Director: William Dieterle
Writer: Marion Parsonnet; based on Double Furlough by Charles Martin
Cinematographer: Tony Gaudio
Producer: Dore Schary
By Jon Cvack
Netflix said this was directed by George Cukor, and for over a week provided one of the most impressive shifts I’ve seen from a director; away from his female led romantic dramas and comedies and into a dark story about mentally disturbed, discharged soldier and a female prisoner on week-long leave who meet on a train and then fall in love.
The soldier is played by Joseph Cotten as Sgt. Zachary Morgan who we soon learn has been in therapy for his shell shock. Keep in mind, this wasn’t made at the height of 1950s popular psychology, but a year before WWII even ended. Mary Marshall is an equally strange character, played by an otherwise wholesome Ginger Rogers who we later learn got herself trapped with the wrong man and killed him in self-defense. Pauline Kael said that the movie is melodrama, which it is, but there’s something especially dark about the story. It’s the type of melodrama you could label noir.
Zach ends up in Pinehill after meeting Mary on the train, who tells him that she’s headed back home for a week during the holidays. The two start dating and bit by bit, the truth of Zach’s condition trickles out. He loses it at a coffee shop when the waiter starts talking about the war; can’t handle a war movie at the theater; and is soon attacked by a dog, nearly killing it in the process.
The night before they leave, Zach visits Mary to propose and Mary’s sister Barbara (Shirley Temple, surprisingly) informs him about Mary’s situation. It freaks Zach out, feeling as though he was lied to and he heads off. The next train arrives and Mary boards to return to prison, figuring she ruined things with Zach. When she arrives, she finds him in the shadows. He’s decided he’ll wait for her to get out.
The closing shots are what push the film into noir. The ridiculous plot is mostly melodrama, but when you consider the ending is that a mentally disturbed must wait for the only cure for his PTSD while she rots in prison, the cynicism is as thick as anything from the movement. We often think of PTSD arising years after the war, and yet the film plays it up before the war is even over. Combined with an impressive feminist angle to Mary killing a potential rapist and it’s almost impossible to categorize. It’s easy to say this movie is all cheese ball melodrama, and yet combined with the paragon of innocence, Shirley Temple, playing an overtly boy crazy teenager who goes to even buy a skimpy dress, there’s something oddly mature about it all. It is as though Dieterle wanted to use the melodrama’s superficiality as a means to discuss actual ideas. It’s not perfectly accomplished, but well worth checking out.
BELOW: Not much on the YT front so here's a trailer
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