June 13, 2015

Claudette Colbert, Since You Went Away

as ANNE HILTON
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As a viewer who adored Claudette Colbert's pre-code turns in the likes of It Happened One Night and Honor Among Lovers, and as one who has always felt Colbert to have a fluid, interesting sexiness in her on-screen persona (even when she's stuck in ho-hum pictures like Private Worlds) imagine how taken aback I was to watch her play such a tame, stifled and boring housewife in Since You Went Away. Point blank: Since You Went Away is one immobilizing picture, clocking in at three(!!!) long hours in which a lot is said yet nothing really happens. Colbert is pretty much the strongest performer in this movie, but her strengths can't balance out such banal material.

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Colbert is so refreshingly realistic compared to her Golden Era peers (or at least, with this film, compared to Jennifer Jones and Shirley Temple), so it's frustrating that a spirited actress of her caliber is paralyzed into this devoted wife and mother shell. The performance is heavily drunk with warm, domestic limitations and peppered with those all-too-familiar concerned gazes; what's worse, this Selznick picture is strategically more concerned with Jones than it is Colbert, providing a shift in focus on the former, with the latter often falling to the background (it's so surprising to me that Selznick himself didn't campaign both Jones and Colbert in lead, as the two have roughly the same screentime). But not all is lost; that Colbert-branded realness is still on display here, and I would wager that Colbert does the absolute best she could in elevating a stock role. The entire performance is book-ended by two stellar scenes that she controls entirely; she absolutely kills the entrance, setting the stage for a little bit of disappointment as the belly of her work doesn't quite live up to the power of her introduction, only to wrap the whole thing up with another killer display of acting that reminds us all of her wasted potential in this part. In spite of these scenes, the bulk of the performance just doesn't do enough for me; it's all the same-old, by-the-books storytelling we see over and over again, and it's often times down-right frustrating to see the vivacity of Ellie Andrews suppressed in favor of maternal, wifely womanhood. It's all just alright, to say the least--it has some great merits due to an amazing actress, but unfortunately is forgettable as a whole.

3 comments:

  1. Sorry for not having commented for so long

    I agree that Claudette is stuck with a boring role, the rating seems about right though. The part is very limited but the problem is that it did not offer the same opportunities as Mrs. Miniver gave to Greer Garson since she was actually much closer to the war.

    Oh, and congratulations on your blog birthday! I really love your reviews! :)

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    1. Thank you Fritz!! And no worries, we all get busy :)

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  2. I agree that this movie scarcely mines Colbert's talent, nowhere near comparable to her ability. I think this was a case of 'box office duty' (much like Davis in Watch On The Rhine or The Man Who Came To Dinner); 'name insurance' reducing worry for Selznick, and maybe Colbert 'paying back some' for other truly signature parts. I think all of the big names, male and female, had to do a little of that in those days.

    (That was the very mindset with which Shearer initially approached Mary Haines in The Women, although Norma would end up making much more of the underwritten character of Claire Booth's imagination.)

    Still, I won't bash the film itself because of Hattie McDaniel. I'll tune in for a total 10 minutes of her even if it means a three hour investment.

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