IMPEACH TRUMP.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Wretched Refuse of Your Teeming Shore - Since You Went Away (1944)

Since You Went Away (1944) is a tribute to the American home front during World War II, its cozy, meandering plot glowing with quiet moments of breathtaking truth. Sentimental, certainly, but no less truthful for its sentiment, and never more so than the important scene toward the end of the film when we see Claudette Colbert learning a lesson on what it is to be an American.

She takes a coffee break in the canteen at the shipyard where she is doing war work. Her co-worker, an immigrant from Europe, recounts of the terror of the old country, of clutching her child, hearing, "the sound of heavy boots marching down the street."  

We do not know the country, or her religion, or how she came to arrive in America, only that her little boy did not come with her. We cannot imagine the circumstances of what we presume was his death, or what happened to his father. 

"We'd pray together that God would let us go to the fairyland across the sea."

Nazimova plays Zofia Koslowska.  Her name, Claudette Colbert writes to her husband, "is nothing like we ever heard at the country club."  Nazimova describes her visit to the Statue of Liberty upon arrival in the country, and recites from memory over the lunch counter, over their coffee, as Claudette listens, watching her face with awe, the Emma Lazarus poem inscribed on the bronze plaque on the pedestal of Lady Liberty:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

"I know it so well here," she points to her head, "because I feel it so much here," she points to her heart.

It was Nazimova's last film; she died the following year at 66 years old.  Another veteran of the European stage, Albert Basserman, plays another immigrant in the film, and producer/screenwriter David O. Selznick prefaces his appearance with the tender, and pointed, quote on a plaque by another American poet, Carl Sandburg, 

"America, thy seeds of fate have borne a fruit of many breeds..."

Then we see a university degree awarded to Sigmund Gottlieb Golden, M.D., a kindly psychiatrist treating a young serviceman in a veteran's hospital, played by Craig Stevens, who is suffering from what we today call post-traumatic stress.  The doctor's name, like Zofia Koslowska's, would never be heard at the country club.

But middle class WASP Claudette Colbert, and her daughter played by Jennifer Jones, embrace these "wretched refuse" as role models and as friends.  We next see Nazimova as a guest at a party at Claudette's home.

Selznick uses these inferences and examples of the strength, nobility, and virtue of a culturally diverse America -- and the white Christians openly accepting the newcomers who are different -- not as a shaft of conscience, but as a source of pride during a desperate war against fascism.  Our cultural diversity and our pride in that was one of our greatest weapons against evil.


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Jacqueline T. Lynch is the author of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. and Memories in Our Time - Hollywood Mirrors and Mimics the Twentieth Century. Her newspaper column on classic films, Silver Screen, Golden Memories is syndicated nationally.

4 comments:

Caftan Woman said...

They were unbidden yet I have tears.

We are living in a time I thought we would never see because those before us fought and won.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

I know. My parents would be sick about it. I keep thinking that.

Silver Screenings said...

This sounds like a haunting a memorable movie in its way. Thanks for introducing me to it.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

It's one of those special movies that stays with you. Great cast.

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