Tuesday, December 1, 2009

1944 - Since You Went Away

After weeks of rehearsal, my New York stage debut has finally come and gone. Ah, the smell of the crowd, the roar of the greasepaint. We have three more weeks of shows, so for those of you in the neighbourhood, come check me out.

Of course, with last week's mad rehearsal schedule, the Matt vs. the Academy project took a bit of a back seat, so along with my stage debut, the project's 100th day and 50th post have also come and gone. A small and arbitrary feat. But even though my initial deadline for this project is becoming more and more elusive - a matter that I will address at a later date - I am still as excited as ever about this nonsensical enterprise.

Today, I continued with the 1944 Best Picture shortlist by watching...

Since You Went Away
John Cromwell
David O. Selznick
(based on the novel by Margaret Buell Wilder)
Claudette Colbert, Jennifer Jones, Joseph Cotten, Shirley Temple, Monty Woolley, Lionel Barrymore, Robert Walker, Hattie McDaniel, Agnes Moorehead
Academy Awards:
9 nominations
1 win

If you're looking for melodrama, Since You Went Away should be right up your alley. Tim Hilton is doing his patriotic duty in the armed services during World War II. But this film is not about Tim. In fact, we never even see him. Instead, the focus is on his wife, Anne, and their two daughters, Jane and Bridget. At first, the family struggles to make ends meet, so they take on a curmudgeonly old retired Colonel as a lodger. The Hilton sisters, unlike their modern namesakes, are the picture of innocence. But things become complicated when elder sister Jane begins a romance with the Colonel's grandson.

This one is definitely melodrama, folks. Despite being a film about war, there are no fighting scenes. It all takes place in and around the home of a family coping with the absence of their husband and father. The somewhat episodic nature of the storyline tends to make the film seem a bit like a soap opera. Add to that a dose of patriotism and religion and you've got yourself a heavy-handed message film. In fact, sometimes - not often, but occasionally - it even borders on propaganda.

Scattered throughout the melodramatic dialogue are several accounts of artificial sobbing by all three of the main actresses. A little disappointing considering two of them, namely Colbert and Jones, had already won Oscars by this point. The third, a teenage Shirley Temple, was probably the least convincing weeper, but hey, she's Shirley Temple.

Despite the fake tears, Colbert's performance is still pleasant, and the rest of the cast manage to overcome the sappy lines they are forced to utter. Always an enjoyable actor to watch, Joseph Cotten is particularly charming here. And Monty Woolley as the retired Colonel is amusing, especially when he puts a left glove on his right hand, something that obviously went unnoticed by the rest of the film crew. Playing yet another maid, like she did in Selznick's Gone With the Wind, Hattie McDaniel is delightful as Fidelia. Also impressive is a pre-Bewitched Agnes Moorehead as a gossipy bitch.

And why is it that, in old movies, a married couple is never depicted as owning a double bed? Was there anyone who actually thought they didn't have sex? I mean, they had two children, for crying out loud.


  1. In 1944, the we were all still entrenched in WWII, so it is no surprise that Hollywood leaned toward sentiment and patriotism. What it does today is make a film like Double Indemnity and to a lesser extent Gaslight stand-out as daring for its time.

    I never saw Since You Went Away previously and actually enjoyed it more than I expected. I was particularly impressed with Claudette Colbert. She was the rock that the film was built around. Poor Joseph Cotton - he falls in with Melvin Douglas, Ralph Bellamy and Gig Young as the second banana who often never gets the girl. Still, he is an under-appreciated actor with that marvelous speaking voice. Funny, in this film his love is for someone he own age, and he must discourage the affections of the much younger Jennifer Jones. A couple of years later he falls in love with an even younger character played by Jennifer Jones in Portrait of Jennie. Her famous scene at the railway station running after the departing train has lost some of its impact since the parody with Julie Hagerty in Airplane!

    As far as the twin beds, hey Hollywood was making progress. In Gaslight the husband and wife had separate rooms!! And we all know from Dumbo, that the storks brought the babies back then.

    Speaking of babies, Shirley Temple seemed to have a hard time hiding her cutesy mannerisms and pouts from her childhood. I'm not sure she would have had a successful adult film career if she decided to stay with it.

    Since You Went Away's only Academy Award went to the legendary Max Steiner for the score. Yet, I couldn't help but cringe at the beginning when the establishing shots were accompanied in rather ham-fisted manner by theme music (the wedding picture with The Wedding March theme, etc.)

    Despite the melodrama, Since You Went Away is a good snapshot of the home-front during the darkest days of the war.

  2. WOOOHOOOOOO!!! Ah Matt, wish I could be there to cheer you on (Shakespeare is all about audition participation right? Give thine a location?? Anyone? Anyone?)

    X These posts make my day - a morning ritual now....