“This is a story of the Unconquerable Fortress: the American Home… 1943.”
Anne Hilton (Claudette Colbert) is left to keep her family afloat after her husband volunteers for Army service. She and her teen daughters — Jane (Jennifer Jones) and Bridget (Shirley Temple) — do the best they can, rationing their food, planting a victory garden, and taking in a boarder (Monty Wooley) to help make ends meet.
As the war continues on, Anne remains dedicated to her support of the cause, and Jane only becomes more involved, volunteering as a nurse’s aide at a hospital for returning veterans.
Though most of the community is doing whatever it can to support the war effort, Anne and Jane’s decisions get the side-eye from some of their neighbors, including the snooty Emily Hawkins (Agnes Moorehead).
Since You Went Away was directed by John Cromwell. The screenplay was written by David O. Selznick from a book by Margaret Buell Wilder. The film features music by the great Max Steiner.
This film provides a slice of homefront life: people doing whatever it takes to make ends meet (like taking in roomers), the whole family pitching in, and keeping morale high despite the struggles of wartime. It’s a pretty well-rounded look at life during the war, with heartbreak, drama, and some laughs. Even in the darkest times, life chugs along, and we see that portrayed here.
There’s an interesting point made that the head of the family, Tim, is being paid less in the Army than he was at his civilian job. His wife, Anne, is left to keep the house running and the family fed with stricter resources and no partner around to support her. The necessary sacrificies made in support of the war effort are very clearly laid out.
It’s a hopeful and optimistic film in general, reflecting that notion of the American home as an “unconquerable fortress,” but it isn’t delusionally hopeful. There are some interesting diversions into issues like post-traumatic stress, and the film reaches beyond the Hilton household — for example, in its portrayal of families from many different walks of life saying goodbye at the train station.
In another distinctly-World War II feature of the film, those with sharp eyes will want to keep a look out for the variety of propaganda posters used as set props. The famous “Loose Lips Might Sink Ships” and “Bowl Them Over” slogans of the era’s pro-war advertisements are peppered throughout the film.
The film has a stellar cast which includes Claudette Colbert, Joseph Cotten, Agnes Moorehead, Jennifer Jones, Robert Walker, Hattie McDaniel, Lionel Barrymore, and even a teenage Shirley Temple. They bring to life a fun-to-watch variety of characters, from Cotten’s charming “uncle Tony” to the grumpy boarder portrayed by Monty Wooley.
There is good acting across the board from this all-star lineup. Jones, who I’m warming up to (though I don’t think she’ll ever be a favorite of mine), gives one of the more natural performances I’ve seen from her. Colbert, Cotten, and Walker are all great.
Since You Went Away is quite a long film, and I felt every bit of its running time, but it’s a good watch. A must-see for fans of wartime cinema in particular, but I’d recommend any classics fan to give it a watch.
DISCLAIMER: This film was reviewed from a DVD I received free from Kino, as a participant in a Classic Movie Hub giveaway. However, I was not asked to review the film by Kino or CMH; all opinions are my own.