WWII was still raging, and producer David O. Selznick wanted to make a film, not about the fighting, but about the American home front. Margaret Buell Wilder had published a collection of her letters to her soldier husband, and Selznick took it upon himself to adapt it into a screen play for one of his trademark “blockbusters.” Since You Went Away never reached the heights of Selznick’s Gone With the Wind, but with an all star cast, great direction (John Cromwell), and top notch cinematography (Stanley Cortez and Lee Garmes), it captured the attention of a populace coping with the deprivations of wartime. Claudette Colbert played housewife Ann Hilton, who struggles to maintain a normal home environment for her daughters Jane (Jennifer Jones) and Bridget (Shirley Temple). This family is financially secure, but must still deal with shortages, rationing, separations, returning wounded, and constant anxiety and worry. Ann is supported by her housekeeper, Fidelia (Hattie McDaniel, Mammy in GWTW), and family friend Lt. Tony Willett (Joseph Cotten) who loves Ann, but chastely. There’s an awful lot of gee whiz sincerity in this story, which is relieved now and then by Agnes Morehead as a catty society matron. Morehead went on to play many crone types, but as seen here, she was quite a lovely woman. Guess that’s why they call it acting.
Since You Went Away contains many dated elements (the musical score, which won an Oscar, is positively saccharine, as is some of the dialogue), but nevertheless it works. The granddaddy of all subsequent train station parting scenes is touchingly enacted by Jennifer Jones and her fiance (Robert Walker), who is shipping out to the European front. In a bit of interesting trivia, Jones and Walker were married in real life and were in the midst of a tense separation. The portrayal of the big dance, set in a hangar, is delightful, and the final scenes on Christmas Eve are sure to bring tears to the eyes of anyone with a heart. Considering who the producer was, the length of this movie, close to three hours, should come as no surprise, and some of the scenes truly are overlong. This film has been criticized as propogandist, but watch it for its fine performances and a picture of American idealism.