4 WWII Home Front Movies

World War II gave rise to a whole cottage industry of war films during the conflict and for generations to come. There are, of course, so many facets of the war to explore whether it’s Europe, The Pacific, North Africa, and any number of elements.

However, something that always fascinated me was life on the Home Front. Now wars feel like proxies. They rarely affect us first-hand. During the 1940s the war was a concerted effort on all fronts. It affected not only soldiers but civilians living miles away.

Mrs. Miniver (1942) chronicles the exploits of a fearless mother who holds her family together during The Blitz and the threat of German invasion. More The Merrier (1943) takes a comical look at the housing crisis that plagued Washington D.C. and other metropolis areas. Even the likes of Stage Door Canteen (1943) and Thank Our Lucky Stars (1943) give a picture into the USO and entertainment efforts put on for soldiers.

Here is a list of four other films from the World War II years that function as time capsules giving us some element of what life was like during those impactful years in history.

hail the conquering hero 3.png

Hail The Conquering Hero (1944)

Certainly, The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek is another uproarious wartime comedy from Preston Sturges. But this other offering is equally memorable in how it takes on small-town jingoism and hero worship to outrageous proportions. Whereas most old war pictures look moth-bitten with age and overly saccharine, somehow this effort strikes a phenomenal balance between absurd satire and lucid sentimentality.

It’s not making fun of our war heroes as much as it lampoons how we try to exalt them in our own well-meaning blundering. There’s no doubt some of this was certainly acknowledged during the war although I’m not sure how the general public would have felt about the movie in that context. Now it looks prescient. Eddie Bracken, William Demarest, and company are absolutely hilarious

hollywood canteen 1.png

Hollywood Canteen (1944)

Actors Bette Davis and John Garfield of Warner Bros. famously set up the Hollywood Canteen as a haven for soldiers on leave. The perks were free and included dances with the most beautiful starlets and entertainment provided by the brightest comedic and musical personalities of the day. You could even win a raffle to kiss Hedy Lamarr.

Although the film is slight, sentimental propaganda, it does give at least a hint of what this group endeavor was all about. For old movie aficionados, it also provides a convenient opportunity to see just about every person Warner Bros. had on the lot in 1944. They all come out to the party to pitch in on the morale-boosting effort.

the clock 1.png

The Clock (1945)

Whirlwind romances feel almost commonplace in the war years. Imagine the scenario. You’re longtime beau or the eligible man or woman you just met is going off to war. Miles will separate you. All you have are letters. There’s an uncertainty of whether or not you will ever see them again. The only thing that does seem permanent (even if it’s not) is love.

The theme would crop up in any number of pictures from The Very Thought of You to I’ll Be Seeing You as the situation undoubtedly resonated with a contemporary audience. However, another favorite is The Clock, starring Judy Garland and Robert Walker. It encapsulates the moment in time so well with heightened emotions, an unceremonious courthouse wedding, and the open-ending. We don’t know what the future holds.

best_years_of_our_lives.jpg

The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

If Since You Went Away was David Selznick’s WWII epic, this was certainly Samuel Goldwyn’s entry. Its title plays with this ironic ambiguity. The best years of our lives would seem to be ahead of us. The war is over. The Allies have won. The soldiers return home victorious. And yet even in their victory, there is so much to navigate in the civilian world.

Wyler’s effort is such a perceptive picture in how it makes us feel the growing pains and relational tribulations of an entire community. It might be the fact you barely know your wife because you’ve been away for the majority of your marriage. Maybe your kids have grown up in a different world and there’s a corporate job waiting for you to reacclimate to. It might be PTSD or tangible physical injuries totally changing your day-to-day existence. As such the movie is indicative of a certain time and place and a tipping point in American society.

What is your favorite WWII film, whether it depicts the war or some aspect of the home front?

Hollywood Canteen (1944)

hollywood canteen 1.png

This propaganda extravaganza showcases Hollywood in all its glory from the Brown Derby to the Hollywoodland sign and of course the pride and joy of wartime morale-boosting, the Hollywood Canteen.  It’s a bit of a faux reality, Hollywood’s rendition of what real life might actually be like since the Hollywood Canteen did in fact exist.

