Wednesday, May 29, 2013

WAR MOVIE LEADERSHIP: May




1. Compare the leadership styles of Barnes and Elias

           Barnes basically runs the platoon through sheer force of will.  Technically Lt. Wolfe is in charge, but Barnes gives the orders.  Although it is not clear, Barnes must be a veteran of several tours.  He is a survivor (it is mentioned that he has been wounded seven times).  This survivability has created an aura around him that gives him sway over some of the men.  They follow him because he is a winner and realizes the rules of war are made to be broken.  The unit members that disagree with his "my way or the highway" style are cowed by the force of his personality.  Barnes taps into the more primitive natures of men under extreme stress and channels this.
 

         Sgt. Elias is the conscience of the platoon.  Like Barnes, he is  obviously a veteran of several tours.  His experience has taught him different than Barnes.  He is empathetic toward the men.  He wants them to survive, but with their humanity intact.  Elias puts a lot of emphasis in teaching the new guys the tricks of surviving.  He cares about the "cherries" when most of the other men do not want to bond with the new guys because they may not be around for very long.
 

2. How does each represent a different aspect of the war? 

          The movie is set in 1967 which is about a year before the war began to turn, but far enough in for the nature of the war to be locked in.  Barnes and Elias represent the two forks in the road that the soldiers faced.  Barnes represents the attitude that although the war was not going well, more effort would result in the fore-ordained American victory.  Since the war was different from previous American wars and thus frustrating, Barnes represents the school of thought that conventional rules should not apply.  The end justifies the means.

          Elias represents the belief that the war is probably unwinnable and to win by losing your humanity and core calues is not acceptable.  He mentions that America was due to get its ass kicked.  He is not a pacifist and is, in fact, a very good warrior.  But he is not willing to break the established rules of warfare just to "win".

          The crucial scene depicting these differences is the village scene.  If you watch carefully, Barnes is right.  The villagers are obviously aiding the enemy.  Forcing the village elder to talk will aid the war effort and possibly save American lives.  Barnes obviously goes too far, but instead of shooting the wife, if he had put a gun to her head, would that have been justified?  Suppose it was a terrorist situation today.  On the other hand, Elias takes the approach that there are rules that can not be broken no matter what. 
 
 
the village scene
 
 
PLEASE FEEL FREE TO COMMENT BELOW.
 
JUNE'S WATCHALONG:  Patton and The Desert Fox
 
1.  Compare the leadership styles of Patton and Rommel
 
2.  Who was the better leader based on the movies?
  

Sunday, May 26, 2013

#28 - Soldier of Orange (1977)



BACK-STORY:  “Soldier of Orange” is a Paul Verhoeven (“Black Book” and “Starship Troopers”) film about the Dutch Resistance in WWII.  It is based on the autobiography by Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzema.  It was the most expensive Dutch movie up until then and was their most popular movie in 1977.  It was nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film.
 
OPENING:  The film opens with a blend of real and faux newsreel footage of Queen Wilhelmina returning to a liberated Netherlands in 1945.  At her side is her aide Erik Lanshof (Rutger Hauer) .

SUMMARY:  The movie follows a group of frat boys during WWII.  It opens in the city of Leiden in 1938.  The main characters are introduced via a wild frat party at a night club.  Erik is pledging and undergoes the Dutch version of hazing.  The frat president Guus (Jeroen Krabbe) makes him sing a song and then pours soup on his head followed by braining him with the soup tureen.  What an a-hole!  First blood – ten minutes in.  This bodes well.  The next day Guus apologizes to Erik and a fast friendship begins.  Erik goes to live in the frat house and the core group develops.  Jan is a Jewish boxer,  Alex has a German mother, Nico is so anal they call him “Mr. Precise”, Jacques is a serious student, Robby is going steady with a Jewish girl.  They are living the frivolous lives of rich college boys.

who will survive?

 
                When England declares war on Germany, the boys are interested, but naïve about its potential impact.  Erik remarks that “a spot of war would be exciting”.  Wish granted.  A spot of war entails four days of Nazi ass kicking (off screen aside from a lame bombing scene).  Erik and Guus tool around in tails on motorcycles to try to enlist, but too late.  Clueless rich guys.  Oh well, there’s always the Resistance or collaboration.  Pick one.

