The White Cliffs of Dover (1944)
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The backbiting between Irene and her English counterparts early in the film is funny, posing one of the movie's unanxious emotional successes which as well include strong romantic and maternal joys and longings, WWI, brief bursts of rage, mourning, WWII, and the like. A scene in the movie circa the early 1930s sends a chill down the spine, illustrating two polite adolescent German boys, part of an exchange program, staying at the English family's countryside manor. Intimating they were part of early Nazi invasion plans, the boys let it slip in a conversation's startling turn for the less comfortable that they are pondering how the estate's large green would be perfect on which for troop gliders to land.
The boy grows to manhood and is played by Peter Lawford. As the movie ends, Dunne is seeing her son, Lawford go off to fight in WWII. You can see the pain and the pride in Dunne's eyes.
It was a fabulous movie. It dramatizes the great sacrifices made by the British in both World Wars. Britain lost so many of her sons in WWI, I believe the stats were approximately 50% of men between the ages of 18 and 45. The movies points up the fact that the loses, pain and suffering of the English were about to be revisited in WWII.
I can appreciate this and other war movies as I am the mother of a Marine who is about to be sent to Iraq.
A salute to the British and American soldiers who fought World War II, THE WHITE CLIFFS OF DOVER features a massive cast of established actors and rising stars: Gladys Cooper, Van Johnson, Dame May Witty, an uncredited June Lockhart, Peter Lawford, and Elizabeth Taylor. A good movie that only was Oscar nominated in technical categories that has Irene Dunne aptly playing her role as if Greer Garson would have; it's a shame that she never received a recognition for her body of work and here her work makes watching the movie worth the effort even if it goes on for a little too much.
Produced while the Second World War was still being fought, this film was intended to be both a morale booster for American audiences and as a salute to our British allies.
The film boasts a great cast, each perfect in their role. Irene Dunne is the American lady; Alan Marshal the dashing knight she marries. Roddy McDowall & Peter Lawford portray their only son at different ages. Bumptious Frank Morgan is Dunne's irascible father; Dame Gladys Cooper is Marshal's aristocratic mother. Dame May Witty is the sweet old nurse. Van Johnson is a young American friend headed for war. Norma Varden is the proprietress of a London boarding house. John Warburton, Jill Esmond & Brenda Forbes are various English relatives. Wonderful old Sir C. Aubrey Smith is an opinionated retired Major.
In the unbilled cast, film mavens should be able to spot George Davis, Tom Drake, Ethel Griffies, Lumsden Hare, Doris Lloyd, June Lockhart, Arthur Shields, a young Dame Elizabeth Taylor & Ian Wolfe.
More than a MRS. MINIVER wannabe, THE WHITE CLIFFS OF DOVER has a charm all its own.
Alas, when they arrive, they are treated to the typical rainy weather, that puts a damp, no pun intended, in her enjoyment of a city and all things English she has always admired. Instead of finding a place that meets all her expectations, Susan has to endure the weather and the prospect of going back without seeing the sights and places she really wanted to see.
Enter the kind Colonel, the man living in the modest hotel where the Dunns are staying. He invites Susan to a society ball where she meets Sir John Ashwood, the man who will become her husband. John is instrumental in her staying in England. Susan never expected to be married into the rich gentry that John belongs to. In fact, the beginning of her life in the family country estate convinces her she doesn't belong.
It's 1915 and WWI arrives without warning. Susan sees in horror how John goes to his regiment and to the front. He eventually dies, but the son that arrives for her is, in a way, a painful reminder of the great loss she suffered. Like his father, the boy grows up and has to go to war, as it's expected of his kind.
"The White Cliffs of Dover" was directed by Clarence Brown, who gave it a great look. Irene Dunne makes a good impression as Susan, the courageous woman who stays in a strange country and has to make a new life for herself and her new family. Alan Marshal is perfect as the dashing John Ashwood.
In minor roles we see Roddy McDowall, who plays the young John Ashwood. Harry Morgan is Susan's father. Gladys Cooper, May Witty, Peter Lawford, Van Johnson, C. Aubrey Smith, and the rest of the cast do good work. The young Elizabeth Taylor is seen as the young Betsy and June Lockhart appears as the grown up girl in uncredited roles.
