merivale). Prudence also has peace of mind from doing things she knows are right, whether finding a way to support her country or loving Clive, regardless of any accompanying problems. Prudence may have brief second thoughts about her sudden romance, such as the awkward moment she's spotted by her snooty cousin (Gladys Cooper) while on a secret holiday with Clive, but she falls harder with each passing moment.
There's a delightful scene where Prudence sees Clive heading down the hallway to the hotel bath, using his coat as a bathrobe, and she's overcome with delight at how cute he is, despite his awkward getup. (And then she goes out and buys him a bathrobe!)
THIS ABOVE ALL, which was released five months after Pearl Harbor, reminded audiences of its day what they were fighting for while also exploring whether a side effect of the war might be to change things for the better at home. Clive must reconcile wanting to fight to protect England with not wanting to perpetuate its class system, while Prudence in her own way works for a more egalitarian society.
The theme of the war helping to bridge class differences called to mind a British film released the next year, MILLIONS LIKE US (1943), in which Eric Portman refused to marry Anne Crawford until the war ended and they knew whether or not class distinctions would still matter. It's interesting that even in the darkest years of the war, people were thinking not just about surviving the war but about how to improve life in the years to follow.
Power would appear in a couple more films, THE BLACK SWAN (1942) and CRASH DIVE (1943), then he was off the screen serving in the military for the duration of the war. (In fact, he's billed as Tyrone Power, U.S.M.C.R., in CRASH DIVE.) In 1946 Power made a triumphant return to the screen in THE RAZOR'S EDGE (1946), and he remained a major star until his untimely death in 1958.
The behind the scenes talent of this 20th Century-Fox film is top class all the way, with Anatole Litvak directing and Arthur Miller serving as cinematographer. The score is by Alfred Newman. THIS ABOVE ALL runs 111 minutes. The screenplay by R.C. Sheriff was based on the novel by Eric Knight, who also wrote LASSIE COME-HOME.
Thomas Mitchell plays Clive's old Army buddy. Other members of the top-flight cast have only a scene or two, but each contributes something special, including Henry Stephenson, Nigel Bruce, Jill Esmond, and Arthur Shields. The cast also includes Sara Allgood, Queenie Leonard, Rhys Williams, Melville Cooper, Raymond Severn, Mary Field, Forrester Harvey, Doris Lloyd, and Miles Mander.
passing on late in 2013. Power's far too early death at 44 is one of the cinema's great losses.
Last month I paid my respects at his gravesite at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. The bench at his burial site, seen in this photo, has a passage from HAMLET carved into it...the very same play which provided the title for THIS ABOVE ALL.
THIS ABOVE ALL is available on DVD in the Tyrone Power Matinee Idol Collection, which just might be my favorite DVD set of all time.
Reviews of the other films in this set: GIRLS' DORMITORY (1936), LOVE IS NEWS (1937), SECOND HONEYMOON (1937), CAFE METROPOLE (1937), DAY-TIME WIFE (1939), JOHNNY APOLLO (1940), THAT WONDERFUL URGE (1948), THE LUCK OF THE IRISH (1948), and I'LL NEVER FORGET YOU (1951).