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Thursday, 24 July 2014

Classic Film Review: Tender Comrade (1943)

Tender Comrade stars Ginger Rogers as Jo Jones, a war factory worker whose husband Chris (Robert Ryan) is away serving in WWII. Jo decides to move in with a few other workers to save money until their husbands returns. Barbara (Ruth Hussey) is a little abrasive, seeing other men while her husband is away, while Helen (Patricia Collinge) is the mother of the group with both a husband and a son involved in the fighting. Newly-wed Doris (Kim Hunter) is the baby of the group, having married her new husband an hour before he left for battle. They are joined by housekeeper Manya Lodge (Mady Christians), a German with an American husband who wants to contribute to the war effort any way she can.

This film could've been so much better than it was. The major problem is that story and character are subservient to propaganda all the way through, understandable, I suppose, given the year of release. However, this propaganda sinks the film. It beings with a sentimental ten minute reunion between Jo and Chris before he's shipped off to war. Perhaps this scene would've been more bearable if it hadn't been accompanied by music that told you exactly how you should be feeling. The opening scenes indulged in cliché which probably would've been as familiar to the American public in 1943 as they are to us now. Cutting out Robert Ryan entirely and just having the character of Chris away all the time would've been a better option for the actual meat of the story which should have been solely the women struggling to cope but finding companionship in each other. That would've been a great film, especially with Rogers as the lead.

Other things that irked me about Tender Comrade included the flashbacks. In order to use Robert Ryan, there were lengthy flashback scenes inserted which gave details of their courtship and life before he went to war. Over-sentimentalised, they frequently reminded me that this wasn't a film, more like a propaganda newsreel. In addition, the lengthy scene at the end of the film, while managed well by Rogers, lost all of its emotional meaning by its exposition and the inevitability of the whole thing. Yes, it was making a political point but, somewhere in the midst of that, the writers forgot they should also be trying to entertain their audience.

It wasn't all bad. Once Jo was surrounded by the other women, the character came alive and was enjoyable to watch. The other female members of the cast were the same. There were a couple of excellent scenes, the most notable being when Jo reads Helen a letter from her husband about their son. While this could ostensibly be seen as more propaganda, it came more naturally, stemming from character and the understated emotion of Rogers and Collinge in this scene is worth more than all the tears Rogers sheds in the last five minutes.

If you can look past the propaganda and focus on the scenes between the women, this is a much more enjoyable film. Look out particularly for the scene when Doris's husband comes home and they try to feed him up.

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