Erik and Guus in tails on choppers

 
                Guus and Erik hatch a hare-brained plan to motorboat to England, but a petrol leak causes a fire and explosion.  The comic genius of Verhoeven!  The home front begins to get serious as Jan beats up two Gestapo wannabes who were harassing a fellow Jew.  Erik allows Jan to take his place on a boat to England, but said boat is intercepted by a German gunboat (there’s a mole!).  Jan is taken captive and tortured (briefly but memorably) then guillotined.  It turns out clandestine Radio Robby has been turned due to blackmail involving his Jewish fiance Esther.
 
Guus, Susan, and Erik
                At this point the boys have all picked sides (except Jacques who has decided to sit the war out).  Alex is channeling mommy and has joined the German army where it turns out he is good at his new job.  Nico is a Resistance leader.  Robby is a collaborator.  Jan is headless.  Erik and Guus are off to England to spy for the Queen and bed a sexy British secretary Susan (it’s a Verhoeven film so we get some gratuitousness - see above) to Col. Rafelli (Edward Fox!).  The British are willing to use the duo for their little spy games. 
 
Erik and Alex tangoing
                Guus returns to Holland to help Nico and others escape to England.  Erik returns to rescue Guus from the trap laid by the compromised Robby.  Erik runs into Alex and they do a tango, literally.  There is some homoeroticism  in the film, but you would have guessed it would have been Erik and Guus dancing.  The rescue is botched, but Erik and Guus escape in different directions.  Robby gets his in a ride-by shooting by bicyclist Guus.  Unfortunately, Guus gets captured and unlike Gerbier in “Army of Shadows”, there’s no miracle escape ensuing.  Meanwhile, Alex plays Nazi snob to an urchin and is rewarded with a Vietnam style fragging.

CLOSING:  It’s time for a career change for Erik, so he follows his dream to be a pilot by joining the RAF.  No training montage.  He flies a Mosquito on bombing raids over Germany.  It’s faster than a motorcycle, but you can’t wear tails.  The Queen has taken a liking to him (but thankfully not in a disrobing way) and makes him her adjutant.  He flies her back to the Netherlands to much fanfare.  Erik hooks up with collaborator-shorn Esther (they had dabbled a bit during her engagement to Robby).  He then reunites with Jacques so we can wonder if sitting out the war wasn’t the shrewdest move of the frat boys.
 
RATINGS:
Acting -  C
Action -  6/10
Accuracy -  B
Realism -  B 
Plot -  C
Cliches -  B
 
Overall -  C+
 
WOULD CHICKS DIG IT?  Yes.  The cast is attractive.  The violence is brief and not hard core.  There are two female characters that invade the boys club.  Their main purpose appears to be to reduce the guyness of the film.  It is more balanced than most war films. 

HISTORICAL ACCURACY:  Having not read the book it is based on, I can’t vouch for much of the film.  Erik Hazelhof Roelfzema was a law student at Leiden University when the war broke out.  He did join the Resistance.  He escaped to England on a freighter along with Bram van der Stok (one of the three escapees from Stalag Luft III of “The Great Escape”).   In England, he met the Dutch intelligence chief Gen. Francois van’t Sant (Van der Zanden is modeled after him).  I do not know if Roelfzema tried to kill him because he was told he was a traitor. 
 
                Roelfzema set up a group of spies called the Mews.  Their goal was to make contact with the Dutch underground.  The Germans ended up turning many in the Dutch Resistance, but Roelfzema’s superior refused to accept that and they had a falling out.  Because of this bad blood, Roelfzema enlisted in the RAF and went to Canada for training in 1942.  He returned in 1944 as a Mosquito-flying pathfinder.  He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.  In April, 1945, Queen Wilhelmina tapped him as her adjutant and he returned to Holland with her.  The real Roelfzema appears in the newsreel footage shown in the film.  Roelfzema wrote Soldat van Oranje in 1970 and it made him a legendary figure in the Netherlands.
 