"The White Cliffs of Dover" is about loyalty for one's country and how tradition plays a role in the lives of all the people one meets in the story, even during the difficult times these characters had to live.
It reminds us of how our great country was once heroes to the world. We were the great saviors of freedom. It is a little sad now, some 60+ years later, that our country has lost favorable opinion in the eyes of the world. The parade scenes where Irene Dunne's character watches the US troops arriving and marching through town can bring tears to your eyes.
The characters are all quite endearing and believable. Dunne is quite sweet. Marshal is so dashing. As a woman, I can imagine myself being swept up in such a man at the onset of WWI ( as Dunne was) or WWII (which the viewers themselves were in the midst of).
The intertwining of US & British history is a nice reminder that we are really made from the same beginnings in our country. Even though we eventually sought our freedom from the British, which is pointed out in the movie, it also points out our common heritage in being derived from Sir Walter Raleigh & the Mayflower. Our countries have been great allies over the past century. I'm sure there have been prejudices between yanks & Brits, as pointed out in the scene where Dunne breaks down over her future in-laws prejudices of Americans. But clearly the movie is designed to foster a common bond among the US & Britain, while acknowledging our differences.
My absolute favorite scene is at the end. It is especially poignant - the dying son is relaying to his mother about an American soldier that said before he died :
"God would never forgive us, neither England or America, if we break the faith with our dead again", that he would "really start to fight the day the war ended, for a good peace, a peace that would stick."
Wow - what a message that must have truly resonated with the WWII audience, especially those who had also lived through WWI. I don't think my generation can relate to having been through 2 such costly wars back to back. Women who lost husbands in the first war were now faced with the loss of sons in the 2nd war, as Dunne's character was. What tremendous sacrifice was made by that generation! We should be forever grateful!
There are some good points to this movie. The story is involving and a tragic one that tugs on your heartstrings. Dunne's character,Susan Dunn Ashwood," is American. She marries an Englishman "Sir John Ashwood" (Alan Marshall) who dies in World War I. She raises their son "John, Jr." (Roddy McDowell, as young boy, and then Peter Lawford as an adult). He dies in the end, too, so you see there is a lot of sadness in this story. I appreciated the nice photography in here, too, and Dunne's role as a patriotic American who sticks up for her country on a foreign soil most of her life.
This is one of those rare films that seem better afterward that when you are watching it!
I heard it said that the main fact about the 20th Century that one should realize in studying it is that the United States and Great Britain both spoke a common language. That fact made us overcome a few cultural differences and was the reason America entered two World Wars to save a Great Britain from invasion.
Thus it was for Irene Dunne who came over with her father Frank Morgan on holiday in 1914 and met and married a minor titled fellow played by Alan Marshal. Marshal is killed and she spends a long widowhood raising their son and heir to his title. She lives with her mother-in-law, Gladys Cooper and raises her son who at various times is played by Roddy McDowall and Peter Lawford. The son rather fancies the daughter of one of their tenants played at various times by Elizabeth Taylor and June Lockhart.
Of course this interoceanic love feast has a rather rocky beginning, especially when Frank Morgan while arguing chess with C. Aubrey Smith gets confronted with the fact that the chess board and pieces were the property of the looted White House from the War of 1812. It's my favorite scene in the film.
Dunne who ages gracefully and magnificently gives a stirring performance as a woman who lost what she loved in one war and is ready to sacrifice again for her adopted country. I've a feeling that the folks at MGM might have had her character as an answer to that real female American expatriate, Lady Nancy Astor and that we were all not members in good standing of the Nazi appeasing Cliveden set.
There's also a scene similar to the one in Mrs. Miniver where Greer Garson has to entertain a wounded German flier, Helmut Dantine where he's made a symbol of what they're at war against. Dunne, Morgan, and McDowall entertain a pair of German boys on holiday and when the discussion turns to politics it gets pretty heated. These two are thinking nothing more than winning what they should have won back in 1918.
The White Cliffs Of Dover is a nice film, typical of the era it came out of. You do wonder though if Irene Dunne had met a nice German guy from the Weimar Republic days how that might have been dealt with.
