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Since You Went Away (1944) - Plot Summary Poster

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  • While husband Tim is away during World War II, Anne Hilton copes with problems on the homefront. Taking in a lodger, Colonel Smollett, to help make ends meet and dealing with shortages and rationing are minor inconveniences compared to the love affair daughter Jane and the Colonel's grandson conduct.

  • 1943. US Army Captain Timothy Hilton going into service from a civilian life leaves his wife Anne Hilton, his seventeen year old daughter Jane Hilton and his preteen daughter Brig Hilton at home needing to adjust to a new life without him. With a reduced income, Anne is forced to let go of their faithful maid Fidelia, who nonetheless finds a way back into the house based on always being in the Hiltons' hearts, and take in a boarder. Wanting an officer to replace the officer that left, Anne lets the room to retired General William G. Smollett, an uncompromising man who doesn't like children and doesn't like dogs, mostly the Hiltons' bulldog Soda who seems to have taken a liking to him regardless. That uncompromising behavior is exemplified by his outward dislike of his paternal grandson, Corporal Bill Smollett - who he assumes hates him in return - as slightly awkward Bill, despite being an army brat and currently in the military, has never shown the aptitude of being an officer like him or Bill's now deceased father. Brig does her small part for the war effort, such as collecting junk as salvage. However, Jane, who is just reaching womanhood, cannot think of anything but men, fixating most specifically on longtime family friend, her father's best man Tony Willett, who she and Brig have always referred to as "Uncle". Jane is at that stage in her life of transferring that affection she had for adults when she was younger mistakenly now into romantic love. Like Tim, Tony, an artist by trade, has entered the service as a Lieutenant in the Navy. In her fixation on Tony, Jane cannot see that Bill in turn is in love with her. As the war progresses, as people they know leave town to go into service - some into active battle - and as potential and actual personal tragedy hits people they know and themselves, Anne, General Smollett, Jane and Brig will have to make further adjustments to survive emotionally, with Jane and Brig perhaps growing up in the process for good or bad.

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  • With her husband away to fight in World War II, a housewife struggles to care for their two daughters - and a pair of lodgers who have moved in - alone.


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Synopsis

  • On a cold winter day on January 12, 1943, Anne Hilton returns to her suburban home after seeing her husband Tim off to war. Lonely, Anne bitterly questions her husband's decision to leave his family and his lucrative job as an advertising executive in order to serve his country. After comforting her daughters Bridget ("Brig") and Jane, Anne bids a reluctant farewell to Fidelia, the family's devoted black housekeeper. The loss of Tim's salary has created a financial hardship for the family, and consequently, they can no longer afford to pay Fidelia. When Mr. Mahoney, a sympathetic shopkeeper, extends credit to the Hiltons, Anne pledges Tim's help in finding a job for Johnny, Mahoney's serviceman son, after the war ends.

    The country is in the grip of a housing shortage, and when Brig, Anne's youngest daugther, insists that it is their patriotic duty to take in a boarder, Anne surrenders her own room. Col. William G. Smollett, a stern retired army officer, answers the Hiltons' ad and rents the room, forcing the family to adjust to his demands. Soon after, Fidelia asks to move back into the house, offering her housekeeping services as rent. Anne warmly welcomes her home, but refuses to accept her offer.

    Later, at a crowded cocktail lounge, Anne meets her friend, Emily Hawkins, a self-centered divorcee. As the women talk, Anne is surprised by the arrival of Lt. Tony Willett, an old friend of the Hiltons', who worked as an illustrator in civilian life. After escorting Anne out of the bar, Tony asks her for a place to stay, and Anne decides to move in with her daughters to make room for Tony. Jane, a high school senior, soon develops a crush on the suave Tony.