                It would appear that the movie uses composite characters for Erik’s friends.  I also assume many of the vignettes are made up for entertainment purposes.

CRITIQUE:  “Soldier of Orange” is proficient entertainment.  Verhoeven has an interesting visual style.  He likes colorful sets and colorful characters.  This is obvious from the beginning with the frat hazing scene.  The sets are realistic to wartime Holland and he gets the small touches right.  At one point, Erik and Guus encounter some Dutch guards who have them say words with “sch” in them because no German could handle that sound.
 
                The acting is only average.  The movie made Hauer a star, but he is nothing special.  The supporting cast is competent.  Krabbe stands out in the flashiest role.  The movie is in some ways a buddy film.  I did not find that the rest of the core group was well-developed.  Their motives were not explored much.  Even Erik and Guus become members of the Resistance for unclear reasons.
 
                The plot is basically a series of vignettes following the frat boys, but mostly focusing on Erik and Guus.  The scenes are fun partly because they toy with reality a bit.  There is an underlying surrealness to the behavior of some of the characters.  Alex and Erik dancing cheek to cheek would be an example.  Or is it silliness?  The movie has several ridiculous elements.  The escapes are routinely unlikely.  They are also repetitive.
 
                The movie is technically sound.  The cinematography is fine, but not laudatory.  Verhoeven does not throw a lot of pizazz at us.  The sound track is unobtrusive and does not beat you over the head.  It also does little to add to the movie.  There are long stretches with no score.
 
                The movie stands out in its even handed treatment of the Dutch home front.  Two of the characters go over to the dark side.  Robby is the cliched turncoat who does not have the moral courage to stand up to evil.  Alex is the cliched douche who revels in the power that comes with the uniform.  The movie was controversial in the Netherlands for showing the reality of how the war divided the country.  Some were also upset that the film depicted the harsh treatment of Dutch Jews.  That treatment was not just by the Nazis.  There was quite a bit of anti-semitism in the populace.
 
                “Soldier of Orange” fits comfortably into the small unit, ”who will survive?” subgenre.  It is suspenseful in that respect, but a good bit of that suspense is diluted by the opening which specifies that the main character will survive his adventures.  This was a perplexing decision on the part of Verhouven.  Was it because he wanted to show off the faux-real blend of newsreels?  Another perplexing element is the lack of palpable danger in their Resistance escapades.  You are not put on the edge of your seat.  The torture scenes are truncated and are basically snap shots that your imagination is asked to expand.

CONCLUSION:  It took me a while to locate this movie.  That is why it is appearing out of sequence.  When I first started this project of reviewing all one hundred of the Military History 100 Greatest War Movies, it stood out as one of the few on the list that I had never heard of.  It was also one of the minority that I had never seen.  For those reasons, I was looking forward to watching it.  The long wait added to the buildup.  Plus, it is #28 on the list.
 
                I have to say, the movie was very disappointing.  As I have approached the top of the list, it has become increasingly rare for a movie to hold a head-scratching position on the list.  However, the panel really got #28 wrong.  There is nothing special about “Soldier of Orange”.  It may be based on a remarkable man, but it is definitely not a remarkable movie.  I realize I am flying in the face of virtually all the experts and I did read several very positive reviews that left me questioning my sanity, but in the end I decided to stick with my gut and not compromise my reviewing by forcing myself to join the crowd.
 
                First, there are many Resistance movies that did not make the list and are superior to it.  Hell, Verhoeven’s “Black Book” is better in every way.  So are “Flame and Citron” and “Army of Crime” to mention two similar films.  Although I am not a fan of “Army of Shadows”, if the panel wanted a critically overrated example of the subgenre anyone could make a stronger case for it.  Second, who in their right mind could place “Soldier of Orange” ahead of “The Deer Hunter” (#29)? 
 
the tango scene
 
 
 
                Comments?  Come at me, bro.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

WAR MOVIE PICTURES QUIZ V

Here is my fifth War Movie Pictures Quiz.  Good luck!  Answers on Saturday.

1.
 
 
 
 
2.
 
 
 
3.
 

 
4.
 
 
5.
 
 
6.
 
