Chris Jones (Robert Ryan) is a soldier being sent overseas to fight in the second World War. Before shipping out, he’s lucky to get one night of leave and is able to pay a visit to his wife, Jo (Ginger Rogers). They’re very sad to say goodbye, but Jo has a job of her own to keep her busy while Chris is away — a job at an aircraft factory.
While eating lunch with a few pals from work, Jo comes up with a bright idea. If they all move in together until the war is over, they can share the expenses and make things a little easier on themselves.
The other women are military wives, too. Barbara (Ruth Hussey) has a husband in the Navy… a husband she has trouble staying faithful to while he’s away. Doris (Kim Hunter) just had a quick wedding during her beau’s one-hour leave, escorting him to the train station before the ink was even dry on their marriage certificate. Helen (Patricia Collinge) has both a husband and a son in the military. The women will provide each other with support and companionship, in addition to having a stable roof over their heads.
Soon after moving in, the women realize that holding jobs and keeping house makes life difficult to balance, so they take on a fifth housemate, a German woman named Manya (Mady Christians). Manya is glad to keep house for four factory women, considering it to be a part of her own contribution to the war effort.
As the war carries on, the women — five, now — try their best to keep going amidst the worries and struggles of holding down the homefront.
Tender Comrade was directed by Edward Dmytryk and written by Dalton Trumbo. Both Dmytryk and Trumbo would be targeted by HUAC, this film used as evidence of their communist leanings because of the communal living situation agreed upon by the women. Several cast members were blacklisted, too.
If you really want to get an idea of how ridiculous McCarthyism’s witch hunt against Hollywood was, watch this film. Sure, the women pool their money and live together, but Tender Comrade oozes pro-war, patriotic propaganda. It’s got a German character who hates her own democracy-“murdering” home country, for cryin’ out loud! A woman who threatens to quit using her butcher when he gives her an extra pound of bacon, a scarce and rationed commodity!
This connection to the blacklist makes the film interesting to watch as a historical artifact, but it’s a good watch simply as a film, too. There are plenty of emotionally effective moments, and the characters are varied and likable.
Ginger Rogers offers a strong lead performance, sassy and outspoken in the flashback scenes of Jo’s courtship and early marriage with Chris. She’s equally strong-willed in her interactions with her housemates, but it’s a different type of strong-willed. She’s kind of the “alpha” of the group of women, never afraid to share her opinion with or offer advice to the others, but she’s mature about it — not as argumentative or petulant as she was in her youth. Rogers does a great job of showing her character’s growth between the flashbacks and the film’s present-day.
The film is quite sentimental, but this was no issue for me; if you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you probably know that I’m not averse to the “weepies.” Those sappier moments of romance, tragedy, and melodrama only made me like the film more.
I also love the friendships that grow between the women. They may disagree at times, but they grow to genuinely care about each other. They become sisters, bonded by their shared experiences as defense workers and wartime military wives. All of the women of the cast work splendidly together, making these friendships seem very authentic and honest.
Chances are, if you’re a fan of classic film, you’re either interested in the Hollywood blacklist or interested in Ginger Rogers’ films, so I’d recommend Tender Comrade to any old movie buff. I, for one, enjoyed it a lot!
The score: 3.5/5