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Since You Went Away Movie Review

Director: John Cromwell

Starring: Claudette Colbert, Jennifer Jones, Joseph Cotten, Shirley Temple, Monty Woolley, Lionel Barrymore, Robert Walker, Hattie McDaniel, Agnes Moorehead, Alla Nazimova, Albert Bassermann, Gordon Oliver, Keenan Wynn, Guy Madison, Craig Stevens, Lloyd Corrigan, Jackie Moran

Oscar Wins: Best Musical Score

Other Nominations: Best Supporting Actor (Monty Woolley), Best Actress (Claudette Colbert), Best Supporting Actress (Jennifer Jones), Best Art Direction (Black and White), Best Cinematography (Black and White), Best Film Editing, Best Special Effects, Best Picture

In its own words, Since You Went Away is “…a story of the Unconquerable Fortress – The American home.” Dripping with pro-American propaganda and heavy messaging, this movie was almost too sentimental for its own good.

Based on Margaret Buell Wilder’s bestselling novel, Since You Went Away: Letters to a Soldier from his Wife, this film is a long, emotional ode to the World War II home front. It stars Claudette Colbert as Anne Hilton, the wife of a businessman who, though well past draft age, volunteers to serve his country as an officer.

Though low on income, Anne does her best to hold down the fort and maintain a sense of normalcy the sake of her two daughters, Jane (Jennifer Jones) and Bridgette (Shirley Temple). She’s offered morale support from their boarder, the cranky but loveable Col. Smollett (Monty Woolley), her maid Fidelia (Hatti McDaniel – basically playing the same part she did in Gone with the Wind) and her husband’s best friend, Lt. Anthony Willett (Joseph Cotton), who has been secretly in love with Anne for years. Don’t worry though, despite their serious chemistry, the relationship between the two is staunchly platonic. Anne is a good lil’ housewife.

Of course, that’s not to say that this movie is without drama. The reality of war hits home several times throughout the film and several scenes tugged – nay – pulled at my heartstrings. In one scene, Anne retires to her bedroom, utterly grief stricken, only to find a note her husband left her tucked away under her pillow. In another scene Jane and her young lover Bill discuss the possibility of him not returning from the war alive. Col. Smollett just misses saying goodbye to his grandson before he’s shipped off to the war. These scenes, though overly sentimental, were relatable, even today. War isn’t only hard on those fighting…it’s also torture for those left behind.

Sentiments aside, this movie was total Oscar bait. In 1945, this film received nine Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actress for Colbert, Best Supporting Actor for Woolley and Best Supporting Actress for Jones. However, it would only go home with Best Score, an award it honestly deserved.

Clocking in at 172 minutes, this film is long…and it feels long. It marked David O. Selznick’s return to film after a four-year hiatus following his back-to-back Best Picture winners, Gone with the Wind and Rebecca. It’s filled with dialogue and storylines that seem to hammer in two major lessons:

1. Life is hard for the folks back home

2. Everyone should pitch in to help the war effort

Claudette Colbert was almost too good in this role, showing a woman fraught with grief, yet doing her best to maintain a social life for her own health and the health of her family. It’s a shame the material she had to work with didn’t match her genuine talent.

In the end, the final title card drove the point home with a Biblical quote from the King James Bible: “Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the Lord.” While that final quote seemed to push me over the edge after a near 3-hour lecture, it’s obvious it gave some semblance of courage and strength to those men, women and children anxiously awaiting their loved ones’ return.


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