An American millionaire (Frank Morgan) has come to England with his daughter (Irene Dunne) for a holiday, and due to lousy weather (and boiled potatoes), pops is in a bad mood. But thanks to a British nobleman (C. Aubrey Smith), Dunne gets to go to a local ball, where she meets the man of her dreams (Alan Marshal) and agrees to marry him much to daddy's dismay. But can an American fit in with British society? After a shaky start, Dunne comes to love her new family, especially her kind-hearted mother-in-law (the very gracious Gladys Cooper) and the family retainer, nanny/nurse/companion Dame May Witty. Through World War I (during which she is widowed) through the onslaught of World War II, she perseveres, becoming as legendary a lady as those in the portraits which hang on her country home's corridor walls.
Roddy McDowall plays the young son (who grows up to be Peter Lawford), paired with a freckle-faced youngster named Elizabeth Taylor for a youthful romance. Van Johnson appears in several scenes as an American attracted to Dunne, while scenes between Morgan and Smith offer a comical running gag concerning a priceless chessboard which was obtained in a very amusing way.
Sweetly sentimental, this is a love story, not only of man and woman, but humanity and tradition, beautifully directed by Clarence Brown, one of MGM's greatest directors. It is poignant yet entertaining. In fact, fans of BBC's popular "Downton Abbey" will appreciate this as it covers similar territory with similar themes, particularly Gladys Cooper's more gentle version of Maggie Smith's family matriarch.
But, if for no other reason, you should see this movie just to hear our (America's) national anthem, played in a context that will absolutely make you cry. It rivals the "Marseillaise" performance in "Casablanca" for bringing a lump to your throat -- only this time, it is not a gesture of defiance, but of gratitude.
I found the film too syrupy for my liking but being produced in 1944 film producers were briefed by governments to assist the war effort and promote accord between allied forces, especially with the Normandy landings in the offing.In "A Matter of Life & Death" (1946) Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger were under similar instructions to promote harmony between the allies.Let us not forget that the man voted in a recent TV poll "The Greatest ever Briton" - W. S. Churchill (born 1874) was the product of an American mother, born Jennie Jerome & a British father, Randolph Churchill.My understanding of the 1942 Dieppe raid was that it was an exclusively Canadian operation, almost a dress rehearsal for the real invasion two years later; so I felt it was a bit too "pat" to have three nationalities of soldiers together in a shell crater but I understand why this scene was written into the film script.
Her memories consist of the tale of a Yankee girl, Irene Dunne as Susan Dunn, who goes on a two week vacation to England with her father and on her last day there meets a member of the English gentry who is instantly smitten by her and talks her into staying and marrying him. At first Susan feels out of her element as Lady Ashwood, but she quickly finds her footing. She and her husband, Sir John Ashwood, don't even have time for a honeymoon as WWI starts and he is off to fight with his regiment. After three years he finally gets a few days leave, but it is long enough to conceive his son, John Ashwood Jr., or John Ashwood II as the British would say.
Irene Dunne always gave good subtle performances in parts that could have easily gotten ham-fisted, and this role is no exception. Frank Morgan as her Yankee dad is a revelation as he is for once not the befuddled comic relief but a spirited American father who wants his daughter home in America before her marriage, and safe from the Nazi bombs as the winds of a second war approach. C. Aubrey Smith lends terrific support as Colonel Walter Forsythe, considered a crackpot at the boarding house where he and the Dunns were staying during their trip, because he claims to have a standing invitation to the most exclusive ball in England, but seems to just be a common pensioner. Well it turns out he really can turn pumpkins into carriages after all. Roddy McDowell plays John Jr., and he is smitten by one of the daughters of the tenant farmers on the estate played by a twelve year old Elizabeth Taylor in only her third credited role. Their scenes together are just too cute.
As with most of the WWII films there are a few lines and a few scenes that get over the top just a bit. There are the American soldiers marching through the streets of London to rousing patriotic songs played by a military band as the film comes full circle. There are the two German preteens who are friends of John Jr. during the early 1930's who just happen to erupt into Nazi propaganda at the dinner table. I was surprised one of them didn't put a comb under his nose and start imitating the Bohemian corporal. And then there is grief that takes all of 15 seconds in spite of its cruel irony because you just HAVE to keep that stiff upper lip! But it's not overdone for a film that is over two hours long, and it does take that long to do the tale justice.
But then, at the end, we several times are told that "God will never forgive us if we break faith with our dead again," if we go to war yet again after World Wars I and II, with all their loss of life. It is a very strange note on which to end this movie, especially since, when it was released in June, 1944, we were just landing in Normandy and had no idea when World War II would end, and how.
