Since You Went Away (1944)

UA (Selznick International Pictures)

David O. Selznick's morale booster about an “average” American home during WWII, based on the book by Margaret Buell Wilder, is a simplistic, heart-warming saga replete of nobel political values devoid of any artistic merits.

The mother, Anne Hilton (Claudette Colbert), is a heart-torn industrious wife, who tries to keep a smiling face while her husband is away at War for the sake of her two growing daughters. After hearing that her husband Tim is lost, Ann goes to work in a defense factory, but she never for a moment loses faith that he is alive.

Embodying the best qualities of an inspirational war wife and “waiting woman,” Anne Hilton is tender, sympathetic, understanding of her girls' problems and affectionate with her black cook. Warm-hearted, intelligent, and blessed with instinctive wisdom, she combines the best qualities of a head of a family of moderate means, doing her best to carry on.

Anne develops camaraderie with the naval officer who was Tim's best man at their wedding. Then there's Lieutenant Anthony Willett, an old flame of hers, who's been a great friend of the family. Willett visits them on his leave and helps to cheer them up with his gaiety. At the end, Anne is rewarded with the best Christmas present, a message that her husband, formerly posted as “missing,” is a prisoner.

But before that, we are treated to propagandistic visuals, such as the empty armchair where the father of the family used to sit before going into service, or the devoted dog that listens and waits for his master's return, or the minister who delivers a sermon of encouragement to a wartime congregation. The husband-father never appears in the picture, but there are photographs of him and love letters.

Everybody in the film is on a good behavior, and we get the idealistic portraiture of the anguish of one characteristic family at being left alone, and the way its members take things in their own hands, face all the crises head-on, with nobility. Because they don't have enough money to get along, the mother sends away the black cook, but the latter refuses to depart her charges. Anne advertises for an officer to board in the vacant room and she gets a lodger who's a crusty and retired.

Set in 1943, the story begins with Anne return home, after seeing her husband off on the train, and it ends when the hubby wires back that he will be with the family shortly

Oscar Nominations: 9

Picture, produced by David O. Selznick
Actress: Claudette Colbert
Supporting Actor: Monty Woolley
Supporting Actress: Jennifer Jones
Cinematography (b/w): Stanley Cortez and Lee Garmes
Interior Decoration (b/w): Mark-Lee Kirk, art direction; Victor A. Gangelin, set decoration
Film Editing: Hal C. Kern and James E. Newcomb
Scoring (Dramatic or Comedy Picture): Max Steiner
Special Effects: John R. Cosgrove, photographic; Arthur Johns, sound

Oscar Awards: 1


Oscar Context:

“Since You Went Away” competed for the top award with Leo McCarey's “Going My Way,” which swept most of the Oscars, Billy Wilder's noir melodrama “Double Indemnity,” George Cukor's psychological thriller “Gaslight,” and the patriotic biopic “Wilson.”

Though boasting some of the most innovative stylistic, film noir is the least nominated genre in the Academy annals, probably due to its dark mood and downbeat tone. Which may explain why Fritz Lang, the master of film noir, has never been nominated for an Oscar. Billy Wilder's “Double Indemnity” was one of the few nominated noirs; significantly, it was the only film that did not win any Oscar. In the following year Wilder and “The Lost Weekend,” would win Director and Best Picture, though most industry people–and the public–related to “Lost Weekend” as a social problem picture (about alcoholism) rather than noir.

Next to “Going My Way,” the most nominated films were “Wilson” (10) and “Since You Went Away (9). Though considered to be commercially disappointing, “Wilson” won 5 awards, mostly in the technical categories (Cinematography and Interior Decoration, both in color, and Special Effects).