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Film / Since You Went Away

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Since You Went Away is a 1944 drama film directed by John Cromwell, starring Claudette Colbert, Jennifer Jones, Joseph Cotten, and Shirley Temple.

The Hiltons are a well-to-do American family living somewhere in Flyover Country. Patriarch Tim Hilton has just left for Army service in World War II when the movie begins, leaving his wife Anne (Colbert) and their teenaged daughters Jane (Jones) and Brig (Temple) to cope with life on the home front while he's away.

Forced to save money after losing Tim's civilian salary, the Hiltons take in a boarder, Col. Smollett (Monty Woolley), whose grandson Bill (Robert Walker) soon falls for Jane. Anne, left adrift by her husband's absence, dedicates herself to the war effort. Also in the picture is Navy lieutenant Tony Willett (Cotten), an old family friend who obviously carries a torch for Anne.

Produced for United Artists by David O. Selznick (who also wrote the screenplay), the film was nominated for a large passel of Academy Awards, and won some of the minor ones.


  • Actor Allusion: Tony shows Anne, Fidelia and Jane a recruiting poster he made for the WACs with Anne posing while showing off her legs, just as Claudette Colbert did in It Happened One Night.
  • Altar the Speed: Lampshaded and then averted. Jane and Bill discuss getting married right away just before the Train-Station Goodbye, but decide against it.
  • Anyone Can Die: Well, not anybody, but anybody who's left for the war.
  • Bait-and-Switch: When Tony is driving Anne home from the dance for the soldiers, and they've both heard about Mr. Mahoney's son dying (see Foreshadowing below), they get pulled over by a motorcycle cop, and Tony, in no mood to deal with the police, curtly tells the cop to give them their ticket and be on his way. Turns out Tony wasn't doing anything wrong - the cop was just so happy to see someone on the road (as people weren't driving as much because of gas rationing, which is Truth in Television) he just wanted to talk to them.
  • The Cameo: Lionel Barrymore has one short scene as a clergyman.
  • Coming of Age Story: One of the main plot elements is Jane growing from immature teenage girl to a grown woman.
  • Dances and Balls: The town puts on a dance for the soldiers at the local Army base, complete with girls brought in to dance with the soldiers.
  • Death by Childbirth: The fate of Bill's mother, as he explains to Jane.
  • Death Notification: Sort of. Anne receives the standard telegram, but it says that Tim is missing in action. The later telegram informing the family that Bill was killed in Italy arrives offscreen, with Anne telling Jane after Jane comes home.
  • Description Cut: Within the same sequence. Tony takes Anne to what he hopes will be a steak dinner, only to be told the restaurant has no steaks, because "There's a war on, you know." Grumpily, Tony tells the waiter to bring him anything "as long as it isn't hash." Sure enough, at the end of the scene, the waiter brings the "specialty of the house" - hash.
  • Faint in Shock: Anne does this when she reads the telegram stating that Tim is missing in action.
  • Fatal Family Photo: Mr. Mahoney the grocer shows Anne a picture of his son, who's in the army. Not long after, his son is killed in a training accident.
  • The Film of the Book: Adapted from the 1943 novel Since You Went Away: Letters to a Soldier from His Wife by Margaret Buell Wilder.
  • Foreshadowing: After Anne hears about Mr. Mahoney's son being killed in a plane crash (see Fatal Family Photo above) while she's at a dance for the soldiers, Tony asks her to dance. Anne looks horrified at the thought, to which Tony responds, "Look, Anne, you'll be hearing plenty of things like this. Might as well get used to them." As indicated above in Death Notification, Anne did hear about this again with Bill being killed in action and Tim going missing.
  • The Ghost: Tim never appears onscreen but his presence looms throughout the movie, via many references to him as well as several pictures of him in the Hilton residence.
  • Grumpy Old Man: Col. Smollett is cranky and cantankerous, complaining about his eggs and the dog and the peculiarities of the Hilton household.
    • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: However, he eventually does warm up to the Hilton household, especially towards Jane when Bill dies.
  • Have a Gay Old Time;
    • "Do you know of any place here in this gay metropolis where I can conquer my two passions at the same time?"
    • "This powderbox is not too gay."
  • Hypocritical Humor: "This whole moral breakdown is caused by drinking and nothing else. They sure serve rotten Scotch at this bar."
    • Jane snaps at Bill for acting so afraid of his grandfather, then says they better be quiet so they don't disturb him.
  • Intermission: The "Entr'acte" comes slightly more than halfway through this three-hour film, after the Hiltons receive the MIA telegram.
