David Selznick and Since You Went Away
"I have a different concept of producing than
other producers. Some producers are money men,
and others are just lieutenants. For me to
produce is to make a picture. As a producer,
I can maintain an editorial perspective that
I wouldn't have as a director. I consider
myself first a creative producer, then a showman
and then a businessman. You need all three things
to succeed in the business today."
-David O. Selznick
The film Since You Went Away was released in 1944. This epic film
relate to the American audience that was dealing with the war
the flux of soldiers coming home at the time. The Hollywood studios
constantly trying to do their part for the war buy making films about
the war in
a fairy tale "Hollywood" style. Since You Went Away crossed these
and the movie audience at the time, positively responded for this
producer and screenwriter of the film knew America craved this
Critics of the film from this period, applauded it's "realism", but in
studies of the film in the seventies and eighties were a little more
the film. David O. Selznick was the man behind the vision of this film
Selznick is best known for film classic's like; Gone With the Wind,
the formula of this movie draws heavily from) Rebecca, and King Kong.
film was a special project for Selznick at the time, and it was seen as
contribution to the war effort. The academy awards recognized
and nominated his film for best picture of 1944.
David Selznick was known as a one of the great creative producers-
Walt Disney. A creative producer is usually "a powerful mogul who
the production of a film in such exacting detail that he was virtually
artistic creator." (Eyman p. 121) In this period, Selznick's style
remembered best by his epic length movies in which he paid special
detail. His films catered to the female market but also had potential
over to the male segment. Selznick was "increasingly becoming aware of
commercial value of his name." (Fenster p.36) He decided to repeat the
that worked well in Gone With the Wind and made a decision to purchase
novel/diary from Margaret Wilder. Since You Went Away spawned from
novel, after Selznick spent many hours on developing the screenplay and
the right cast. The war film was a popular genre to produce during the
years in North America. Also, it was seen as a noble effort to make a
about the war. Most of the skilled directors or producers of these
stylized their own vision of the war with their special trademarks
the film. Films that did this, usually did will well at the box office
as at the Academy Awards Ceremony. David Selznick was looking for a
to follow the success of Gone With The Wind and he hoped Since You Went
would be a blockbuster. Selznick spent nearly "$3,000,000 on this
(Thomas p. 220) which meant glossy and detailed scenes throughout the
This was an unusual amount of money for a film from this period, but
Selznick was known in Hollywood for his elaborate budgets.
The films length allowed Selznick to allow it to take place over a
story begins in January 12, 1943 which is immediately after Mr. Hilton
for the war. The Hiltons are a middle/upper class family who are now
dealing with dealing with the trials and tribulations of everyday life
the support of a male authority figure. A lot of emphasis is placed on
female audience's familiarity with "the details of day to day living
of humorous sentimental reportage of housekeeping: rationing, the
two growing daughters and the business of getting jobs to help the
reduced budget."(Hartung p 374) Selznick increased the original ages
of the two
daughters so Shirley Temple (Bridget) and Jennifer Jones (Jane) could
roles and romance could be introduced. Nineteen forty-four was quite
turbulent year for the American populous. The war was coming to a
America saw the return of their heroes after a glorious battle. But,
also a feeling of nervous uncertainty and anxiety regarding the heroes
The reviewers and reviews of Since You Went Away were very much in tune
this feeling. In the press, critics viewed this film in either of two
First, it seen as a triumphant return of Selznick and secondly, the
thought the movie attempted at a realistic portrayal. An article in
Magazine boasted "it's a box office mop-up" and the article also listed
complete list of about ninety actors involved. The critic constantly
David Selznick's name throughout the review and thus, set the tone for
magnitude of this film. Similarly, in a Newsweek article, there was
enforcement of how much money was spent on this film and how much
on his last film. This worked as a quality control mechanism for
the viewing audience. People knew what to expect when they went out to
David Selznick film.
The second type of review paid particular attention to the "realism" of
film. A review in Time Magazine stated: "this is the most human,
picture to date". It mentioned the film dealing with things like the
death, and the comfort of religion, food shortages, and being away from
ones. For example, a scene where a telegram is sent to Mrs. Hilton,
her that her husband is missing in action. This scene takes place
housekeeper receives the telegram and yells for Mrs. Hilton who was
Upon reading the letter, Mrs. Hilton insists that there is still hope
and he is
still alive. The American public at the time of this release, were
caught up in
these "everyday" feelings and it was apparent that Selznick deal with
issues with as much love and heart as Selznick could fit on-screen. In
review they mentioned that the film is "always authentic, endearing and
life as death and taxes" (Abel p 13) This "realism" was constantly
reinforcedwith sequences like the scenes in the rehabilitation's rooms,
psychiatrist's office and recovery wards. In these scenes, the film
lighting to cast shadows in these rooms.
This is especially prevalent in the scene where Jane Hilton says good-
bye to her
boyfriend Billy at the train station. The long shadows are used to show
shadow that is cast over America at this point in history and to
on-screen realism. Indeed, this issue was the case for many Americans
people from other countries as well. Overall, it was the message that
to the audience the most and the modern day press agreed with this
But, this wasn't the absolute case. A famous film critic, at the time
harsh on this film. He downplayed Selznick's attempt at portraying a
American Family. In The Nation, James Agee writes about the home that
Hiltons reside in: "They live in an American home that seven out of ten
Americans would sell their souls for". This review addressed the issue
which is the main bone of contention that most of the more recent
It is quite easy to look back at older films and sneer at them as
these films from the forties and fifties are cultural products that
of the social fabric at this time. One must look at the politics that
place at the time, and see how that effected a medium such as film.
