Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Blue Skies Turn to Grey

I'm not supposed to have much free time right now (not with my last essay of the semester hanging in the air and upcoming exams trailing not far behind), but I'm so pooped this evening or night. Blogging sounds like a good diversion.

But then we get to this pressing question: What to write about this time? I was going to write about film highlights I've had lately, but as it turns out, there has been really only one standout film I've seen since New York New York.

A back-story: Two or so weeks ago, on a Sunday night when I should have been researching for a French debate (which wasn't so crash hot in the end, but I digress), I chose instead to embark on a three hour filmic journey. It was something I had eagerly wanted to watch ever since a) I found out it was a good film and b) I grew really interested in the actress Jennifer Jones.

I mentioned the film's length, 3 hours, and on average such a length can give me pains and an incessant looking over at the time. Heck, even a one hour and a half film can have the same effect. But this film -- and I've neglected to give its title, Since You Went Away (1944) -- stood faithfully by rule number one "Thou shalt not bore". It was an engaging treat, combining interesting storylines with interesting characters.

The film circles around the Hilton family, who has recently had to separate from their husband/father who went to war (the second world war to be specific). And so we get a picture of what this war was like for those on the home front. We see this family feel that slightly bit emptier and then pick themselves up and do what they can for both the war effort and for their personal happiness. It's a bumpy ride for them, since they encounter happiness, then sadness, death, and then hope. And so you get this homely atmosphere, perhaps a little sweet and sentimental, but all the same their journey is genuinely touching. You want them to have all the happiness they could get really.

I can't quite explain it in minute detail, but this film was a treasure. There's something both slightly ominous and then sparkling about it. It never wants to be completely depressing nor completely light and make something frivolous out of war, so it straddles between the middle line and the result can be a sort of bitter and sweet combination.

All the main actors do a top notch job, but there were two that particularly stood out for me. There's Monty Wooley who plays a sort of war veteran (if I'm correct) who stays at the Hilton family's house because of housing shortages. He starts off kind of grumpy and keeps to himself, but gradually you find he has endearing qualities. He doesn't exactly have the most screen time, but he's a character who adds something to the atmosphere and whose presence gradually becomes familiar and more potent as you progess to the end.

Then there's the tour-de-force that is Claudette Colbert. I've seen four of her films and she's not one to disappoint. It isn't that she does something dramatic and dynamic with her role, it's really how she subtly underplays and remains the constant source of strength of the film. She plays the mother role and she's the kind of warm, understanding and capable mother one would like to have. She displays the range of her talent in this film, showing why she is one of the best comediennes of the 30s and 40s during the lighter moments. She's equally good in the more dramatic moments, displaying well her emptiness and struggles in the absence of her husband.

The cast is pretty much what is called an all star cast. You have:

- the aforementioned Jennifer Jones as the older sister, who matures from naive teenager to someone who learns what it's like to deeply love and then to lose that loved one,

- Shirley Temple (yes, the cute curly blonde Depression star with the addition of a few years) as the younger sister, who's as chatty and chirpy as any younger sibling is known to be,

- Joseph Cotten as the charming and cheeky-ish dear family friend,

- Robert Walker as Jones' love interest (curiously, and perhaps painfully, Walker and Jones were once married in real life, and were pretty much estranged during the production of this film. In an arguably cruel twist, David O. Selznick --producer and lover of Jones at the time--decided to make them the estranged couple love interests in the film. I think the chemistry is there in the film, but it's almost unsettling to watch with the above knowledge),

- Hattie McDaniel, as the Hilton's servant and dear friend is as warm and engaging as always,

- and in a great, deliciously catty role is Agnes Moorehead, portraying an irritable character to perfection.

So that's that. This is a great film. I think it would fit perfectly on a double billing with 'The Best Years of Our Lives' to show classic Hollywood's representations of the during and after effects of war. An idea for future curating?

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