Even absent the action scenes, movies about the home front during war can carry powerful tension. This is especially true during a time of war when the unknown can be a bitter enemy.
The Golden Age of Hollywood produced some classic films about dealing with war at home. It’s hard to think about it now, but movie goers who had no idea what the outcome of the war would be watched some of these films.
Here are some movies about the home front during wartime from the Golden Age:
- 1) “Journey for Margaret” (1942) – Robert Young is an American reporter who writes about the horrors of war as seen through the eyes of displaced and orphaned English children. The story has special meaning for the reporter, whose wife lost an unborn baby in a London air raid. The movie was based on a true story and also had the first feature role for Margaret O’Brien, the best child actor of the Golden Age. She adopted Margaret as her first name because of this character.
- 2) “Mrs. Miniver” (1942) – This classic Best Picture of 1942 is about a middle-class English family so their home front troubles include German bombs and soldiers. The movie won six Oscars, including Best Actress for Greer Garson and Best Director for William Wyler, and was nominated for six more. The film is probably best known for the vicar’s powerful closing sermon. Some scenes – more anti-German than originally filmed – were redone after the U.S. entered the war and Franklin Roosevelt ordered the film rushed to American theaters.
- 3) The Human Comedy” (1943) – Those who know Mickey Rooney only from Andy Hardy and/or “let’s-put-on-a-show” musicals, should watch this Oscar-nominated performance. He is a teen who holds down the home front for his widowed mother as his older brother joins many others from his small town overseas. Mickey is a telegraph delivery boy for often-intoxicated operator Frank Morgan, who is very good in the role. Don’t be fooled by the title, this is a tear-jerker. Look closely for Robert Mitchum in an uncredited role as a solider on leave.
- 4) “The Sky’s the Limit” (1943) – At first glance, a Fred Astaire musical – this one with lovely Joan Leslie – would not seem to fit the home front agenda. But the presence of an AWOL Air Force officer/war hero mad about his lot in life and the need for a quick romance does. This is not a well-known Astaire film, so many are not familiar with his intense and explosive “One For My Baby” solo dance scene. It is very out of character for him, but in line with the character he’s playing.
- 5) “Tender Comrade” (1943) – Ginger Rogers shares a house with other war brides. They have to work to make ends meet, try to avoid home front temptations and not worry too much about their husbands. Even though she was half of the best dance team ever, Rogers was also usually great in a melodrama, and that’s true here. Interestingly, this film was used as evidence against director Edward Dmytryk and screenwriter Dalton Trumbo before the House Un-American Activities Committee, and Rogers, reportedly, opposed some of her dialog.
- 6) “The More the Merrier” (1943) – Crotchety millionaire Charles Coburn arrives in Washington as an adviser on the housing shortage, but winds up a victim. He sublets half of an apartment from reluctant Jean Arthur, then sublets half of his half to Joel McCrea, a sergeant waiting to be shipped overseas. Coburn won Best Supporting Actor for his subtle match-making character. The comedy was nominated five other Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Actress for Arthur.
- 7) “Hail the Conquering Hero” (1944) – Eddie Bracken can’t live up to the memory of his World War I hero father after being discharged with hay fever. But some of his Marine pals want to make sure he returns home a hero. Writer/director Preston Sturges, whose script was nominated for an Oscar, loved crowd scenes and there are plenty in this terrific comedy. The Sturges stock company was in top form.
- 8) “Since You Went Away” (1944) – This classic melodrama was nominated for nine Academy Awards, including best picture. The stars of the movie combined for 16 Oscar nominations in their careers. Despite several strong subplots, Claudette Colbert controls the movie as matriarch of a family whose husband is serving abroad. She oversees money problems, shortages and a new border. An interesting subplot is the romance between Jennifer Jones and Robert Walker as their real-life marriage was coming to an end.
- 9) “White Cliffs of Dover” (1944) – Irene Dunne is the American daughter of a publisher who visits England, gets married and stays. The movie takes her through both world wars and the sense of service that she and her family have. There are some powerful scenes in the movie, including young German boys studying in England and sharing their Nazi views. Dunne is great in the lead and there are small roles for many future stars, including 12-year-old Elizabeth Taylor.
- 10) “Pride of the Marines” (1945) – John Garfield is a marine who returns home blind after being injured at Guadalcanal. He has to adjust to his blindness and a new wife. It’s a little long but Garfield, who gave one of his best performances, makes it worth the whole two hours. This is the true story of Sergeant Al Schmid, who eventually regained partial sight in one eye.
- 11) “The Best Years of Our Lives” (1946) – Three veterans return home from World War II and have to adjust to changes. One of the all-time greats of the 40s, this movie won eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture. All of the performances are top-notch, including Best Actor Fredric March. The individual stories about each vet, helped by a strong performance by Myrna Loy, is better than the scenes of them together. Double-amputee Harold Russell won two Academy Awards in his first movie.
- 12) “Till the End of Time” (1946) – This is the RKO version of three World War II veterans – including Robert Mitchum – trying to adjust to life at home. It was actually released before The Best Years of Our Lives, but isn’t nearly as good and wasn’t as popular. It is still very much worth watching, however.
- 13) “The Men” (1950) – This is an intense movie about wounded veterans relying on each other to recover. It is best known as the film debut of Marlon Brando. He spent time at a veteran’s hospital to prepare for his role as a paraplegic, and stayed in a wheelchair throughout the shooting, even off set.
- 14) “Bright Victory” (1951) – Arthur Kennedy, in an Oscar-nominated performance, is terrific as a WW II veteran who returns home blind. There are not only the struggles of his handicap but a strong subplot about Kennedy and a new friend who is black. Kennedy must decide if the commonality of their blindness and friendship is important enough for him to change previous feelings. There are great performances all around by some of the top character actors of that time. Some of the movie was filmed at Valley Forge General Hospital.
- 15) “I Want You” (1951) – This is a rare Korean War home front movie and almost plays like a Samuel Goldwyn sequel to The Best Years of Our Lives, especially with Dana Andrews starring. This film, however, looks at the beginning stages of war. It’s darker than Best Years, and there is inference to conscription at the draft office.
- 16) “United States Steel Hour” (1953) – The first episode (aired Oct. 27) of this 10-season drama was titled P.O.W. and featured the mental and physical rehabilitation of former prisoners of war. Richard Kiley was very good, especially in a scene in which he was allowed to return home long before he was ready. This series won two Emmy awards in its first season, thanks to episodes like this.