 
7.
 

 
8.
 
 


9.
 
 


 
10.
 
 
 Please put your answers in the comments section.  Thanks for playing!
 
ANSWERS
 
1.  Battle of Britain
2.  Casualties of War
3.  The Eagle Has Landed
4.  Gallipoli
5.  Hamburger Hill
6.  The Last Samurai
7.  Master and Commander
8. Sahara
9.  To Hell and Back
10.  Zulu 
 
 
 
 

 


Sunday, May 19, 2013

SHOULD I READ IT? Joint Security Area (2000)


              
              “Joint Security Area” is a South Korean film released in 2000.  At the time it was the highest grossing film in South Korean history and won the Best Picture equivalent of the Oscar.  It is based on a novel by Park Sang-yeon entitled DMZ.  It was directed by Chan- wook Park (“Oldboy”).  I do not think it was based on a true story.  The producers constructed a replica of the Joint Security Area for the film.
what happens in the DMZ stays in the DMZ


                The movie begins with words on the screen summarizing the Korean War (I guess aimed at historically illiterate American audiences).  The Joint Security Area was built in the Demilitarized Zone as a base for neutral nations to monitor the cease-fire.  A young South Korean woman, Sgt. Lee (Lee Byung-hun), arrives to investigate an incident where a South Korean guard named Lee was kidnapped and then escaped resulting in the deaths of two North Korean guards.  Alternating flashbacks indicate that there are two Korean sides to the story.  It turns out that Lee and another South Korean guard had developed a friendship with two North Korean guards across no man’s land.  They would even visit the North Korean post.  Just four young Koreans fraternizing with the rule: no discussion of politics.  The last meeting ends in disaster when a North Korean officer barges in.  What happens next is a mystery that Sgt. Lee solves.
                It took me a while to warm to the movie, but it turned out to be quite good.  The use of flashbacks reminded me of “Courage Under Fire” and the desire of both sides to cover-up the crime reminds one of “A Few Good Men”.  It is not in a league with those two films, but it still has its charms.  It is well-acted.  There is chemistry between the four buddies.  They are likeable.  They behave like young conscripts thrust into an old man’s game.  It is sobering to see there naïve comradery when one can predict it will not be allowed to continue.  With that said, the meetings are highly implausible.  The last one is blistering in its intensity.  There is graphic blood-letting.  This is  a Korean movie, after all.  The cinematography is intriguing.  The camera circles the quartet when they are conversing.  The score is excellent.  On the negative side, the message is a little heavy-handed.  It is basically the old trope:  why can’t we just get along?  However, this is preferable to:  the North Koreans are communist devils.
                This movie is certainly worth reading.  And, in fact, please watch the subtitled instead of dubbed version.  I find that is wise in viewing Korean or Japanese films.  So much is lost when you don’t get the passion with which they speak.

grade =  B
 
the shootout
 
the full movie
 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

ANTIQUE or CLASSIC? The Lives of a Bengal Lancer




               “The Lives of a Bengal Lancer” launched a subgenre in 1935.  It was such a box office success that it was followed by a series of similar movies like “Gunga Din” which are collectively known as the British Imperial action/adventure subgenre.  Otherwise known as the “handsome British colonialists slaughtering inferior brown people” subgenre.  It is considered by many to be the best of the lot.  Today these movies are considered very politically incorrect and the last time a film of its type was made was “The Man Who Would Be King”  which was actually critical of the pro-Western attitude of the previous films.  (That’s one reason TMWWBK is such a great movie.)

                The movie is set in northwestern India during the British Raj (the time from 1858-1947 when England ruled India).  The Bengal Lancers are stationed near the Khyber Pass and are being threatened by a pesky local chieftain named Mohammed Khan (Douglass Dumbrille) who for some reason does not like the foreign occupiers.  There are snipers in them thar hills.  One of them kills the head of a column and a Lt. MacGregor (Gary Cooper) disobeys orders to lead a cavalry attack to rout the enemy, thus establishing himself as the stock insubordinate warrior.

