Thursday, November 25, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Since You Went Away (1944)

SINCE YOU WENT AWAY, David O. Selznick's tribute to the American homefront during World War II, is beautiful, moving filmmaking of the highest caliber.

The film begins in January 1943, just after Anne Hilton (Claudette Colbert) has seen her husband Tim off to war. Over the course of three engrossing hours, the film chronicles moments big and small in the lives of the Hilton family during the ensuing year. While Tim is away, Anne and her daughters Jane (Jennifer Jones) and Bridget (Shirley Temple) learn to cope with loneliness, financial hardship, worry, love, and loss.

Anne takes in a boarder, Col. Smollett (Monty Woolley), to help make financial ends meet, and eventually she goes to work in a factory. Jane becomes a nurse's aide after graduating from high school, and she falls in love with the colonel's estranged grandson Bill (Robert Walker, who was then married to Jones). Old friend Tony (Joseph Cotten) periodically visits and raises the family's spirits, and although the Hiltons can no longer afford their longtime housekeeper Fidelia (Hattie McDaniel), she misses them so much that she moves back in after starting a new job.

It's a simple story with sincere, moving performances, exquisitely filmed in black and white. The movie effectively mixes vignettes of ordinary family life with memorable dramatic sequences, such as the shadowy army dance or the famous train station scene where Jane says farewell to Bill. The film elicits tears -- perhaps sobs -- at certain moments, but the tears are honestly earned, and as the movie draws to a close at Christmas 1943, the viewer feels privileged to have accompanied the Hiltons on their emotional journey through the year.

The acting is so uniformly excellent, even in small roles, that it's impossible to single out any one or two particular actors. The cast also includes Lionel Barrymore in a single scene as a minister; Agnes Moorehead as a nasty, thoughtless acquaintance Anne puts up with far too long; Albert Basserman as an army psychiatrist; Guy Madison and Craig Stevens as young sailors befriended by Jane; Keenan Wynn as a friend of Tony's; Alla Nazimova as one of Anne's fellow factory workers; and Lloyd Corrigan as Mr. Mahoney, the grocer. There's even a charming performance by a bulldog named Soda.

The film includes many familiar faces including George Chandler, Adeline De Walt Reynolds, Dorothy Dandridge, Irving Bacon, Dorothy Adams, Florence Bates, Byron Foulger, and Grady Sutton.

John Derek, Rhonda Fleming, Ruth Roman, and Terry Moore are credited with bit parts.

SINCE YOU WENT AWAY was nominated for nine Oscars, including Best Picture, Actress (Colbert), Supporting Actress (Jones), Supporting Actor (Woolley), and Cinematography (Stanley Cortez and Lee Garmes). The only winner was Max Steiner, who took home an Oscar for Best Musical Score.

SINCE YOU WENT AWAY was directed by John Cromwell. Producer David O. Selznick wrote the screenplay based on a book by Margaret Buell Wilder. (I have a used copy in my own collection.) The film runs 2 hours and 57 minutes.

This film is available in a beautiful print on DVD. There are no extras. The DVD was reviewed at DVD Talk and DVD Verdict. (November 2017 Update: This film has now been reissued on Blu-ray and DVD by Kino Lorber. My review of the Blu-ray is here.)

It's also had a release on VHS.

Highly recommended.

Postscript: There's a beautiful church seen in the movie. It's the Church of the Angels in Pasadena, California.


Blogger Gordon Pasha said...

Laura: I have a weakness for homefront movies as I lived through those years. And I agree with your assessment. There is interesting linkage, about which you likely know, when Selznick was planning “Since You Went Away.” He set up Vanguard for less costly endeavors under Dore Schary, an early fruit of which was “I’ll be Seeing You,” a film I treasure. I recollect that you have mentioned it in the past. It also used two of Selznick’s contracted stars: Cotten and Temple. And Ginger Rogers, of course. Selznick thought correctly it would a good follow-up (on a smaller scale) to his blockbuster homefront effort. "I hope your posting steers some to "Since You Went Away." Best. Gerald.

4:31 AM  
Blogger Irene said...

I hope to see it soon. The library has it in VHS and I've requested it. I wish they had it in DVD as I haven't had much luck lately with their tapes - they've been used too much and the quality is poor.

8:50 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks much for your thoughts, Gerald -- you're right, I really like I'LL BE SEEING YOU, which somewhat echoes SINCE YOU WENT AWAY.

I've always had a particular interest in homefront movies, to the extent I wrote a paper on the topic many years back.

I hope you can see it and enjoy it, Irene! Let me know --

Best wishes,

11:39 PM  
Blogger Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Surely one of the greats. I think the scene where Mr. Mahoney trudges up the movie aisle with the war newsreel playing in the background, after he has lost his son, is one of the most heartbreaking in any film of the day.

5:08 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I agree, Jacqueline. That was a small, powerful moment which lingers in the memory. It brings home how many families had to deal with tragic news during the war years.

Best wishes,

7:26 PM  

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