You know those unpleasant times in life, such medical issues, the loss of a loved one, or a parade of rotten luck?
Of course you do, and we’re guessing you went on with life anyway, determined to not let circumstances Break You. But when a minor setback occurs, such as misplacing keys or spilling a cup of coffee, you burst into tears.
Raise your hand if you can relate.
In the 1942 war drama, Reunion in France, there is a poignant scene in a Parisian dress shop that beautifully portrays this feeling of helpless frustration. The scene takes place shortly after the German army occupies Paris in 1940.
Joan Crawford plays a wealthy, self-absorbed Parisian who is unexpectedly subject to German occupation. So, when she visits the aforementioned dress shop – a place where she has spent a lot of money – and begs for a job, one of the sales women starts to cry.
Sales Woman: “Imagine, after all that’s happened, I would cry at this.”
Boss: “Because we can understand it. Who can expect a woman to cry because an empire’s collapsed?”
This scene is one of many in Reunion in France that, for us, sets this film apart as a unique WWII drama. It’s an examination of military occupation from a woman’s point of view, and how women survive it.
In our opinion, Crawford is perfectly cast in this film. She proves to be someone for whom we can cheer, no matter the situation.
However, you ought to know going in that Crawford is meant to symbolize France the Nation. The script mentions this repeatedly, and Crawford herself appears comfortable with the comparison.
For example, at the dress shop Crawford frequents (and where she later pleads for a job), the sales staff talk about her behind her back.
Sales Woman: “Who does she think she is? Who do they all think they are?”
Boss: “The glory that was France.”
You see, in a film like this, someone has to represent the fall of France and its struggle to cope with Occupation. This is where Crawford shines.
In the beginning of the film, Crawford has the naive, patronizing air of someone who tolerates others insofar as they themselves are Looked After. But while she’s away on vacation, the Nazis storm into France.
She makes her way back to Paris, but not without dodging the messy business of War. When she finally arrives home, she discovers an imperious Nazi officer (Albert Basserman) has moved into her house.
Her fiancé (Philip Dorn), meanwhile, has been Livin’ The Dream. He chums around with high-ranking Germans, and drinks champagne at fancy banquets.
At first Crawford is hurt and confused by his actions, but she is told Dorn has changed. “[France’s] poverty has become his fortune,” explains a friend, “to drain the blood of France…and sell it to Hitler.”
If Crawford represents France, then Dorn represents the occupying forces.
Without Dorn’s protection, Crawford discovers how unsafe Paris actually is. But we know she’s a gal with gritty resolve: She seduces a Nazi officer, shelters an American pilot, and fakes respect when serving Nazi wives at the dress shop.
Something about her performance makes us realize there have been many women, in many wars, who do these very things to protect themselves and their families.
Reunion in France is a rare film because it passes the Bechdel Test and reminds us that wars claim far more casualties than official statistics would have us believe. It’s also one of the last films Joan Crawford made for MGM, during a time when her career was faltering.
But Crawford was nothing if not professional, and we urge you to see her stellar performance in this lesser-known film.
Reunion in France: Joan Crawford, John Wayne, Philip Dorn. Directed by Jules Dassin. Written by Jan Lustig, Marvin Borowsky, Marc Connelly. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1942, B&W, 104 mins.
This post is part of The Joan Crawford Blogathon hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. Click HERE to see today’s fab entries.