After quite a day running around in the pursuit of two different sporting codes, this evening I finally put my feet up, kicked back and put on another old movie that got my mother’s hysterical blubbering seal of approval. Since You Went Away (1944), starring Claudette Colbert, Jennifer Jones, Shirley Temple and Joseph Cotten. Apparently I should have read the back of the DVD box a lot more closely before I watched it, because unbeknownst to me this thing was almost three hours long. Three hours isn’t a movie, it’s an ordeal. I got through it, don’t get me wrong, I’m just saying…I may have needed a nap halfway through to do so.
So, the film. Firstly and most importantly, Claudette Colbert. She sure nails this. Between this and It Happened One Night (see Day 52) I’m becoming quite the fan of hers. Here she’s a mother of two girls coping with her husband being away at war during WWII. Her performance is exemplary. The inner turmoil and loneliness is splayed across her face even while she puts on a brave front and gaily trades witty repartee with Joseph Cotten. She has to hold it together for the sake of her kids, because that’s what a good war wife does, even as she’s falling apart inside.
My favourite little moment of the whole film was when they were catching the train to meet up with her husband, and the man across from her was complaining that the train delay would prevent him from closing a big business deal. The look on her face at that moment, knowing that the delay might cost her a chance to see her husband before he shipped off to war…the look on her face. It conveyed all at once her revulsion at this stupid man with his stupid, insignificant problems, her rueful amusement at the things that people can care about, her desperation to see her beloved husband one last time, and all hidden under her well-practiced mask of proper American housewifely decorum. Colbert was just fantastic at expressing emotion, in infinite layers, all over her face. I’m glad she nabbed an Oscar nom for this.
The film as a whole was a really poignant, if overly-long, depiction of the horrors of war. I don’t mean ‘horror’ as in graphic, explicit horror. One of the daughters nursing amputees in a war hospital is as graphic as the film gets. This is 1944. But the horror to experience it at all. The horror of loved ones leaving, being wounded, being killed, never returning the same, or never returning at all. Planning a life with someone, and then it being snatched away. It’s horrible. And all the while being expected to grin and bear it, to be “brave”, to be patriotic. War, itself, is horrific, no matter what your role is in it, no matter how it affects you. It affects everyone in some way. It’s another one of those films that make me kind of despair at the state of humanity. If I had the time after watching a 57 hour movie, I’d have watched something light, fun and palate-cleansing to make myself feel better. Alas, all I can do is write the despair out of me,
FUN FACT TIME: I swear IMDBing the film and the cast after I watch a movie is the best part. This time the most interesting gossip was that Jennifer Jones (Jane) and Robert Walker (Bill) were actually married in real life while they played each other’s love interest in Since You Went Away. Which would all be fine and dandy, except for the fact that Jones, by this point, had been having an affair with producer David O. Selznick for many years and she was in the middle of separating with Walker while they had to shoot a million romantic scenes together at Selznick’s direction. Ouch. Awkward. They divorced soon after making the picture, which apparently sent Walker into a pretty heavy downward spiral, alcohol and depression and psychiatric treatment. He went on to star in Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, before dying almost immediately after when he had a bad reaction to a sedative and stopped breathing. He was only 32. So, not exactly a fun fact after all.