SINCE YOU WENT AWAY
B&W, 172 min.
Released: July 20, 1944 (United Artists)
Cast: Claudette Colbert, Jennifer Jones (as Jane Hilton), Shirley Temple, Joseph Cotten, Monty Woolley, Lionel Barrymore, Robert Walker, Agnes Moorehead, Nazimova, Hattie McDaniel, Albert Basserman, Gordon Oliver, Guy Madison.
Director: John Cromwell
Producer: David O. Selznick
Tagline: "The four most important words since Gone With the Wind-- SINCE YOU WENT AWAY!"
Complete Credits at IMDB
"Since You Went Away" was based on a book by Margaret Buell Wilder which consisted of a series of letters that she wrote to her husband while he was away at war. She wrote about the difficulties of raising two teenage daughters alone as well as the loneliness that her family had to cope with while he was away. David Selznick had been looking for months for a film project to show his support during the war. He did not want to do a "war movie" but instead wanted to focus on the experiences of a family at home.
A staff member submitted Wilder's book to Selznick and he knew immediately that it was the story he was looking for. Of course he wanted to do the film on an epic scale, so he did a complete overhaul of the book and began work on a massive screenplay. More characters were added and the roles of the daughters were expanded. Selznick was particularly interested in the older daughter, Jane, because he knew that it would be a great part for Jennifer.
Selznick worked hard to gather a first rate cast. He coaxed Shirley Temple out of retirement to play the younger daughter Brig. For the pivotal role of Anne Hilton, he wanted Claudette Colbert, who at first balked at playing the mother of two teen aged daughters. Selznick, along with the help of gossip columnist Hedda Hooper, convinced her that it would be an important role and she soon signed on. The smaller roles in the film were also played by great actors. Joseph Cotten, a rising young actor from Orson Wells' Mercury Players, would play a close friend of the family (whom Jane has a crush on). Another Mercury Player, Agnes Moorehead, portrayed Emily Hawkins, Anne's self-centered friend. Rounding out the supporting parts were Hattie McDaniel who played Fidelia, the Hilton's devoted maid and Monty Woolley would play Colonel Smollett, who the Hiltons take in as a tenant in order to earn extra income. Sprinkled throughout the film are notable cameos by Nazimova (her last film), Gordon Oliver, Florence Bates, Dorothy Dandridge, Ruth Roman and Rhonda Fleming, Guy Madison and John Derek.
The most interesting casting, however, was Robert Walker as Bill Smollett, Jane's love interest. It is not clear why Selznick went to great lengths to borrow Walker from MGM on loanout because the situation caused great turmoil and strife on the set. Walker and Jones were separated during the filming and their love scenes together would prove difficult for both of them. Jennifer was was very unhappy during the filming not only because of the situation with Walker but also because she felt that she was too old for the part of Jane.
Many films set during World War II seem very dated today but Since You Went Away holds up well. It is overlong but has many memorable scenes and some well executed "big" scenes that, surprising for Selznick, do not go overboard. Perhaps the most memorable scene is the train station farewell scene when Bill leaves for war. It is one of Jennifer's most outstanding acting scenes. She was very good at expressing sentiment and this scene is a perfect example of that. Other memorable scenes include Nazimova's moving speech to Colbert about what America means to her. And, one of my favorites, the final scene with Colbert alone on Christmas eve after her daughters have gone to bed.
Since You Went Away is one of Selznick's finest films and and a beautiful example of movie making at its best. In addition to the excellent actors, the film's technical achievements are exemplary. It is beautifully photographed by Lee Garmes and Stanely Cortez. There are numerous excellent shots of the Hilton's house which involved miniatures. The cinematographers also used light to convey mood and metaphor in several scenes. Notice how, in the train station scene and in the scene at Emily's dance, initially everything looks bright, but gets progressively darker to reflect the darkening mood of the characters. The score is also notable and won an Oscar for composer Max Steiner. That was the only Academy Award won by Since You Went Away although it was nominated for nine (Best Picture, Actress (Colbert), Supporting Actor (Woolley), Supporting Actress (Jones), Cinematography, Special Effects, Interior Decoration, Score, and Editing.
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