FROM THE TIME MY PARENTS took me to see a motion picture with Charley McCarthy and Edgar Bergman in 1938, I have found the movies to be an enjoyable pass time and one of my primary interests. In fact, when I was able to wander about town alone (say, starting about the second grade), I went to the movies as often as I could. But first, of course, I had to get my mother to give me the twelve cents it took to get a ticket—ten cents for the ticket and two cents for the tax. However, later in the war years, the ticket cost went up to fifteen cents with three cents tax. There was no refreshment counter in the theaters I went to in those days, so there was no need for extra money to buy snacks.
In those days theaters offered continuous showing. You could come in the middle of a film watch it to the end then stay for the beginning and then leave when you reached the place where you came in. Because it was continuous showing, I often stayed and watched the film several times. I think my twin brother won the prize for seeing the same movie several times. It was “Tarzan in New York,” and I recall he stayed to see it nine times. Our parents were frantic. They didn’t know where he was. Because I had come home several hours earlier, they feared he may have been kidnaped. As the sun was about to set, we found him walking out of the theater and heading home.
Scary movies were never on my list of films (other than Abbot and Costello Meets Frankenstein). Once, when we were about seven or eight, we went to see a scary move—it might have been “King Kong.” Whatever it was, the movie was so frightening to me I had to leave. When I got out the door, I realized that it would not have been wise for me to go home without my brother (recall the previous incident), so I stood outside the theater waiting for him. He didn’t come out. I stood there at the door of the theater looking like an urchin. I must have had an urchin appearance. As people were buying tickets, they would put their penny change in my hand. Without any effort on my part, I soon had the eighteen cents I needed to reenter the theater. Although the movie scared me witless, I stayed through it to make sure we went home together; I had nightmares later.
Because of my interest in movies and the escape they provided a boy with dreams or delusions of grandeur, I thought I had seen just about every film produced in the 1940s and 1950s. It was not a shock for me to learn that I hadn’t, it was just a puzzle to me. When I look at the movie schedules on cable television I often say to myself, “That was a good one—saw it in 1943.”
Recently, I obtained a DVD of a film of that era, starring Claudette Colbert, Jennifer Jones (who I secretly loved in my young mind), Shirley Temple, Monty Wooley, and Joseph Cotton (with Lionel Barrymore playing a cameo role as an Episcopal priest). One has to be of a certain age to recall all these excellent actors. The movie is called, “Since You Went Away.” I had never seen it, much less heard of it.
This film, basically, is a wartime propaganda film extolling the sacrifices of the home front and exposing the ugliness of shirkers and people hoarding rationed goods. Nevertheless, it is a tear-jerker. Here’s the story:
- A father is in his forties joined the Army (or he may have been drafted).
- People in the community have sons serving overseas.
- A retired colonel comes to live with the family of Colbert, Jones, and Temple. He’s a crusty old goat who has a grandson who has disappointed him by not meeting the demands of West Point.
- Joseph Cotton, a boarded along with the crusty retired colonel, would like to have been a love interest, but Colbert’s character is faithful to her Army husband; there was no dalliance in this pure
And that is what struck me about this film. It was pure, and it was about sacrifice—personal sacrifice at a time of danger and dire need.
I asked myself, “Could a movie like that be made today?” I don’t think so.
Sacrifice is such a dull thing to think about, and who would do such a thing anyway? Sacrificing all that’s dear for the good of the country or the world seems to be out of vogue these days. But remember the World War II era was a scary and challenging time. Opening the home to boarders (there’s a housing shortage), Colbert working as a welder, Jones working as Red Cross nursing assistant in a veteran’s hospital, and Temple keeping at her studies were symbols of sacrifice. Everyone knows what the stakes are and they work to bring peace to the world by victory over a tyrannical enemy.
We, today, are hardly aware there is are wars going on in distant parts of the world in which young men and women are being brutalized and killed. There is no call to make even the slightest sacrifice. Further, I don’t think anyone today would pay the price to see a film like “Since You Went Away” anymore. Films have to have bombs blowing up, chase scene after chase scene after chase scene, and language that pierces the air with its vulgarity.
Please don’t call me a “prig.” I like the rough and tumble, and I am not squeamish, but I wonder what happened between 1945 and 2017.
Sacrifice is the very basis of the civic and communal life, or it once was. Remembering those war years, even though I was only a pre-teenage boy, helps me when I think of some small sacrifice that may be asked of me. Every now and then it would be a good thing for the movie makers to produce a film in which the most adored stars would portray people doing something solely because it is the right thing to do. “Since You Went Away” is a good movie. Rent a copy and let the tears flow.