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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Today was the anniversary of Fay Bainter's birthday, so that Turner
Classic Movies were showing a number of her films - many of which are
rarely available for viewing. Earlier I reviewed THE SHINING HOUR, in
which Bainter played a repressed spinster, older sister - with possible
incestuous thoughts about her two brothers (Melvin Douglas and Robert
Young). I also watched most of this film in which Bainter plays an
upper class Washington socialite who feels that the Second World War
was a personal attack on herself and her way of life. This may seem to
be a ridiculous point of view, but I am aware of one celebrity (I won't
say who) who arrived at the same rather stupid point of view in his
Bainter's Mrs. Stella Hadley could be (in her point of view) a relative of Ms. Emily Hawkins (Agnes Moorehead) in SINCE YOU WENT AWAY. In that film Moorehead keeps claiming that her selfish actions (she will be willing to throw a large party - because it gives her a chance for social exposure - but she is hoarding and using black market)is "to maintain appearances", as she puts it. Mrs. Hadley is not so despicable, but she resents the inconveniences to herself and her lifestyle by the war (which she tends to blame on the policies of Franklin Roosevelt).
In the films of the 1940s there were occasional comments about the Washington social scene in some of the films. For example, Lucille Watson is a prominent Washington hostess (the widow of a Supreme Court Justice) in WATCH ON THE RHINE. But the social elite did not always support the administration. In fact many members of the nation's upper crust were Republicans, and many were reactionaries to the New Deal and other policies. Mrs. Hadley is the widow of a prominent Washington D.C. newspaper owner who was a Republican. It sounds like the character is based on Evelyn Walsh McClean, whose husband Ned owned the Washington Post in the 1920s (and actually was an intimate of the Harding Administration). But Mrs. McClean was fully supportive of the war effort.
The changes she sees is that her friends (mostly Republican like herself) will not share her views. Edward Arnold is Eliot Fulton, a family friend who has been trying to marry Mrs. Hadley, but he is committed to his work in the F.D.R. war effort. Roosevelt, unlike his predecessor Woodrow Wilson, was smart enough to make the war effort a coalition type, including Republican figures like Frank Knox and Henry Stimson in his cabinet in important jobs (Secretary of the Navy and Secretary of War). Arnold's Fulton, and Spring Byington and Isobel Elsom as her two closest friends, all are spurned by her as they adopt a support the war effort point of view. It's like they forgot their criticism of FDR's peacetime social and political views (which they willingly have). Only Miles Mander, as a chilly physician who is also romantically interested in Bainter, stays close to her socially and politically.
She soon alienates her children, her daughter (Jean Rogers) running off (against Bainter's wishes) to marry Van Johnson, a young man in the armed forces from the lower classes. Sarah Allgood (Johnson's mother) tries to undue the resulting split, but Bainter won't hear of it. And Arnold helps Bainter's son Richard Ney enlist in the army (again against Bainter's wishes). The conclusion of the film shows how a tragic incident brings Bainter to her senses.
The film is fascinating showing an moment of importance that lasted five years. FDR had been under tremendous criticism from 1933 to 1941 for the New Deal and then the third term election. His foreign policy would be criticized by isolationists too, and the court packing plan made many Democrats into enemies. But Pearl Harbor changed it all, and his wisdom on bi-partisan-ism helped. This film showed how the bulk of the country did drop partisan differences because of national shame and peril. The eventual success of our war effort is still another monument to FDR's leadership.
This begins in an elegant manner and is a serious film. It has a
fantastic cast, almost entirely made up of character actors. Edward
Arnold could be the only one ho ever starred in A pictures, though Fay
Bainter, in the title role here, could have been said to also.
Bainter's character lives in a bubble. She's a rich widow in Washington, DC, who refuses to pay attention to the sounds of W.W.II, right up through Pearl Harbor. Her daughter (Jean Rogers, not quite believable as a child of privilege) meets a military man, the young Van Johnson. Her alcoholic son is sent off to war by influential Arnold, rather than disgrace Bainter, whom he loves.
It works well, even to the end, though it becomes less plausible as it moves toward its resolution. Would patrician Bainter/Hadley really embrace the working class mother-in-law of her daughter to such a degree? Seems unlikely.
There are strange overtones of homosexuality in this movie. At its start we see a bouquet being delivered to Bainter. It evolves that the woman who cuts her hair sent it. Everyone wonders why. Her friend Spring Byington says, "Maybe she's musical!" and all laugh. My understanding from older friends is that this was a code for gay/lesbian in the 1940s.
This could be my imagination, but the bouquet is never explained and w never again hear about, let alone see, the hair stylist.
Regardless, it's an elegant movie that, with a bigger budget, could have been a very fine one.