                Back at the base, the movie develops into a buddy film as MacGregor is joined by the wet-nosed Lt. Alan Stone (Richard Cromwell) and the sarcastic glory-hound Lt. Forsythe (Franchot Tone).  MacGregor and  Forsythe immediately butt heads.  I wonder if there will come a time when they will learn to respect and depend on each other.  Stone is in a different dysfunctional relationship.  His father happens to be the commanding officer, Col. Stone (Guy Standing).  Daddy is none too happy to see his son and is determined to not show him any favoritism.  “There is no room for sentimentality in the Army.”
the three amigos
 

                The unit is sent to deliver an ammunition caravan to an emir.  The countryside is beautiful (the movie was filmed in California, but it doubles well for India).  At a banquet featuring lots of local color, Alan meets the suave Khan with his arm candy.  They go on a pig hunt that includes beaters, elephants, and lancers.  Go to the theater – see the world.
Hey baby, I'm going to be Gary Cooper
 
 

                When his son is captured by Khan, Col. Stone refuses to take the bait and rush to his rescue.  MacGregor and Forsythe see the chance for a great adventure and oh, by the way, he is our roommate.  Oops, they get caught too.  Stone is tortured (sadly off camera).  This is the movie that gave us “We have ways of making men talk”.  Stone cracks and gives up the ammunition caravan.  This will be bad because now the brown people will have fire power, too!
Do we really need this tripod?
 

                Somehow our trio gets loose before the outmanned Lancer rescuers launch a suicide attack on Khan’s fortress.  MacGregor gives the future John Rambo an idea by lifting a Vickers machine gun avec tripod (65-80 pounds) and firing from the hip.  They blow up the ammunition as the Lancers charge into the fort.  There are lots of dead brown bodies lying around, but sadly, one handsome white body.  Back at camp, the trio all get medals with one of them getting a posthumous Victoria’s Cross.

                The movie is very old school.  The deaths are bloodless and there aren’t even bullet holes.  There is a mix of schoolboy humor and young male adventure.  The action is pretty intense and is entertaining.

                The movie is well made. Henry Hathaway was an underrated director.  The studio gave him a big budget so the sets are extravagant.  Although not shot on location, Hathaway visited India to get the look right and he used documentary-style footage shot in India.  The costumery makes the film look authentic.  The film was nominated for Art Direction.  It is a colorful film.  The cinematography is fine.

                The acting is strong.  This movie made Gary Cooper a superstar.  Tone is a good foil and they have the appropriate buddy chemistry.  Dumbrille is very effective as the villainous Khan.  He plays Khan as suave and intelligent, not a fanatic (unlike most villains in the upcoming subgenre entries).  The movie reminds me of old school Westerns where the bad guys (the Native Americans) are actually the aggrieved party. 

                The theme of the movie is “for the good of the service”.  You also get a dose of no matter how much you may dislike your bunk mate, you’ll still give your life for him.  The movie throws in a lame father/son subplot.  As far as the theme that the natives need to be civilized, it might be interesting to note that Adolf Hitler loved the movie because it depicted a small British force controlling the inferior people of India.  The movie was required viewing for the S.S.

                Antique or classic?  Both.  The colonial attitude is quintly shameful so that makes it an antique.  However, being the progenitor of a subgenre makes it a classic.  Watch it for the adventure, but feel guilty at the same time.

grade =  C+ 
 
     

Monday, May 13, 2013

DUELING MOVIES: Mrs. Miniver vs. Since You Went Away


 
VS.
 
 

             “Mrs. Miniver” (1942) and “Since You Went Away” (1944) are the two most celebrated home front war movies produced during WWII.  “Miniver” is set in England during the Fall of France, 1940.  “Since” is set in the USA in 1943.  Both cover “typical” families and depict the war’s impact on them.  There are many similar elements and characters.  Both have romances ending in tragedy, crusty upper class curmudgeons, religious motifs, and a sturdy matron at the center.  Both are propaganda masterpieces aimed squarely at American audiences.
                “Mrs. Miniver” was directed by William Wyler ("The Best Years of Our Lives").  He had been born in Germany and meant for the film to shake the American public out of its isolationist feelings.  By the time the movie came out, Pearl Harbor happened.  The movie still had the effect of boosting the war effort and served as a “why are we supporting England?” explanation.  Churchill supposedly praised it as “propaganda worth a hundred battleships”.  It was nominated for 12 Academy Awards and won for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Cinematography, and Best Screenplay.  It was a huge box office success.

