Journey for Margaret (1942): Van Dyke’s Drama of War Orphans, Starring Margaret O’Brien (Relevant to Christmas)

Journey for Margaret, a drama set in London during WWII starring Robert Young, is directed by Van Dyke as an adaptation of the novel of the same name by William Lindsay White.

On assignment in Britain, American correspondent William L. White adopted and brought back to the U.S. a little war orphan about whom he subsequently wrote a book, “A Journey for Margaret.”  The best-selling book became the basis for the movie.

Margaret O’Brien, age 5, captured the hearts of American moviegoers and became the biggest child star since Shirley Temple with her performance as Margaret White, the orphan of the Blitz adopted by newspaperman John Davis (Robert Young).

After an air raid, Davis, angered over the destruction he has witnessed and embittered by the injury of his wife and the loss of their unborn child, visited a center for homeless children, where he encountered Margaret and a little boy, Peter. The reporter and his wife become fond of the children and eventually adopt them and bring them to America and safety.

“A Journey for Margaret” was a hit, due to its focus on Hitler’s most innocent victims, children.

This was the movie that convinced Vincente Minnelli to cast O’Brien in “Meet Me in St. Louis.”

Detailed Plot

War correspondent John Davis (Robert Young) moves from France to safer London with his wife Nora (Laraine Day) during World War II.  Nora is pregnant and John wants her to go back home to Connecticut, but she decides to stay, even though she has her doubts about his conviction as a reporter.

During the London blitz, John is discovers a desperate young boy. As he returns home he learns that his wife has been hurt during the bombings and taken to hospital. Having lost the baby, Nora is severely injured, and becomes depressed when informed that she will be unable to bear another child.

After her recovery, John sends her back home to the U.S, and continues his work, writing about an orphanage for war children. Meeting the place’s director, Trudy Strauss (Fay Bainter), he begins caring for the children, including the boy he had earlier met on the street, Peter (William Severn), who is now mute.

Another child, Margaret (O’Brien), comes to the orphanage after being at foster parents. She protects a bomb casing in a chain around her neck. In one of the film’s most disturbing scenes, Margaret has to learn—and is encouraged–to cry for her dead parents. Later, when bombers fly over the orphanage, John helps calm the children.

Looking for stories to write, John encounters a woman carrying a dead baby, and gets increasingly upset. When Peter and Margaret meet their prospective foster parents, John accompanies them, but they cling to him and refuse to be with their potential adopters, who actually nice and kind.

John asks Nora to adopt the two children and bring them back with him to her in the U.S. At first reluctant, later on, Nora changes her mind.

When the plane between London and Portugal is full, John asks the passengers to let go of some of their baggage, but it doesn’t work. Allowed to bring only one child, John relies on an IQ test. Margaret, getting the highest scores, is chosen, which reduces Peter to tears.  About to board the plane with Margaret, a passenger then gives up her seat to Peter.

In the last scene, set around Christmas, John arrives in New York City with the two childen, greeted by Nora.  The sirens go off and there is a blackout, but Nora promises the children that once the War is over, they will never have to worry again about the city’s lights being out.


Robert Young as John Davis

Larraine Day as Nora Davis

Fay Bainter as Trudy Strauss

Nigel Bruce as Herbert V. Allison

Margaret O’Brien as Margaret White

William Severn as Peter Humphreys

Leyland Hodgson as Censor

Elisabeth Risdon as Mrs. Bailey

Doris Lloyd as Mrs. Barrie

Halliwell Hobbes as Mr. Barrie

Heather Thatcher as Mrs. Harris

Jill Esmond as Susan Fleming

G.P. Huntley as ‘Rugged’

Lisa Golm as Frau Weber




Produced by B.P. Fineman.

Directed by W.S. Van Dyke.

Screenplay by David Hertz and William Ludwig.

Based on the book by William L. White.

Release date: December 17, 1942


I am grateful to TCM for showing the film.