With the war raging by 1942, this film was certainly timely. It really
showed the isolationists what they were-selfish in every sense of the
As Mrs. Hadley, Faye Bainter etched an unforgettable character in a truly under-rated performance. Her late husband, a newspaper editor, wanted one-term presidencies and not only opposed FDR's policies, but was totally against his running for a 3rd term in 1940. Surrounded by memorabilia of Republican administrations, the war and everything else occurring in the film is a direct threat to Mrs. Hadley's very existence. Her erudite manner and apparent sophistication,in a world of snobby people looking down on others, is depicted beautifully. She even, as an over-protective mother, tries to get her son out of serving in the army.
Bainter is supported by a marvelous cast. Jean Rogers is the daughter who will buck her to marry army private Van Johnson. In the same year that he played the son to the Miniver's, Richard Ney is convincing as the alcoholic son who finds his way out of his mother's orbit by going into the service.
Edward Arnold is an old family friend, who works for the government and makes sure that Ney is drafted to the consternation of Mrs. Hadley.
Then, there is Spring Byington as Cecelia, Bainter's faithful friend who doesn't share her disposition and contempt for others.
Coming from an Oscar nominated turn in "How Green Was My Valley," Sara Allgood is wonderful as Van Johnson's mother, who knows how to deal with Mrs. Hadley. Allgood's Irish brogue and manner serves her well again. It should be noted that Allgood really should have won the supporting Oscar for 'Valley.'
The film works well because it ultimately deals with the human spirit. No matter what our differences, national emergency must bring us together to fight for the American ideal against totalitarianism.
A memorable film dealing with an epic time in history.
Wonderful little film about a sheltered society woman's difficulty in
adjusting to the changes wrought on her life by WWII. Mrs. Hadley sees
the war as a personal disruption to the routine of her existence and
she is not happy about it!
The great thing about these lower budget films from the major studios was that it provided opportunities for great actresses like Fay Bainter to top line films in between providing support in A pictures.
She is marvelous as the unthinkingly selfish Mrs. Hadley making her obdurate obliviousness palatable if not understandable. As good as she is she is fortunate to be surrounded by some of the best character actors and actresses working at that time. Spring Byington flutters and dithers as only she could while Sara Allgood is all warm, bosomy kindness and understanding as an impossibly young Van Johnson's mother. Connie Gilchrist is a stitch as the family cook and Isobel Elsom is very tender in a small part as Fay's rival. On top of that the great Edward Arnold in good guy mode here is very good as an incredibly patient suitor of the difficult Mrs. Hadley.
Due to the professionalism of the cast and good pacing by the director this is a far more enjoyable film than the slim premise would seem to promise. An undiscovered treasure.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I must confess that I was pretty sure I'd enjoy this film, because I've
long admired the wonderful actress Fay Bainter. Often, Miss Bainter was
relegated to character roles, often as a mother, and always delightful
in such. This film gave her an opportunity to have one of her starring
roles, and while not as strong as her performance in "The Children's'
Hour", this is a very good performance, though not one in which her
character earns much sympathy from the audience.
Interestingly, the film was directed by Clifford Odets, and is the story of...well, really of two things...a matronly rich woman who is a bit vain, selfish, and naive, as well as that same woman struggling to understand America as it changes in the face of World War II. Bainter, here a wealthy American society figure with connections, refuses to sacrifice her son to the war effort or her daughter to a young soldier going to war. Of course, near the end of the film she repents, and the plot twist that makes that occur is quite interesting. But, before her repentance, her personal struggles with what she is confronted by almost destroy her.
Beyond Bainter, it's a strong cast. Edward Arnold, always a strong character actor, is equally strong here as friend and executive in the War Department. Richard Ney is quite good as the son, as is Jean Rogers as the daughter. It's always a pleasure seeing Sara Allgood...whom you'll recognize. And Spring Byington is a hoot as an air-headed, but well meaning, friend. There's also a young Van Johnson, the delightful Halliwell Hobbes as the butler, and the funny Connie Gilchrist as the cook.
A different kind of WWII film that very entertaining. Recommended.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Harold Bucquet directed this wartime drama which won a Best Writing,
Original Screenplay Academy Award for George Oppenheimer, on his only
Oscar nomination. Fay Bainter stars as the wealthy title character, the
widow Stella Hadley, whose annual birthday celebration in her expansive
Washington, D.C. home on December 7, 1941 is interrupted with news of
Japan's bombing of Pearl Harbor. But Mrs. Hadley is too selfish to be
bothered with World War II, she proceeds to take the event as a
personal affront and subsequently refuses to participate or even
acknowledge its existence until she's finally forced to face the
reality of it. Ms. Bainter does a terrific job (as always) in the
unsympathetic role and her supporting cast is exemplary as well.