                “Mrs. Miniver” starts in 1939 before England has declared war.  It is set in a village outside of London.  The Miniver’s are an upper class family who are leading an idyllic life.  Kay (Greer Garson) is the heart of the family.  Clem (Walter Pidgeon) is stout and dependable.  They are comfortably married (with their separate beds).  No dysfunction here.  They have a live-in maid and cook.  Their house has a name.  Not exactly the Rowans in "Hope and Glory".
Mrs. M and some roses
 
                The local vicar announces the outbreak of war.  He points out they are fighting for freedom and cannot and shall not fail.  The sermon must have had a great effect because Mr. Miniver takes their motorboat to help evacuate Dunkirk and their son Vin (Richard Ney) joins the RAF.  Before Vin goes off, he starts a relationship with the granddaughter of society maven and village snoot Mrs. Beldon (Dame May Whitty).  It’s your typical opposite philosophies attract scenario.  Vin spouts off about class inequalities and Carol (Teresa Wright) humors him.

the Minivers at church
 
                While Clem is off boating, Kay has to deal with a downed Luftwaffe pilot.  He is arrogant and predicts the terror bombing of cities.  She slaps him.  (This scene was refilmed harsher after Pearl Harbor.)  Being British, she pluckily takes him captive. 
                As though a Nazi with a pistol was not enough, Kay gets a visit from Mrs. Beldon.  She tries to derail the marriage of Vin and Carol.  His blood is not blue enough.  Kay smoothes things over, a little too easily.  There is a great scene with the Miniver family riding out a bombardment in their basement.  They have their upper lips stiff.  The sound and fury are actually superior to “Hope and Glory”.
the air raid
 
                There is a running story line involving a rose competition.  Every year Mrs. Beldon wins, but this year she has a challenge from the train station master Mr. Bellard (Henry Travers – Clarence the angel from “It’s a Wonderful Life”).   For some reason, Mrs. B gets to announce the winner and she suddenly grows a heart and gives the award to Bellard (even though her rose actually won).  Sniff, sniff.

the rose winner
 
                If you are fighting for freedom, then someone has to die for freedom, right?  The death occurs in a strafing attack.  A great special effect of a bomber crashing is followed immediately by a ridiculously unrealistic random bullet.  The funeral takes place in the bombed out church.  The vicar bookends the film with a stirring sermon focusing on “why we fight”.  It is a war of all the people and must be fought in the cities, farms, factories, and hearts.  “This is the peoples’ war”.  Queue “Onward Christian Soldiers”.  Big finish – a V-shaped flyover by the RAF.  The end.  “Buy War Bonds!”
                “Since You Went Away” was released in 1944 and was David O. Selznick’s attempt to replicate the success of his “Gone With the Wind”.   It did not reach that level, but it was a big hit and garnered numerous Academy Award nominations (winning only for Max Steiner’s score).  It was the longest and most expensive MGM production since GWTW.  Selznick based his screenplay on a novel entitled Since You Went Away:  Letters to a Soldier from His Wife by Margaret Buell Wilder.
two bull dogs and Shirley Temple

                The movie is set in a typical American town in 1943.  It is the story of “the unconquerable fortress – the American home”.  The star in the window and the empty chair clue us that the man of the house is off to war.  We find out later that he joined to protect “home, sweet home” (queue music).  The wife is Anne Hilton (Claudette Colbert).  She has a teenage daughter nicknamed Brig (Shirley Temple – lured out of retirement) and a bachelorette named Jane (Jennifer Jones).  Brig is perky and Jane is looking for love.  They take in a boarder, the crusty and irascible Col. Smollett (Monty Woolley).  He eventually bonds with their comic relief bull dog Soda (who has his own theme music!).  The movie starts off unexceptionally until “Uncle Tony” (Joseph Cotton) shows up to liven things up.  Cotton hams it up as the playboy who flirts openly with his best friend’s wife – Anne.  Meanwhile, Jane is mooning all over him.  Some of it is pretty creepy (especially with the numerous close-ups).  This is fodder for a 1970s soap opera (or 1980s porn), except this is 1944.  This means both Tony and Jane have zero chance.
your husband is MIA

