• U.S.

The New Pictures, Mar. 27, 1944

6 minute read

Tender Comrade (RKO-Radio) is a kind of Little Women of World War II. But most of the characters are grownups who speak a curious chewing-gum dialect presumably intended to suggest that the speakers are tough but tenderhearted.

The picture was almost a story without an end. Toward the close of the original version Jo (Ginger Rogers), one of five lonely wives whose husbands are at war, gets a War Department telegram. She wakens her baby, holds his uniformed father’s picture in front of him, and says:

“Little guy . . . you two aren’t ever going to meet. . . . Only through me will you ever know anything about each other. . . . He was such a baby himself. . . . He went out and died so you could have a better break when you grow up than he ever had. . . . He didn’t leave you any money. . . . He only left you the best world a boy could ever grow up in. . . . Don’t ever let anybody say he died for nothing . . . Chris boy. . . .”

As Ginger comes downstairs into a huge closeup, the picture ends.

After a sneak preview RKO decided that this ending was a squirm-inducer. Producer David Hempstead tinkered and cut. Miss Rogers said that patchwork was no good. So a new ending was contrived in which Miss Rogers got her bad news, bit her lip, marched off bravely to work. They were wrestling with a third version when a letter came from a war widow who had seen the sneak preview. Miss Rogers, wrote the widow, had put into words exactly what she had felt and been unable to say in all the months since her husband was killed. The first ending stayed in.

Mm-hmmm. Coming at a time when most Americans are thinking about death in battle, Tender Comrade makes an arduous pretense of facing that tragic fact. But most of the film is a low-gear report about the hard times and good times of War Wives Rogers, Patricia Collinge, Kim Hunter, Ruth Hussey and Mady Christians. They work in an airplane plant, eat and sleep in a house which they run “like a democracy.”

One wife makes a date with a flashy <sub>4</sub>-F who is about to take her out when the radio interrupts with the news that her husband’s ship has been sunk. Another wife answers Ginger’s “Gee, aren’t men fools” with “Yeh, but aren’t they sweet.” (Ginger’s eloquent reply: “Mm-hmmm.”)

Some cinemaddicts disturbed by the gap between the seriousness of the subject matter and this somewhat sorority-house treatment of it, may feel as if they had been brained with a powder puff.

Shine On, Harvest Moon (Warners) turns the careers of vigorous Songstress Nora Bayes (Ann Sheridan) and her songwriting husband Jack Norworth (Dennis Morgan) into a fictional clothesline on which to hang the hit tunes of the sporty, cheroot-fumed decades before World War I. Norworth’s resurrected song hits are given too little of the original cornstarch, too much contemporary orchestral bluing, but the pretty, evocative title song and the swinging, swooping Take Me Out to the Ball Game may be around for quite a while. (Of four new songs, the likeliest is Time Waits For No One.)

For dramatic purposes Jack Norworth and Nora Bayes are pitted against a wholly fictitious archenemy named Costello (Robert Shayne), who spends most of his time buying up vaudeville theaters in which the team might otherwise appear. In real life they had no such trouble. The Norworths sing the new Thank You for the Dance in an empty theater, to an imaginary audience, get the idea for their title hit on a moonlit country buggy ride. In real life Jack Norworth dreamed up Harvest Moon in a Manhattan subway train. Just as fictitiously, Nora tries to save Jack’s career by pretending to throw him over, but is last seen with him in triumphant Technicolor, smiling out of a harvest moon in Ziegfeld’s 1907 Follies.

The Negro Soldier (U.S. Army Signal Corps). This short moving picture has been two years in the making. The War Department authorized the film, but Lieut. Paul Vogel, the chief cameraman, had to do his job with old cameras which he pilfered (for the occasion) from Universal. During the shooting of one snowy sequence these tired machines froze up and he had to use an Eyemo 16 mm.

As anyone can see who knows or cares anything about the seriousness of the subject, the makers of the film have not included any of the dynamite implicit in a truly forthright treatment of the subject. There is no mention of segregation, of friction between Negro soldiers and white soldiers and civilians. But Carlton Moss, a Negro who wrote the film’s script, was overall adviser for the production and acted in it, assured white friends who were discouraged by its mildness that the picture would mean more to Negroes than most white men could imagine.

Sneak-previews for Negro soldiers proved that Mr. Moss was right. At first the men, who have learned to expect veiled contempt in most Hollywood handling of Negroes, froze into hostile silence. But after 20 minutes they were applauding. For just about the first time in screen history their race was presented with honest respect. Many wanted to know: “Are you going to show this to white people?” Asked why, they replied: “Because it will change their attitude.”

The Negro Soldier opens in a Negro church with the sermon of a Negro preacher (Carlton Moss). From its first moment, it is arresting. For the preacher is no Uncle Tom. He does not talk minstrel-show dialect or advise his flock that, for those who bear their afflictions meekly, there will be watermelon by & by, or the Hall Johnson Choir in the sky. He talks sober, unrhetorical English, and before long he is reading aloud (from Mein Kampf) some of Hitler’s opinions about those “born half-apes.” While he reads, the camera moves among his listeners, quietly contradicting Hitler by the most powerful shots in the film—the intent faces of proud, enduring, mature human beings.

They continue to listen gravely while their minister tells them of the Negro’s part in the making of America. The screen fills with historical paintings and with statuary, with bits from U.S. films which record the Negro’s work in U.S. industry and warfare. They nod and smile when a mother interrupts to read a letter from her boy at camp. Then the screen fills with his Army story, from the day of his induction, and with images of Negroes at work in all branches of the service.

With deep feeling, the Negro congregation sings Onward, Christian Soldiers. In 46 minutes there has taken place on the screen (despite the bitter facts left out) a brave, important and hopeful event in the history of U.S. race relations.

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