Edward Arnold plays Elliott Fulton, an old family friend whom she'd dated before marrying Mr. Hadley; he'd run the Washington Chronicle newspaper before selling it to Mr. Winters, a Democrat, before his death. Now Mrs. Hadley won't have that newspaper in her home, nor will she associate with Mrs. Winters (who's played by Isobel Elsom). Elliott is a top official with the war department who'd been participating in peace talks with the Japanese just prior to the bombing.
Hadley's son Theodore (Richard Ney, who also appeared as the son of Mrs. Miniver (1942), Greer Garson's starkly contrasting title role) works there too, though her attractive daughter Patricia (Jean Rogers) and surrogate father figure Elliott have been covering for Ted because he's an irresponsible drinker. Pat does her part for the war effort volunteering at the local canteen, a place where soldiers can get food and drink while on leave or before shipping out.
There she meets Michael Fitzpatrick (a young Van Johnson in only his third credited role), a Corporal who's soon to be a Sergeant. Working class Mike is instantly attracted to Pat, who assures him their background differences shouldn't matter; later they become engaged despite Mrs. Hadley's disapproval. When Mike learns he's to be transferred to Phoenix, Pat proposes to him and he accepts. Sara Allgood plays Michael's loving Irish mother, who has these words of wisdom for Mrs. Hadley when she refuses to attend the wedding - "Pride is not very good company when you're lonely". Spring Byington plays Mrs. Hadley's best friend Cecilia Talbot; she too is shunned when Stella catches her learning first aid training with Mrs. Winters and others.
The conflict between would-be suitor Elliot and Stella stems from his wartime duties: his role in having Ted drafted for his own good and for refusing to intervene. Naturally being drafted is the best thing to happen to Ted, who grows up and is proud to serve; he even earns the distinguished service cross (DSC) for his efforts in knocking out a machine gun nest. News of this arrives at the same time that a telegram from Phoenix announcing her daughter's pregnancy does.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick, who'd come after receiving her telegram, is able to help to prevent what would have been an unfortunate incident when reporters (Frank Ferguson and Harry Hayden, uncredited) and Mrs. Hadley misunderstand each other. Learning that Mrs. Winters's son had been killed in the same effort as her son effectively "wakes up" Mrs. Hadley, who experiences a transformation. She then uses her wealth and home to influence, positively affect and contribute to the home- front war effort alongside Mrs. Winters. The film ends with Mrs. Hadley, now married to Elliot and known as Mrs. Fulton, and Mrs. Fitzgerald on their way West to see their first grandchild.
Dorothy Morris playing a somewhat clumsy servant whose brother managed to survive Pearl Harbor, Halliwell Hobbes playing a butler that moonlights as an air raid warden, and Connie Gilchrist as a cook play Mrs. Hadley's domestic staff. Miles Mander plays her longtime doctor, Rags Ragland plays a soldier in Fitzpatrick's unit, and Carl 'Alfalfa' Switzer plays a singing telegram messenger boy.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
... but I was very pleasantly surprised! Directed by Harold S. Bucquet,
who is probably best known for the Doctor Kildare series, and made
early during WWII, I was expecting lots of flag waving, speechifying,
and pat answers and situations. Instead this movie took on the war from
a different tack and was quite human and realistic. It looked at the
war from the vantage point of a very rigid society matron in Washington
D.C. - a WASP upper class Republican to be exact, Fay Bainter as Mrs.
Hadley. When her late husband owned a certain local paper its editorial
board took a Republican point of view, but now the Winter family owns
the paper and it has slanted Democratic. For this reason she refuses to
speak to Mrs. Winter, current owner of the paper now that her own
husband has died.
It is Dec. 7, 1941, and news of the attack on Pearl Harbor comes in on the radio on the very birthday of Mrs. Hadley. She doesn't want to hear about this war, and wants the radio turned off. However, there is no way she can turn off the war's impact on her way of life. Her son has always been a slacker and a drinker, and now he is being drafted. Her good friend Fulton (Edward Arnold) at the war department refuses to do anything about it. She cuts off their friendship. Her daughter Pat starts volunteering at a canteen, falls in love with a soldier with a Catholic working class background and ends up marrying him. She boycotts the wedding. Her butler becomes an air warden and enters her bedroom one night during a black out turning off all of the lights and ends up frightening her half to death. Worst of all, her best friends are going to Mrs. Winters' house to train in first aid. When she learns of this, she cuts them all out of her life too. Mrs. Hadley is getting so good at cutting things off and out that she should have taken up tree surgery.
So come her next birthday, Mrs. Hadley has only her personal physician and her servants around her. She's got her pride, but no friends or family beside her, unable to deal with the fact that war is the great equalizer. So how will this all turn out? Watch and find out.
I liked how the movie kept moving and didn't get over sentimental. Fay Bainter took a role that could have had you disliking her completely, and sprinkled it with enough humanity that you could still like or at least empathize with the woman even though you disliked her actions.
In short I'd recommend it. It was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and I'd say that it probably deserved that nod.
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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