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Thursday, March 15, 2018

SINCE YOU WENT AWAY (1944)

Where producer David O. Selznick tinkered incessantly with other people’s work (his chapter -length Memos & Telegrams the stuff of Hollywood legend), here he took full ownership with the credit ‘Screenplay by the Producer.’ (And director John Cromwell, a late hire, no lap dog, beautifully holding the story’s many strands together.) In many ways it’s Selznick’s most personal film, uneven, but heart-tugging, mixing likable narrative contrivance with magnificent set pieces to chart how a ‘typical’ American family handled life on the homefront in ‘43 when Dad went off to war. Like a Stateside follow-up to the ‘veddy’ British MRS. MINIVER/’42 and, though based on an epistolary book by Margaret Buell Wilder, not far removed from Selznick’s own LITTLE WOMEN/’33, the George Cukor/Katharine Hepburn classic. Looking like a Domestic Goddess, Claudette Colbert largely maintains a comfortable Pre-War lifestyle for her girls (Jennifer Jones & Shirley Temple), which means letting housekeeper Hattie McDaniel live-in but work elsewhere and taking in irascible lodger Monty Woolley. She’s visited, now & then, by her husband’s best pal Joseph Cotten, a Navy man the girls swoon over, though he flirts hard as he can with Colbert. An unusual relationship for the time, the chemistry is tremendous, though Colbert either doesn’t (or more likely won’t) acknowledge it. Jones winds up falling for Woolley’s just-enlisted West Point drop-out grandson (Robert Walker, charming), while crises large & small pop up between the jaw-dropping showstoppers mostly shot by Stanley Cortez working at full-bliss mode: a dance fund-raiser; a train station farewell; an immigrant’s dream of America the three most famous. The last really shouldn’t work at all, corny, bathetic, yet does because Selznick managed to coax Alla Nazimova out of retirement for the small role of this grateful Russian immigrant. Telling Colbert that she is the embodiment of her dream of America, it's the perfect summation of what the film strives to be; not the real America, but our best dream of that real America.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY/DOUBLE-BILL: By war’s end, this model of ‘real America’ had changed to something less myth-driven & glossy, as seen in William Wyler’s THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES/’46, careful to show not only UPPER middle-class, but also MIDDLE-middle; LOWER-middle and just plain low class.

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