As Fay Bainter in the title role in The War Against Mrs. Hadley celebrates her birthday with family and close friend Edward Arnold, the war raging in Europe and Asia seems all too far away. Arnold in fact works for the War Department and is involved in those negotiations with those Japanese emissaries. But Bainter's birthday is December 7 and when her favorite symphony is interrupted on the radio with news of Pearl Harbor, this Republican dowager's world is rudely rearranged.
This film is a snapshot in time of the home front in Washington, DC during the early years of World War II. Bainter is quite specifically identified as a Republican whose husband had opposed many of the New Deal policies and she reflects his views. In fact she refuses to read the newspaper that her husband had sold to Isobel Elsom who changed the editorial policy to pro-Roosevelt. And the many activities of the home front during the war years like blackouts are just something to put up with.
Both her children Jean Rogers and Richard Ney are rebelling under her genteel but iron thumb. Rogers works in the USO and falls for working class soldier Van Johnson and Ney first balks, but then wants to go to war and do his bit. Ney works for Arnold in the War Department and Arnold letting him go causes a breach between him and Bainter.
In real life Fay Bainter was married to a military man and her attitudes were the opposite of Mrs. Hadley. In fact she and her husband are buried at Arlington National Cemetery. She gives a dignified and restrained performance as a woman who has reality crash in on her.
Arnold's character is interesting and quite within the times. FDR in 1940 after the fall of France appointed establishment Republicans Henry L. Stimson and Frank Knox as Secretaries of War and the Navy respectively. Arnold is clearly a Stimson man brought in like his boss as part of a united war effort. Something the 43rd president did not seek after 9/11. How different our history in the past eleven years might have been if he had. But FDR was the best example of how to make a war coalition.
I must also single out Spring Byington playing one of her patented airhead roles as Bainter's friend. Reality falls in on her as well, but it was a struggle.
The War Against Mrs. Hadley is a curious and dated epic. Even with an attack right here on mainland USA you couldn't make this kind of film today. Too many things working against it.
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