Monday, January 21, 2008

Tonight's Movie: The War Against Mrs. Hadley (1942)

In THE WAR AGAINST MRS. HADLEY, the birthday party of Washington society hostess Stella Hadley (Fay Bainter) is ruined when news comes over the radio that Pearl Harbor has been bombed. Mrs. Hadley, a widow, views the war as an intrusion into her ordered life, especially when her beloved ne'er-do-well son (Richard Ney) is called up to serve. As time goes on Mrs. Hadley's life is impacted more and more by the war, particularly when her daughter (Jean Rogers) falls in love with a working-class soldier (Van Johnson) she meets at a canteen.

The plot builds to a moving climax. Although a couple of film rating books on my shelves only rated this film two stars -- one complained it was "dated propaganda" -- I found it a very well-made film which is surprisingly relevant today, when there are still many people in denial about the battle our country is facing. And as with PARTY WIRE, the film is also valuable as an historical artifact of its time.

The overt references to politics were also quite interesting -- Mrs. Hadley is a staunch Republican opposed to FDR's policies, who refuses to read her late husband's former paper because the new owners supported Roosevelt for a third term.

The cast is superb, beginning with Fay Bainter in the title role. Bainter is one of the great supporting actresses of Hollywood and a pleasure to watch in any of her films. Edward Arnold is equally good as her longtime friend, who thinks war service might force her son to grow up.

This was Van Johnson's first good-sized role, after appearing in bit parts and shorts. The deep cast also includes Spring Byington, Sara Allgood, Frances Rafferty, Connie Gilchrist, Halliwell Hobbes, and Dorothy Morris. Isobel Elsom shares a particularly moving scene with Bainter near the film's end.

I was tickled that my 9-year-old son recognized the voice of James A. FitzPatrick, host of MGM's long-running series of Traveltalk shorts, as the radio announcer on Pearl Harbor Day. In recent months I've videotaped a large number of Traveltalks, which are colorful time capsules about different cities and countries around the world. Although FitzPatrick is not listed in the IMDb credits, he was under contract to MGM so I feel pretty confident my son was correct in his identification.

The film's director was Harold S. Bucquet. The script by George Oppenheimer was nominated for Best Original Screenplay.

The movie runs 86 minutes.

THE WAR AGAINST MRS. HADLEY is not available on VHS or DVD.

The trailer can be seen here.


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