This is a story of the Unconquerable Fortress: the American Home…1943
I started watching this movie a few months ago but the very patriotic tone put me off. That’s why it is all the more surprising that now, that I have watched all of it, I really enjoyed it. It is patriotic, it is very religious but still, I found Since You Went Away very watchable. It’s an ideal family and Christmas movie. Some sad things happen but they are not shown, just spoken about which makes it safe to watch it even with smaller children. By the way, the movie poster is misleading. This is a black and white movie.
I was familiar with UK and French movies about the home front during WWII but can’t remember any US films. This was made during the war which, for me at least, justifies the patriotic tone.
Claudette Colbert plays the pampered housewife Mrs Hilton whose husband decides to join the war and leaves her and their daughters (Jennifer Jones and Shirley Temple) on their own. It seems that this doesn’t only put them under an emotional strain but that their financial situation is very precarious too. The salary of an officer doesn’t cover all the expenses and Mrs Hilton doesn’t know how to make ends meet. The first thing she has to do and which breaks her heart is letting her maid, Fidelia, go. Fidelia has been part of the family and the children are very attached to her. After one of her children mentions that it would be patriotic to have an officer as lodger, they advertise and finally rent the master bedroom to an old retired grumpy Colonel.
It’s clear that this is a family in which all the members are very attached to each other. Even the family bulldog is part of it. But also, Tony (Joseph Cotten), a friend of Mr Hilton, is accepted like he was a family member and comes to stay with them before he will see action in Italy. The two girls are typical teenagers. The older one is in love with Tony. He is flattered by the young girls infatuation and at the same time he declares his eternal love to the mother. But all this is done in a nice way. It’s obvious they will not have an affair.
After Tony has left, Jane, the older daughter meets the grandson of Colonel Smollet and falls in love with him. They even think of getting married but he also leaves for Italy.
The very contrast of the decent and efficient Mrs Hilton is the somewhat loose Emily Hawkins who knows how to exploit the war effort by running a cabaret.
Despite all the lovey dovey moments some bad things happen in this movie and it gets really dramatic when they are informed that Mr Hilton is missing in action.
I think that one of the aims of the movie was to show people how to grieve and keep up the morale at the same time. It was obvious that it was very likely to lose loved ones or that they would return badly injured or as invalids. Post-traumatic stress is as much a theme as how to deal with losing a husband on the battle field.
I thought this gives an excellent idea of how hard life on the home front was and that many a housewife had to toughen up considerably to make it through those difficult times. Emotionally and economically as well. It also shows the various opportunities the women had. Becoming nurses, collecting stuff for the soldiers or even training as welders.
I found it interesting and moving at the same time and, as I said already, it would make an excellent Christmas movie choice not unlike It’s a Wonderful Life. There are a lot of cozy fireplace scenes, snow and Christmas parties.
I couldn’t find a trailer but the opening scenes introduce the score and the filming very well. A lot of the emotions and themes are shown through images of objects and photos. That’s quite a subtle way to include the past and the history of the family without relying on flashbacks.
I included the movie on my Children in War Movies List after Crooked Mick pointed out that it belonged there.