Reunion in France: Melodrama, Starring Joan Crawford and John Wayne (Before he Became a Star)

Wayne Tribute: Honoring the Duke–Most Powerful Star in American History

One of the worst pictures made by John Wayne, “Reunion in France” is actually a Joan Crawford star vehicle, and not a very good one at that. A year later, Crawford would lose her long-term MGM contract due to declining popularity at the box-office.

Though attempting to combine a lush romantic film with war-time propaganda, “Reunion in France” is ultimately a shallow melodrama, marred by a convoluted plot about the courageous French Resistance during the Occupation.

Crawford plays Michele de la Becque, a French haut-couture model who’s engaged to a seemingly pro-Nazi industrialist designer (Philip Dorn). Wayne is cast in a thankless role as Pat Talbott, a downed RAF pilot from Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, who takes a risk by seeking Michele’s help.

The dialogue is preposterous. In one of the early conversations between Michele and Wayne, she asks: “Were you shot down?” Wayne replies: “My plane was. I couldn’t figure out a way to stay up without it so I came down too. It turns out, Wayne was put into a concentration camp but became “bored” and escaped.

Michele then sets out to acquire the necessary papers for him. Meanwhile, Wayne, again bored, picks a fight with a German officer whom Michele befriends to help him, and even leaves her apartment into the open. Michele then protests: Ï wish you’d stop being so gay, so romantic and American about this!”

In the climax, Dorn arranges a permit for her to leave France an she passes Wayne as her chauffeur. They reach the border, after some difficulties. Michele then realizes that Dorn’s collaboration with the Nazis is fake and that he is actually a French patriot, and as a result, she returns to his side, leaving Wayne to proceed to London and carry on his flying missions against the Germans.

Released in 1942, despite its timeliness, neither movie nor stars were spared by the critics. The N.Y. Times wrote that “if Reunion in France is the best tribute Hollywood can muster to the French underground forces of liberation, then let us try another time.” Time magazine described the film sarcastically as a “a Joan Crawford version of the fall of France,” and the N.Y. Herald Tribune’s reviewer complained that, “a lot of good players are wasted.”

Other critics were amazed by the “strange assortment” of accents, as the N.Y. Post noted: “Joan Crawford conversed in pure American when she is supposed to be French,” while other actors affect unsuccessfully French and German accents.’

The movie was released in the U.K. as “Mademoiselle France.”