This is, in short, about as close to an anti-war movie as the Office of War Information could have countenanced during the war.
As I said at the beginning, most of it is just Hollywood clichés about the English recycled. Nothing new.
But the end, far from uplifting, is particularly somber.
I recommend it for Dunne's fine performance, and for the hint at isolationism that the end seems to suggest.
Nevertheless, this is a charming story, albeit a somewhat melancholy one. It is usually labeled as a home front war movie (covering both World Wars), but the war really doesn't come into the picture except at the beginning and almost halfway through the film. And it ends well before the end of the picture. Then the story is of how the living go on with life. So, I would prefer to see it as a romance taking place in the late 1930s and early 1940s, and the war is part of the story...the sad part. I'm not sure why, but in some ways it reminds me of "Mrs. Miniver", although it is a very different film.
An American newspaper publisher -- the always delightful Frank Morgan -- and his daughter -- the also always delightful Irene Dunne -- vacation in England where Dunne's character is swept off her feet by upper class army officer, Sir John Ashwood -- Alan Marshall (who is excellent). The honeymoon begins just as World War I breaks out. Sir John is killed in action near the end of the war, but not before siring a son, who in turn goes off to World War II, while his mother is a nurse. And what will his fate be? The supporting actors in this film are superb -- Gladys Cooper, Dame May Witty, Elizabeth Taylor (so young here she is almost unrecognizable), among others. Perhaps the goofiest part was played by Van Johnson; was it bad acting or supposed to be that way?
There's a great scene between Frank Morgan and C. Aubrey Smith early on in the film...over a chess set. Another exceptional scene is where Dunne points out the insensitivity of her British hosts.
This is a very "handsome" production. If there is a problem with the film -- at least for Americans -- the pace is a bit slow. Although it feels like a British film, it is actually and American MGM production. I'm not quite sure I agree with the film's ending. Too much sacrifice for one woman.
Excellent. Well worth an "8", a rating I rarely give.
Unfortunately, some dated clutter spoils the show. A voice-over narration reads passages from the poem and quickly wears thin. The stereotypes that contrast brash, over-confident Americans with duty-bound, class-conscious English are tiresome and should be relegated to the dustbin. The overt World War II propaganda is strident, although by fade out, viewers may be ready to rush out and buy war bonds. If Brown could have produced a director's cut that eliminated the now-dated messages and focused on the compelling family saga, an engrossing movie would have emerged. Such annoying episodes as the unexplained visit of two young Hitler Youth, the bizarre assumption that French villagers know the English lyrics to the Star Spangled Banner, and the myth that only American marching bands were sent overseas should have been relegated to the cutting room floor when the war ended. "Important Message" is written in capital letters throughout, and the message obscures a warm decent story.
The ever-dependable Irene Dunne is the young American woman who arrives in England for an intended two-week stay and remains for a lifetime. As in fairy tales, Dunne meets and marries a handsome wealthy aristocrat and expects to live happily ever after, but two world wars intervene. MGM brought out the studio's finest supporting players to populate the cast: C. Aubrey Smith, Dame May Witty, Frank Morgan, Gladys Cooper. The film's glittering assemblage also included some of MGM's brightest young contract players: Van Johnson, Peter Lawford, Tom Drake, June Lockhart, Roddy McDowall, and the already enchanting Elizabeth Taylor. In short, "The White Cliffs of Dover" had everything, except a sense of subtlety in its wartime propaganda. Despite the lapse, the movie remains worthwhile and generally entertaining, although repeat viewings could be tough going.
One of the many things that stands out for me in this film is the prominent role that women's points-of-view plays. It's hard to imagine this film being made five years earlier or later. But by '44, women's sacrifices - of both themselves and their sons and husbands - were so real, and so emotionally charged, that the nobility of such sacrifice could be writ large on the silver screen.
The fact that they use Dieppe as a poignant symbol was surely intended to prepare audiences for the NEXT landings in Europe, which were already being planned. I wonder if there really ever were Americans ashore in the Dieppe raid? I doubt it. But the symbolism of a yank, a brit, and a canuck dying in the same shell-hole was obviously too good to pass up.
The cast is exceptional, with bit parts by the very young Elizabeth Taylor and Peter Lorrie standing out.