                When Tony returns to the Navy (and the movie goes flat again), Jane gets a job as a nurse in a rehabilitation hospital.  (See that, ladies in the audience?)  The war comes home when Anne receives a telegram telling her that her husband is MIA.  She faints.  That Sunday (in the non-bombed out church) hymns are followed by a sermon that quotes from the last stanza of the “Star Spangled Banner”.  “And conquer we must, when our cause is just /  and this be our motto – in God is our trust.”  Kudos!
the Walkers acting like they are in love

                Jane falls in love with the sad sack grandson of the Colonel.  They are estranged because Bill (Robert Walker – Jones’ real life soon to not be husband) washed out of West Point.  He has enlisted in the Army because redemption is a powerful Hollywood force.  At one point, they take romantic refuge in a barn during a rain storm.  How original!  They are to be married when (oops, if) he returns from the war.  Their parting at the train station is iconic (and parodied in “Airplane!”)  The running alongside the train is preceded by a montage of conversations intended to typify the home front. “Now go honey,  and don’t look back”.  “Suits me if they tax me 100%.”  Guess who dies at Salerno.
                Jane works with a wounded, embittered vet.  Could he end up filling the hole in her heart?  The kindly psychiatrist tells Jane (and the audience) that they “must not live in the past.  There is a whole wide broken world to be mended.”  All these noble characters need balance, right?  Serving this role is Anne’s friend Emily Hawkins (Agnes Moorehead).  She represents the members of the public who want to ignore the harsh realities of the war and avoid sacrifices.  Anne gets to have a cathartic “get out of my house” moment which is crowd-pleasing. 
the wolf and his prey
 

                Anne gets a job as a welder, naturally.  This is necessary so she can meet a Polish woman who proceeds to give us her back-story of coming to the “fairy land across the sea”.  She ups the treacle by quoting from the poem on the Statue of Liberty.  Gag!  This movie gets the Star Spangled Banner and the Statue of Liberty into the script.  Can you say propagandistic patriotism?  The film closes with one of the great tear-jerking conclusions.  They are
tears of joy.  In a sense, Bill died so Tim could live.  I did mention he was declared MIA, not KIA, right?

                “Mrs. Miniver” is the superior movie.  It was surprisingly good.  It is not overly patriotic or propagandistic.  The dialogue is crisp.  The acting is very good.  Noone embarrasses themselves.  The family dynamic is realistic, if prosaic.  The death twist is a nice touch considering someone had to die.  The plot is very old school.  The subplot of the rose competition is positively quaint.  The themes are simplistic:  the effects of the war on families and civilians are in it, too.  It does its job admirably.  It is no wonder the anti-isolationist Franklin Roosevelt ordered it rushed into the theaters.
                “Since You Went Away” tries too hard.  It is an average home front movie which for God knows what reason got way more respect than it deserved.  Some of its accolades are head-scratching.  Max Steiner certainly did not deserve an Oscar for his trite, string-pulling music.  In fact, the movie opens with sappy music and never goes beyond that.  Even more perplexing was the Academy Award nomination for Jennifer Jones.  Her performance is nothing short of laughable.  Some of the other performances are strong (Woolley, Cotton, Moorehead, the bull dog), but overall this is not a well-acted film.  The movie spends a lot of effort bludgeoning the audience with messages and they are not subliminal.  Here are a few:  don’t give up hope  /  women can help in the war effort  /  someone needs to help with rehabilitation  /  women should remain loyal to their soldier men  /  we all have to make sacrifices.  These probably struck a chord during the war, but they seem simplistic today.  The movie is also highly predictable and clicheish.  For instance, when Smollett misses Bill’s send-off, Bill is dead meat.  Smollett coming to terms with Soda is also high on the cliché meter.

        Mrs. Miniver =  B+
     Since You Went Away =  C