Monday, February 25, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Tender Comrade (1943) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Ginger Rogers stars in the World War II melodrama TENDER COMRADE (1943), released on DVD last year by the Warner Archive.

Ginger plays Jo Jones, who as the movie opens is reunited with her husband Chris (Robert Ryan), who has just one night to spend with her before getting on a train to ship overseas.

Jo works at Douglas Aircraft and gets the idea that if she and three coworkers (Ruth Hussey, Kim Hunter, and Patricia Collinge) with husbands in the military pool resources they could share a house rather than renting small rooms or apartments. They're even able to hire a housekeeper (Mady Christians), a German immigrant whose husband is fighting in the U.S. Army.

For the most part the women get along and support one another, although they're all quite different. Young Doris (Hunter) is a newlywed whose husband (Richard Martin) shipped out immediately after the ceremony; the older Helen (Collinge) has both a husband and son serving; and cynical Barbara (Hussey) goes out on dates despite being married, which creates some conflict with Jo. Jo, meanwhile, eventually gives birth to a baby boy.

The movie somewhat calls to mind an earlier Rogers film, STAGE DOOR (1937), which similarly featured a group of women living in a big old house; while STAGE DOOR is funnier, both films confront some major life issues, including death. That said, TENDER COMRADE is the weaker of the two films.

I love Rogers, Hussey, and homefront dramas but find TENDER COMRADE an imperfect exemplar of the WWII morale-raising film. It's certainly watchable -- this was my second viewing, having previously seen it in 2006 -- but it also has issues, being weighted down by flashbacks, overly talky speeches, and heart-tugging moments which are too overtly maudlin.

The film does have wonderful moments, especially thanks to Ryan; Ginger's farewell to him at the train station was particularly well done, as they chat while she tries not to tear up, breaking down after the train is gone. At the same time there are also scenes, such as Jo reading a letter for Helen or talking to her baby after receiving a telegram, that the viewer starts to think will never end!

One of the nice things about TENDER COMRADE is that it was the film which gave Robert Ryan his big break; he'd been toiling in bit parts and small roles since 1940. Ryan's biographer J.R. Jones recounted that Ryan showed up to read for a role in TENDER COMRADE (1943); there were "about a hundred" other actors at the audition, but Ginger Rogers slipped the producer a note which said, "I think this is the guy." The producer later gave the note to Ryan, and he kept it for the rest of his life.

A fun bit of trivia: On a whim I searched Google for the address of the rental home in the movie, 957 West Adams, since I recognized the address as being in the neighborhood where my daughter went to college at USC in Los Angeles. I was amazed when the search pulled up a photo of the house actually used in the movie! It seems rather remarkable that a house's actual address was used. Here's a photo; the caption indicates it has been demolished. It was the home of Isidore Dockweiler.

TENDER COMRADE was directed by Edward Dmytryk from a script by Dalton Trumbo. It was filmed in black and white by Russell Metty. The running time is 102 minutes.

The supporting cast includes Richard Gaines, Jane Darwell, and Mary Forbes.

The Warner Archive DVD print has some scratches, including a particularly noticeable "blip" near the end of the movie, but otherwise it's perfectly watchable, with good sound. There are no extras.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.

3 Comments:

Blogger Caftan Woman said...

Ginger and Robert Ryan are a wonderful team in this movie. Their fight scene feels so honest and real that I feel like a peeping Tom.

That connection with the house is very interesting. The movie universe sends out the most remarkable coincidences.

5:26 AM  
Blogger Walter S. said...

Laura, a fair handed write-up of what is a slice of life time capsule of 1943 World War II USA. The best part of the movie are the scenes with Jo(Ginger Rogers) and Chris Jones(Robert Ryan). This could have been a good movie about war brides living and working on the homefront during World War II, but it came up short. I agree that it is worth watching because of the cast, especially Robert Ryan and Ginger Rogers. I really like the publicity photo of Ginger and Robert walking together. He's almost a foot taller than she is.

Also, I thought the house connection story was rather neat.

4:19 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Caftan Woman, I agree with you on their scenes together. I remember the first time I saw the movie I was uncomfortable watching some of their scenes and I wasn't quite sure why. This time I was thinking that you don't often see such raw and realistic bickering on film!

Walter, thank you very much! It sounds like we saw the film very much the same. Isn't that photo fun?

I'm glad you both enjoyed the anecdote about the house in the movie! I love digging up information about movie locations, and I sure wasn't expecting to discover the house's actual location when I checked to see where the address was!

Best wishes,
Laura

9:27 PM  

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