Historically, it began as an effort by John Garfield and Bette Davis of all people to support the troops and give them quality entertainment from the entertainment capital of the world. Though newsreel footage might serve as a better historical marker (albeit still biased), there’s no questioning the patriotic waves flooding through this picture.

True, even in this film there are anecdotes that point to a slightly different reality. Namely the fact that this was meant to be a Hollywood wide endeavor but all other studios balked and so the lineup is filled out by Warner Bros. catalog of stars and them alone.

Furthermore, it’s easy to surmise that far from being overcome by patriotic fervor, Joan Crawford probably took her role because the alphabetical billing conveniently put her above a couple perennial rivals in Bette Davis and Barbara Stanwyck.

Even with its authenticity in question, there’s no doubt that the film boasts talent. There’s an inexhaustible array of song & dance from the likes of the Andrew Sisters, Roy Rogers (with Trigger) and Jimmy Dorsey.  The stars also come out in full force with cameos from everyone conceivably under contract to Warner Bros from Kitty Carlisle, Jack Carson, Joe E. Brown, Ida Lupino, Jack Benny, and of course Peter Lorre and Sidney Greenstreet staying in character. Each one provides enough star power to fill in the idle moments around our main love story.

Still, there’s no doubt that Joan Leslie was one of America’s sweethearts and it’s no coincidence that our protagonist falls head over heels for her all the way in the South Pacific. The pair of lovebirds represents all that is seemingly good and upright about American ideals even if she is a movie star and he is only a common soldier.

That makes the prospect of actually meeting her beyond his wildest dreams, but Hollywood purportedly is in the dream making business and so Slim gets his wishes granted. A date with his dream girl is soon arranged by those tactful matchmakers Davis and Garfield.

Robert Hutton is almost uncannily reminiscent of Jimmy Stewart who was at the time leading bombing raids over Germany. It seems little coincidence that he would then land the crucial role as the universal soldier Slim — a man who saw his share of action and is home for a short spell — before heading out on his next tour of duty.

He represents all the boys fighting for not just the Red, White, and Blue but every color and creed. In his very starry-eyed and candid way, he mentions each one as the camera picks each out of the crowd. Curious the only group not mentioned were members of the Japanese-American infantry. Yet another incongruity with the world at large. But the red carpet that is rolled out for him at the Hollywood Canteen is meant to be only a small recompense for all his service to his country.

Delmer Daves’s picture much like Stage Door Canteen (1943) fits the realm of saccharine propaganda, even blatantly so, but if you allow yourself to be carried away by the historical moment it has its certain charms.

True, the Home Front or the Allied cause isn’t quite as unified and squeaky clean as it claims to be just as humanity on the whole and the stars behind Hollywood rarely could hold up to scrutiny. However, there’s still something here that can make you smile. Publicity stunt or not. Maybe it’s the romantic in me that likes to believe there’s at least a kernel of truth in here and if nothing else there’s honest to goodness sincerity.

3.5/5 Stars

Review: All About Eve (1950)

“FastEveEveMargotCasswellWitten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night” ~ Margo Channing

It’s cliche, I do admit, but they simply do not make films like this anymore. Stories about people talking where the actors take center stage. In this case, the story from Joseph L. Mankiewicz is about the Broadway stage and all that happens behind the curtains, in the dressing rooms, and behind the closed doors of the royalty of that profession.There is so much that could be dissected, antagonized over, or acknowledged so I will move through it the best way I know how.

A moment must be spent acknowledging that this is the film that revitalized the career of Bette Davis. She was the tops during the 30s and early 40s, but the role of the histrionic stage icon Margo Channing was her comeback and it thoroughly suited Davis. I have actually never been a fan of hers because I always found her rather arrogant and she scares me visually. However, All About Eve plays on my personal sentiments wonderfully. When we’re first introduced to Margo, she’s everything we expect in a Bette Davis character, and truth be told I don’t really like her. But interestingly enough that changes. That’s where Eve and the rest of the cast come in.