    One day, Smollett's grandson Bill, an enlisted man, pays a surprise visit to his grandfather, who brusquely dismisses him. Overhearing their exchange, Jane feels compassion for Bill. Emily, meanwhile, contributes to the war effort by organizing a dance to entertain the servicemen, and enlists Jane as one of the hostesses. Nervous and unsure of herself, Jane is asked to dance by Bill. She reluctantly accepts, regarding Bill as only a "boy" next to the dashing Tony. Anne attends with Tony, and there meets Johnny Mahoney, who thanks her for offering to help him find a job. Johnny is leaving for a training flight, and soon after he departs, word comes that his plane has crashed, and for the first time, the tragedy of war is personalized for Anne.

    As time passes, the irrascible colonel mellows and becomes a member of the family, even accepting the Hiltons' lumbering bulldog Soda. On the day that Tony is to leave, he presents Fidelia with a handsome sketch that he has drawn of her. Jane, who has contracted the mumps, bids Tony a tearful farewell.

    While bowling one evening, Bill and Jane become friends with a sailor after he bandages Jane's injured finger. After walking the sailor to his bus, Bill invites Jane to the soda fountain, and there Jane questions him about his timidity. In explanation, Bill relates how he bitterly disappointed his grandfather by being expelled from West Point, and then shows her a pocket watch that his grandfather had given him, inscribed with a reference to the Smollett family's proud military history. When Bill concludes that his failure resulted from personal weakness, Jane comes to his defense.

    The next morning, Jane informs her mother that she wants to find a job after graduation rather than attend college, but Anne refuses. Over breakfast, Jane criticizes the colonel's treatment of Bill, angering the old man. After Jane's graduation ceremony, the family receives word from Tim that he will be stopping between trains at a nearby city. Boarding the next train to the city, the family eagerly anticipates their reunion with Tim. Their train is delayed, however, and by the time they arrive, Tim has already had to leave.

    On the trip home, the family then meets a woman whose granddaughter was reported missing at the Battle of Corregidor the previous year. Touched by the woman's sacrifice, Anne agrees to let Jane work as a nurse's aide that summer. One day soon after, Anne is notified that Tim is missing in action. Devastated by the news, the family prays for his safety, and later, Anne tearfully reviews their scrapbook.

    [An intermission divides the story at this point.]

    One Sunday after church, Bill tells Jane that he has been ordered to leave at midnight. As Jane and Bill spend their last hours together in the countryside, Anne implores Smollett to see Bill off at the train station that evening. Claiming that he has a previous engagement with representatives from the British army, the colonel promises to try to finish in time and asks Anne to wish Bill good luck.

    Meanwhile, in the country, Jane and Bill seek shelter from a sudden downpour and there dream of marrying after the war ends. At the train station, Anne conveys to Bill his grandfather's concern, and as the train pulls out, Bill presents his watch to Jane as an engagement gift. Too late, the colonel arrives at the station.

    Some time later, Anne breaks the news of Bill's death in battle to Jane. Filled with self-recrimination, the colonel blames himself for driving the boy too hard, and Anne tries to comfort him. On the colonel's birthday, Tony returns and is surprised by how quickly Jane has grown up. Emily then pays an unexpected visit and voices disapproval of Jane's hospital work, causing Jane to berate her for her selfishness. When Emily criticizes Jane's behavior, Anne castigates her for her lack of patriotism and, realizing that she also has been remiss in serving her country, decides to work as a welder in a shipyard.

    In the factory, Anne is moved when she meets an immigrant woman who recalls her thrill at reading the inscription on the Statue of Liberty and likens Anne to the embodiment of that spirit. On Christmas Eve 1943, Jane returns Bill's watch to the colonel, bringing the old man pride and comfort. Somberly, Fidelia places the gifts under the tree that Tim sent before his disappearance. Anne tearfully opens her gift, a music box that plays "We'll Be Together Always." As she begins to sob, the phone rings. Upon answering it, Anne's expression turns to joy, and she hurries to the staircase to announce to her daughters that their father is safe and coming home.

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