1944’s Since You Went Away & I’ll Be Seeing You are now available on Blu-Ray
This week Kino Lorber released two World War II-era Selznick studio pictures on Blu-Ray: Since You Went Away and I’ll Be Seeing You, which each originally opened in 1944. Both feature Joseph Cotten and Shirley Temple among their castmembers, in diverse roles.
In the sprawling family drama Since You Went Away, Cotten plays the supporting role of a ladies’ man and friend to the family of females left at home while their husband/father goes off to serve. Temple is the youngest daughter who encourages her mother, Anne (Claudette Colbert), to offer a room to a boarder (Monty Wooley, who is glorious in any role). Jennifer Jones, who would eventually play a love interest for Cotten in Portrait of Jennie, is miscast as Anne’s teen daughter.
The story is fairly weak — loaded with jingoism and propaganda — and limits Oscar-winner Hattie McDaniel to the role of a subservient maid, patronized yet loved by her employers. Her speech seems written like a white man thinks a black woman would talk.
The John Cromwell-directed work does include some amazing production design, moody lighting and shot composition. The score by Max Steiner (which shares thematic resemblance to “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” at times) won an Academy Award. But the length — three hours — and predictable storyline makes this a slog to get through. However, it is exemplary of the films geared towards women left at the homefront during the war.
The romantic I’ll Be Seeing You shows some plot influence from 1940’s Remember the Night. Instead of Fred MacMurray taking soon-to-be prisoner Barbara Stanwyck to his family house for Christmas, the work directed by William Dieterle (Portrait of Jennie) stars Ginger Rogers as a woman halfway through a jail sentence, allowed to visit home on a holiday furlough. She and Cotten meet cute on a train out of Los Angeles; here he plays a soldier dealing with PTSD.
This screenplay, from future Gilda scribe Marion Parsonnet, seems more eager to delve into deeper issues — Mary (Rogers) is imprisoned for an act of self defense against sexual assault and both Cotten and the director treat Zachary’s mental disorder with due seriousness. Even Temple, as Mary’s younger cousin Barbara, gets to display her dramatic talent. This doesn’t mean the storytelling veers from clumsiness or sappiness, but I’ll Be Seeing You has enough strengths that one can look beyond its faults.
In any crowd sequence, bits of chatter burst through. There’s even a running joke of a soldier bidding adoring farewells to different girlfriends in one train station. It’s like filler material that they kept in to lighten the tone of I’ll Be Seeing You.
Meanwhile, Zachary’s panic attack in a YMCA room appropriately conveys his fear. The cinematography in this moment reflects his tricks of vision during this spell, and audio effects play up his gasping for breath. Cotten and Rogers share a sweet chemistry as the lonesome couple, finding love amidst their troubled situations.