Thursday, December 9, 2010
War Stories - Part 3 - "Love Letters" - 1945
In many families, the wife said goodbye to the husband (or sweetheart) at the train station. She said welcome home to him (if she was lucky), three or four years later. The only way to communicate in the years between were by letters. They might meet again -- to resume their lives and their relationship -- as near strangers, unless the letters were particularly heartfelt, and the communication between them was open and honest.
I doubt in our age of instant, but often weak and meaningless, communication does the power of language ever come close to matching the importance it had during World War II.
Note: Ayn Rand co-wrote the script with the writer of the novel on this story is based, Christopher Massie.
Cotten is sick of the idea, and disgusted with himself for doing the chore, partly because he knows Roger is an ass, and partly because he fears he is falling in love with the woman who writes sensitive replies to his letters. He has a fiancée of his own, and he is growing apart from her. He seldom writes her, saving his deepest thoughts for Roger’s friend, Victoria.
“I was able to write to her all the things I was never able to say to any woman I know.” He says, and felt the ruse was innocent as long as the girl didn’t care. “But Victoria cared, understood.” He realizes Victoria has fallen in love, not with Roger as she believes, but with his letters.
“She’s in love with a man who doesn’t exist.”
Mr. Cotten demands the charade stop. He won’t write anymore, wants to know nothing more about her. When Cotten is seriously wounded and placed in a military hospital in Italy, he gets a letter from Roger, who has returned to England for training. Roger has married Victoria.
When Cotten is sent back to England to convalesce he learns from another pal that Roger is dead, not in the war but from an accident at home. This news nags at Mr. Cotten, because it means this Victoria is now a widow, and free, and a temptation in spite of himself. He also feels guilt for making possible what he suspects must have been a bad marriage. In a way, though it is never couched in these terms, it's as if he prostituted this earnest, romantic woman to a callous stranger.
He still wants no part of the charade he committed, and wants to distance himself from what he has done. But when his brother takes him to a party at a friend’s flat, Cotten meets Victoria even though he is not aware of it, mainly because she is not aware she is Victoria.
Jennifer Jones is by turns ethereal, and also teasing and free spirited. This is also something of a trademark role for her, the fey innocent, but she appears more at ease in this film and less fragile than in some of her other work.
Ann Richards plays her friend, a woman who took Jones into her flat and cared for her when she was unable to take care of herself. Ann Richards also had minor roles in “Random Harvest” (see this post) and in “Sorry Wrong Number” (see this post here and here), but her film career ended in the early 1950s.
We don’t see too many ration books of the day in the movies, and I’m not sure why. Possibly the government requested the cooperation of the film industry not to make too big a joke of them so that people would follow the rules and take their use seriously. Possibly they did not want to harp on (though an English setting in this movie, this was still an American-made movie for an American audience), shortages to an audience weary of them and doing its utmost to sacrifice.
“Portrait of Jennie”, see here). Ian Wolfe plays a vicar, and Harry Allen a local farmer, both character actors who you might remember from “Mrs. Miniver”, which we reviewed in the second post on this series.
“Song of Bernadette” (1943), see this previous post, plays Miss Jones’ guardian. She plays prominently in the tragedy/mystery, and she’s a shadowy figure for most of the film. It’s not until the very end we get her story and the truth about Victoria. It’s a good scene between Jones and Cooper, where they both reach back into their memories and describe a particular pivotal event, each finishing the other’s sentences.
“The More the Merrier” is less on the surface of everyday life for these country dwellers and more in the fog-shrouded background, though there is one scene where Cotten, driving with Jones on winding lanes, does mention the gas rationing, “Since you love motoring so much, we’ll travel to the end of our coupons.”
Also, there is a scene with a wedding in what appear to be the bombed-out ruins of a church, evocative of the end of “Mrs. Miniver.” The war is still present in this movie, but it seems to be sliding into the background.
And I think that portrait of the little boy which figures in a couple of scenes that Joseph Cotten says is him as a child really was him. There is a similar photo in his autobiography, “Vanity Will Get You Somewhere” (Mercury House, Inc., San Francisco, 1987). In that book, he states that the photo was also used in “Shadow of a Doubt”.
In this movie, and as World War II drifted into the past (the film was released in August 1945, after the Japanese surrender but before the formal surrender ceremonies in September), the generation that fought the war seemed to decide in large measure not to talk about it anymore. Many servicemen, like Joseph Cotten in the film, preferred not to look back.
Much of that war is documented in letters, and the intriguing notion that two people can fall in love without ever meeting each other…I would not hazard a guess as to how many times that actually happened. I don’t doubt that it did.
This is the end of our series on “war stories”. The all-clear has been sounded. Now get out of my cellar. I'd better not be missing any cans of SPAM.