The film is book-ended by the wonderfully wry and snooty commentary of theater critic Addison DeWitt (George Sanders). He makes it his mission to rake every new play over the coals, and he can be merciless. But he also is a great ally and he proves so for young Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter). Because, after all, this film is her story, we just don’t quite understand why at the beginning.

Eve came from humble roots and was the most devoted young fan of Margo Channing. She would attend every one of her performances and wait outside her dressing room timidly, just to get a glimpse of the star. One of Margo’s best friends Karen Richards (Celeste Holm) was accustomed to seeing the girl and in a kindly gesture she invited Eve up to the dressing room. And just like that Eve had her backstage pass into this world rounded out by Margo Channing, Karen, her husband the playwright Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe), and the young director Bill Simpson (Gary Merrill) who also happens to be Margo’s suitor.

She begins unassuming enough on the outskirts of their little group. Always seen, not heard. Always thoughtful and ready to be of service. Eve takes on the role of Margo’s personal assistant just like that and an ego like Channing doesn’t mind. In fact, everyone seems to like having her around except the skeptical Birdie (embodied by the always spunky Thelma Ritter).

As time marches on, Eve loses her charm. More and more it feels as if she’s analyzing Margo. Watching her every move. Monitoring her success and slowly moving in. She plants the idea that she can be the next understudy and so it is. One fateful night Karen agrees to stall Margo and Eve gets her big chance as an understudy. She of course politely invites all the major critics to see the performance. It was the conscientious thing to do after all. Ironically, it’s at this point where things turn. Margo becomes the victim and in her great vulnerability, while sharing with Karen, we begin to sympathize with this woman hiding behind the facade of Margo Channing. Meanwhile, Eve continues her ascent using whatever means possible. She alienates Margo and begins driving a wedge between the always amiable working relationship of Lloyd and Bill. Eve even resorts to blackmail and home wrecking sharing her master plot with Addison.

She’s used everybody else and so he seems like the next logical target. However, he’s too much like her. He’s too cynical to fall for her act, and he points out a few chinks in her armor. So like that we end up back at the award ceremony where Eve is about to win her big award. Now we know all the clawing and backstabbing it took for her to get there. Now all that is veiled under her perfectly demure features and charming voice. But we see it on the faces of all the ones who sit there knowingly. Each one knows all too well the damage that this girl has done. She came out of the woodwork, used and abused them because everything was about Eve. Nothing else mattered to her.

But the beauty of the film’s ending is that the cycle continues. Margo is fading away yes, and Eve is taking her place, but that means that there are more Eves where she came from. Young girls obsessed with stardom, fame, and success. It’s a frightening evolution and it proves to be a sharp indictment of the industry as a whole.

The five leads are solid and their performances shift as the Margo-Eve dynamic fluctuates. However, George Sanders is possibly the most enjoyable character, because, despite his cruel wit, he’s the one who is outside of Eve’s influence, or at least he catches her in her charade. There’s something utterly satisfying in that. Also, he has some memorable moments alongside the aspiring Ms. Casswell (none other than the show-stopping Marilyn Monroe in an early role). So really this is a film about the performances and they are well worth it because they suggest that in such a cultured world, so many things lurk under the surface. It might be insecurity, fear, suppressed desire, or savagery. Humanity is most definitely messy, you just have to look behind the curtain sometimes.

5/5 Stars

The Petrified Forest (1936)

The Petrified Forest (1936)If I dare say this film begins as a rather dull budding love story between a philosophical drifting author (Leslie Howard) and a inquisitive young server (Bette Davis) at a roadside gas station in Arizona. It looks like it’s not to be as he is intent on moving on but then comes murderer Duke Mantee (Humphrey Bogart) with his thugs and things heat up a little bit. His arrival brings up some interesting points of contention and Leslie gains some new found conviction. But that’s not the half of it.

This film comes from the stage with Bogart reprising his star making role as a gangster. It is often talky and sometimes stagnant but the supporting characters and Bogart have enough personality to at least make it passable and a tad interesting. I was never a great fan of Davis, but I have to admit at least she does not look scary in this one. She’s still young and on the rise when this film came out. Leslie Howard is enjoyable with his pleasant delivery but Bogart really lights it up. His glowering face and growling voice are hard to clear from your mind. That’s for sure.

