Stella Hadley (Fay Bainter) is a wealthy woman, celebrating her birthday with her inner circle: her son Ted (Richard Ney), her daughter Pat (Jean Rogers), her best friend Cecelia (Spring Byington), her doctor, and an old friend named Elliot Fulton (Edward Arnold). It’s a small gathering, but a happy one for Stella, who prefers to celebrate in this low-key fashion every year.
Unfortunately for Stella, her latest birthday celebration happens to fall on December 7, 1941. Just as the party is beginning, Pat turns on the radio and hears the news that Pearl Harbor has been attacked. Sort of oblivious to the affairs of the world, Stella’s party ends abruptly, but she plans to carry on life as usual despite the war.
The same can’t be said for the rest of her party. Elliot works for the war department, and Ted works below Elliot before being transferred to active service. Pat works at a canteen, where she strikes up a friendship with a soldier named Mike (Van Johnson). Cecelia works with a First Aid group. Even Stella’s butler, Bennett (Halliwell Hobbes), involves himself in the war effort by secretly becoming an air raid warden!
The war progresses with stubborn Stella continuing life her in “ivory tower,” as Elliot calls it. But with those she loves so deeply involved in the war, she can’t avoid reality forever.
The War Against Mrs. Hadley was directed by Harold S. Bucquet. The film was written by George Oppenheimer.
The War Against Mrs. Hadley seems to be an effort to showcase several different types of involvement in the war effort, both on the home front and in the military. This includes Stella’s distinct lack of involvement which, of course, the audience is meant to frown upon. Predictably, by the end of the film, Mrs. Hadley makes a very patriotic transformation.
As is to be expected, Mrs. Hadley’s journey gives the film a definite edge of propaganda. For instance, Stella finds a new admiration for FDR when he writes her a personal letter, after years spent disapproving of his multi-term presidency. That scene gave me a little laugh, as Stella seems genuinely amazed that the very busy president would take time out of his very busy day to write a letter to little ol’ her. What a man! What a country! Her reaction to the letter is quite a bit stronger than her reaction to discovering she’s going to be a grandmother.
I’m a sucker for a cute wartime romance, so my favorite part of the film was the relationship between Van Johnson’s and Jean Rogers’ characters, Mike and Pat. They make an adorable pair and add a few lighter, sweeter scenes to the film. There’s a classic “dishwashing made cute” moment, as I’ve found to be pretty common in early/mid-century romances, and there’s also a great scene where Pat proposes to Mike. Sadly, these characters leave Washington, D.C. and the screen midway through the film. I wish they had a lot more screen time!
The War Against Mrs. Hadley is what I would classify as a light “human interest” drama rather than a serious war film, despite its variety of characters and wartime perspectives. It doesn’t delve as deeply as it should into any of these facets of the war, instead opting for a simple tale of one woman’s journey from ambivalence to patriotism. This makes it a sort of mediocre watch, despite its few bright spots. The score: 2/5