  • Just Friends: Anne and Tim, though how much Tim sees Anne as a "friend" is up for debate.
  • Lame Pun Reaction: Brig is looking at a map, with Col. Smollett, to try and find a town her father told her about in one of his letters - "Wetookit". Brig eventually figures it out ("We came, we saw, we took it!"), at which point the colonel rolls his eyes and says, "Very funny!".
  • Mammy: Hattie McDaniel plays—wait for it—a sassy black maid.
  • Melodrama: Much tragedy, heightened emotions, and crying to be had.
  • On Second Thought: Brig comes up with the idea of renting out a room, which both Anne and Jane thinks is ridiculous. Then Brig talks about some officer needing a room, and Jane, getting a dreamy look in her eye, tells her mother it would be patriotic to let an officer rent a room from them, though Brig catches on to her real motivation.
  • Parlor Games: The Hiltons play Charades from time to time. The super-dignified Col. Smollett has to act out "bottoms up".
  • Precocious Crush: Jane has one of these on Tony early on, though she eventually outgrows it.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Both Jane and Anne deliver one of these to Emily Hawkins after the latter chastises Jane for nursing wounded soldiers at a hospital.
    Emily Hawkins: I meant no offense to you, Jane. I simply feel that well-brought up young girls shouldn't be permitted to have such intimate contact with all sorts of-
    Jane Hilton: All sorts of boys who've lost their arms and legs? They're young too, lots of them. But they weren't too young for that, Mrs. Hawkins, and I don't think breeding entered into it either. [Col. Smollett says, "Bravo, Jane!" under his breath]
    Emily: I don't care to debate it with you, Jane. But surely there are women more suited to such-
    Jane: That's just it. There aren't women more suited. And women who might help, like you, Mrs. Hawkins, think you're doing your part if you attend a canteen dance for your own pleasure. (Anne urges Jane to go upstairs) Yes, Mother, but there are just one or two more things that I want to say. (Brig also urges Jane to go upstairs) We're not V-Girls! We're simply helping with the wreckage! (She laughs) All right, Brig, let's go play with our dolls! Don't worry, Mrs. Hawkins. Please don't worry if our precious well-bred hands come in contact with those mangled bodies. We'll survive! Even if they don't!
    Emily: Anne Hilton! What on earth has happened that you would permit a child of yours to talk that way without so much as-
    Anne: Without so much as what? Thank heaven my child has the courage to say to you what should have been said long ago. And let me add that I'm ashamed. Ashamed that I've put up with you, that I've even known you.
    Emily: Well! From now on, you needn't know me. Don't you think for a minute you have me fooled, Anne Hilton. I've not forgotten how you felt about your husband joining up. And may I ask just what other noble sacrifices you've made to give you the privilege of being so self-righteous?
    Anne: I'm afraid that's just it, Emily. I haven't really made any sacrifices. Oh, I haven't hoarded and cheated and done all the other selfish, unpatriotic things that you've done. But as far as making sacrifices, I'm afraid we're two of a kind. And the realization of it doesn't make me very proud or happy.
    Emily: Well!
  • Recycled In Space: Selznick claimed this was Little Women updated to World War II.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Danny Williams, one of the soldiers Jane takes care of at the hospital, is implied to be one of these.
  • Sleeping Single: Amusingly still done in a movie where one half of the married couple is absent. In one scene Anne jumps from her bed into Tim's and breaks down weeping.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: In an ironic twist, they are played by an actor/actress couple in the middle of a divorce, because the actress is having an affair with the screenwriter/producer.
  • Thunder Equals Downpour: Jane and Bill are having an ideal afternoon on a farm when the sound of thunder comes out of nowhere. Boom, before they can even make it to the barn, it's pouring rain.
  • Touché: During Emily and Tony's Snark-to-Snark Combat:
    Tony: I've learned a new trick. The Navy thought I ought to bring it home. You know, for purposes of morale.
    Emily: I thought you already knew the tricks, Lieutenant.
    Tony: Touché, as we used to say in Minneapolis.
  • Train-Station Goodbye: The Trope Maker, as Jane sees Bill off when he's going away to war. There are declarations of love, there's Jane running after the moving train, there's Bill handing her a keepsake (his watch) from the moving window.
  • The Voiceless: Brig's very shy friend Gladys, who pops up from time to time to signal Brig with a "Pssst!" but never talks. Finally at the end she manages to gasp out a "Merry Christmas."
  • Wrench Wench: Anne eventually goes to work as a welder.