The film also has immense commentary on the survival of the fittest, women, the mythical Old West and fascist ideology that are a sign of the times.

3.5/5 Stars

The Best Films of Bette Davis

1. All About Eve
2. The Little Foxes
3. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
4. Now, Voyager
5. Jezebel
6. The Letter
7. Petrified Forest
8. The Man Who Came to Dinner
9. It’s Love I’m After
10. Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte
11. Dark Victory
12. The Old Maid
13. All This, And Heaven Too
14. Old Acquaintance
15. The Whales of August
16. The Corn is Green
17. Mr. Skeffington
18. The Catered Affair
19. It This Our Life
20. Of Human Bondage

My passions were all gathered together like fingers that made a fist. Drive is considered aggression today; I knew it then as purpose.

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

This psychological thriller starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford with Victor Buono, opens with the bratty vaudeville star Baby Jane Hudson. Her sister Blanche lives in her shadow but begrudgingly agrees to watch out for her sister. Now in the 1930s Blanche is the movie star and Jane is all but forgotten. After a mysterious accident, the film moves to the present where Blanche is confined to a wheelchair and Jane vengefully takes care of her. Because of Jane’s psychotic and often cruel behavior, Blanche tries getting help several times but to no avail. She is at the mercy of her sister, when Jane is not trying to renew her career with the help of a young accompanist. Ultimately  the truth is revealed and the film ends on a pitiful note. This film is full of suspense and Davis is absolutely creepy; never was one staircase so integral to a story either.

4.5/5 Stars

Bette Davis

In honor of what would have been the birthday of Bette Davis yesterday, today I thought I would release posts on two of her films I have seen. Besides being known for the classic All About Eve, Davis  made many popular films spanning from the 30s into the 60s with The Petrified Forest, Jezebel, Dark Victory, The Letter, The Little Foxes, Now, Voyager, and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? Davis was one of the biggest box office draws during the 40s but she could also be combative when she dealed with others. Later in her career Davis continued guest starring on many television programs. She may not have been the favorite actress of every audience (including me) but there is no denying she was very successful and her persona is larger than life.

The Little Foxes (1941)

Starring a cast including Bette Davis, Herbert Marshall, and Teresa Wright, the film opens in the South circa 1900 and it revolves around a greed woman and her two conniving brothers who hope to make millions off mills. Regina sends her innocent daughter Alexandra to bring her ill father home so the deal can be settled. He returns very worn down and he will not take part in the venture. It leaves his wife angry and her brothers dishonestly acquire the rest of the funds they need. Horace inadvertently finds out but he will not let Regina tell on them. However, Regina coldly looks on when the sick man needs her most and very soon after he passes away. Now she has her brothers where she wants them, allowing her greed to show through completely. She has gained so much and yet in the process she loses something so valuable in her daughter. The title comes from the book of Songs of Solomon and it perfectly describes these greedy people. I felt the main actors did a wonderful job in this film under the direction of the great William Wyler.

4.5/5 Stars

All About Eve (1950)

f37d4-allabouteveEve Harrington (Anne Baxter) is a seemingly modest and conscientious girl who gets the chance of a lifetime. She is able to meet a great Broadway star (Bette Davis) as well as her close circle of friends. Soon she is helping this Margot Channing by taking care of errands and odd jobs. This ambitious girl finally convinces one of Margot’s friends Karen (Celeste Holm), to let her be an understudy. And so when Margot is detained the night of a show, Eve gets her chance at the big time. However, Eve soon shows a different side of herself; one of back-stabbing and blackmail. Through her manipulation, she meets a famous critic (George Sanders) and wins an award. However, he has her pegged and the truth becomes evident. By the end of the film, Eve seems to have fallen for the same trap that Margot had. This film was pretty good and featured a good cast including Thelma Ritter and a young Marilyn Monroe. As Davis exclaims, “fasten your seat belts!”

4.5/5 Stars