Since You Went Away, 1944, United Artists. Starring Claudette Colbert, Joseph Cotten, Jennifer Jones, Shirley Temple. Directed by John Cromwell. B&W, 177 minutes.
Everyday wife and mother Anne Hilton (Claudette Colbert) has just seen her husband Tim leave for battle, and returns home to begin a life alone with her daughters, Jane (Jennifer Jones) and Brig (Shirley Temple). It’s a bittersweet departure for Anne, who believes in what her husband is doing, but is scared to face life without him, if only—she prays—for a short time.
Soon it becomes apparent the family will need more income, and they decide to take in a boarder, Colonel Smollet (Monty Woolley), a crusty older gentleman with stringent demands on the household. Joining the group is longtime friend Lieutenant Tony Willis (Joseph Cotten), a dashing man with an eye for the ladies—and the attention of Jane.
But Jane’s heart is soon captured by Col. Smollet’s grandson, Bill (Robert Walker), a humble and quiet man who was kicked out of West Point but is determined to carry on the family tradition of military service. The two men are estranged, but each takes cautious steps toward reconciliation.
Bill is off to war, and the lives of everyone he leaves behind are changed forever.
The onscreen romance between Jane and Bill was a sharp contrast to Jones’ and Walker’s real-life marriage. Jones had been having an affair with David Selznick, producer of the film, and she and Walker were struggling with the fallout. They had separated during filming, and divorced a little less than a year after Since You Went Away was released.
The film marked the debut of Temple as an adult, and fans were anxious to see her once again. Selznick, true to character, dictated the way her hair was to be styled and refused to allow her to wear makeup. Rather, he insisted she “scrub her face until it shone.” However, his interest in Temple’s success waned after one more film with her, and his attention to Jones’ career (and image) increased as their romance evolved.
Since You Went Away won the Academy award for Best Musical Score, and was nominated for eight other Oscars. These included Best Picture, Best Actress (Colbert), Best Supporting Actor (Woolley) and Best Supporting Actress (Jones).
Frequently melodramatic and sentimental, Since You Went Away is best appreciated when put in context of the time it was released, three years into the United States’ involvement in World War II. Many sought hope and comfort in the films they saw, although there was no way around the realities of war. Seen by some as Selznick’s answer to Mrs. Miniver, it is not the same movie, but served much of the same purpose. It remains an important movie today for its historical value and storytelling, and although a bit long, is worth watching, particularly for fans of any of its cast members.