Since You Went Away was shown to the people of America to increase
motivate people to get involved. It was also shown to troops because
film was also saying: "they'll be there when you get back". (Jarvie
19) Since You Went Away was one of the first films to deal with the
home front and the issue of the soldiers return. Selznick's past
led him to understand "not of what Americans were, but what Americans
be." (Koppes p 157) Today, this film looked upon as a model of how
were expected to behave. This film could be seen as a teaching tool
average American. Seeing a family such as the "Hiltons" on-screen,
from their usual weekly budgets and bringing a boarder into their home
income- is a lesson to be learned. The Hilton family is thrusted into
situations they might never have dealt with prior to the war.
Since this film was projected towards the female market, the film gave
message about empowering women. In the period in which this film was
climate for gender equality wasn't really an issue. With all the men
off at war,
women started to take up male roles and jobs to fill the temporary gap.
who wanted a job before her father left, eventually got one as a
After Mrs. Hilton agrees with Jane, a cut to the capping ceremony where
"with shining face and sun glinting off her white cap, recites the Red
pledge." (Koppes p 157) Bridget is the young eager citizen who can't
for her country. She constantly complains that she is only doing
for the war. Anne Hilton is also set up as a model citizen. For
is portrayed as unhappy and lonely. Many scenes feature a "slick"
Tony Willet making subtle hints for his unquestioning love for Anne.
audience is usually left wondering if Anne will give up hope and marry
Anne sticks it out and her and Tony remain close throughout the
troubled war and
they stay strictly "friends."
Another point more current literature on this film investigates, is the
reality. Various articles I read, that were dated after the war- said
film was full of propaganda. An example of this was when the Hilton's
the train to meet up with their father. A boy with an amputated arm
the conductor: "Can't this train get moving? I'll miss my pop!" The
replies: "Your pop will have a lot better chance if these supply trains
through" This scene is reinforcing a sense of teamwork, and a the
to work together. Propaganda aside, did this film bring the real
issues to the
silver screen? Perhaps, Selznick's desire for perfection got in the
way of the
real story of the American home in war time. Paying "too much
attention to love
scenes, costumes, gestures" (Agee p 137) possibly made the film look
artificial. In order to present the Hilton's house as a fun and happy
Selznick's portrayal of the Hilton cook (Fidelia) is a little skewed.
Hilton's were forced to let Fidelia go because Anne could no longer
pay her. After the first 30 minutes of the film, the cook has already
back into the home to work for free. There is also the issue of the
This docile is a modest place of an advertising executive which was
"typical" American home. The home was very elaborate and had plenty of
space for 2 other house guests. Some of these images that are
prevalent in this
film are not exactly the same as the average American's. The scenes
above and many more, presented a classless society which was definitely
case in nineteen forty-four.
Most critics enjoyed this picture. After all these were troubled times
Americans weren't sure what to think. It's safe to say that the movie
audience did want to laugh but they also wanted to cry- and that's what
film allowed the audience to do. Since You Went Away, also points at
interesting aspects of nineteen forties post-war society. Selznick's
attention to style and form brought this film to it's highest level.
"Since You Went Away would remain the
definitive home-front movieŠ until a
realist comes along to show us what
life is really like in America during
World War II."
I think Clayton Koppes describes the film and
David Selznick best when he answers Selznick's
comments about the film:
"Yet there lay Selznick's brilliance. The film triumphed
because it was not realistic. With Hollywood's slickest touch
he wove together the sacred and the sentimental symbols of
American life and set them n the national shrine: the middle
I believe the film was a bit too long and a lot of scenes should have
omitted. In my opinion, a long movie doesn't necessarily make a good
Nevertheless, it was quite interesting to investigate old films and see
differences in opinion four decades can make.
Abel. Brian. "Since You Went Away." Variety July 19, 1944 p13
Agee, James. "Films" The Nation July 29, 1944 p137.
Allen, Robert and Gomery, Douglas "Film History - Theory and Practice"
York: N. Award Records 1985.
Crowther, Bosley. "Since You Went Away," A Film of Wartime Domestic
Claudette Colbert and Others, Opens at the Capitol." New York Times
Eyman, Giannetti "Flashback - A Brief History of Film" New Jersey:
Fenster, Mark. "Constructing the image of authorial presence: David O.
and the marketing of since you sent away" Journal of Film and Video
Fearing, Franklin "Warrior Return: Normal or Neurotic?" Hollywood
Vol. 1, 1945-1946: p96-107.
Hartung, Philip. "The Screen: While You Are Gone, Dear." The
4, 1944 p374-375.
Koppes, Clayton "Hollywood Goes to War" New York: Free Press 1987.
Newsweek "First GWTW, Now SYWA" July 10, 1944 p85-6.
Thomas, Bob. "Selznick" New York: Doubleday & Company, 1970.