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Reunion in France

Gasser

Reunion in France (1942)

      Only Joan Crawford could make a movie about the hardships of war and still manage to be glamorous. Reunion in France sets the star in Paris in 1940 when the French were still naive enough to think Hitler could not invade their country. He does, of course, and the stylish Crawford manages to survive with her image in tact.

     Crawford is the wealthy Michele de la Beque, who by her name seems to be French, but we have no other indication that she might actually be a native of the country (her parents are in a different country or perhaps have gone to the US). She is in love with an engineer who is more devoted to his country than his girl, so he stays put when Michele leaves for the south of France possibly to escape the turmoil of war, but we aren’t given an actual explanation. When she returns some months later after France’s surrender, she finds her house is being used as a Nazi office of some sort and she is permitted to live in the concierge quarters, where her effects are delivered. She discovers her engineer, Robert (Philip Dorn), has survived untouched by the German occupation, his lavish home still full of classical artwork and food galore. When Michele is taken to dinner at a once-ritzy restaurant she discovers why. The eatery, now a Nazi hangout, is filled with top German military officials. Robert, it seems, has been building tanks and trucks for the enemy.

     Michele is immediately rebuffed by this revelation and forgets about the prior-arranged betrothal. She asks for a job working in the house of fashion run by a designer who used to dress her personally. She works alongside the model and assistant who also used to cater to her ever stylish whim. Leaving work one day, she is approached by a man who holds her tights and begs she play as though she knows him. Two investigators, one French, one Nazi, follow the duo. The mystery man is an American fighting for the British army whose plane crashed in France. Pat’s (John Wayne) leg is hurt and he has not slept nor eaten in days. The police are unsure if he is the man they think he is.

     When the pair reach Michele’s flat, she drags the nearly collapsed man inside and the French officer writes them off as lovers. The German, however, is not convinced and sticks around all night. Pat and who he is now calling “Mike” (Michele is typically the French version of Michael) are a bit romantic together, but Michele immediately identifies an opportunity to help the country she is so starkly defending against her ex by achieving the necessary goals for Pat to exit the country safely. Several twists and stressful situations ensue.

     I quite liked Reunion in France despite the two-star rating my TV gave it. Crawford’s acting is typical for her –good, but not jaw-dropping. The story has a good message about loving one’s country. Whereas Michele could not relate to Robert’s devotion to lady France at the film’s start, once the Nazis move in she is flabbergasted by his reversal and understands herself the importance of patriotism. Wayne, who was apparently used to lure Crawford onto the picture and who got a roll in the hay with her to boot, is young and handsome enough that one cannot quite decide with which man Michele will end up.

     The real star of Reunion in France might be the costumes. Irene designed the gowns and one can understand why Crawford favored the designer’s work. By some luck, when Michele returns to her home, all her possessions remain, so she still has access to a year’s worth of high-end gowns. She fits perfectly in the fashion shop where she works and has the necessary formal wear for the fancy Nazi events she attends. Pat makes some comments about how the woman’s wardrobe does not suggest she should be selling such garments, but Michele declines to explain her prior social position. The story certainly found an ingenious way to ensure Crawford could have her glamour despite the subject matter. And what glamour it was.

  • Reunion in France is set for 6 a.m. ET May 26 on TCM.

Source: Bette & Joan: The Divine Feud by Shaun Considine

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They Were Expendable

Ring a Ding Ding

They Were Expendable (1945)

     I am typically not a huge fan of war pictures but am always willing to sit through a good one, especially if it stars Robert Montgomery. A friend recently commented on this site that his favorite Montgomery pictures include this one, and I happened to have in on my DVR from TCM, so here we are.

     When I think of director John Ford, I envision truly American  and realistic films, and They Were Expendable fits that assumption. The plot line seems like something adapted from a soldier’s diary. It is an extremely linear plot following PT boat crews in the Philippines in the time following the attack on Pearl Harbor. The story follows two lieutenants – Montgomery and John Wayne – as their team endures various battles, operations and plenty of losses. The characters refer to losing “34 boat” and others rather than losing men. The emotional toll of the war cannot be found in these men but rather in the faces of young soldiers depicted in the movie. Wayne and Montgomery know their role in the war – to do what they can be endure many losses, hence the “expendable” title.

     Also included in the story is a romance between Wayne and Donna Reed, a nurse who cares for the man’s wounded hand. Reed puts on quite a good show by doing very little. The woman emits nearly no emotion while assisting in a surgical operation during an air raid. Through seemingly doing nothing, she conveys so much. At one point she almost imperceptibly bites her lower lip, saying it all. It was her role in Expendable that led director Frank Capra to select Reed as his wife character in It’s a Wonderful Life. Although the romance pops up throughout the middle of the film, it leaves the plot almost completely as the PT crews are sent on a mission from which they are not expected to return.

     Although the war effects – complete with explosions, fires, and diving planes – add immensely to the flick’s realism, what possibly makes Expendable most believable is the ending. Neither happy nor sad, the conclusion is left hanging with the viewer uncertain of what will become of our protagonists or the remainder of their troops. Expendable is not an uplifting movie but it is very well acted and visually executed.

Source: Robert Osborne

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