Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Classic Film Review: In Love and War

In Love and War is a 1958 Jerry Wald production starring Jeffrey Hunter, Robert Wagner, and Bradford Dillman, co-starring France Nguyen, Hope Lange, and Dana Wynter.

Superb performances, fine direction, and outstanding production values raise a generally weak script to classic status. Similar in some respects to 1956's D-Day, The Sixth of June, starring Robert Taylor and Dana Wynter - split between a love story and a war movie – In Love and War is more equally divided than that slightly earlier film.

The first half follows three WWII-era Marines on a brief leave in San Francisco just prior to shipping out overseas. Bradford Dillman portrays a rich, educated 'idealist' at odds with his wealthy father. Robert Wagner is a poor Irish kid emulating his drunken dead father's ways. Jeffrey Hunter is a true-blue jarhead who marries his pregnant girlfriend during his stay. All three will be changed by the war, mostly for the better.

Like the men, the women they meet and love are all stereotypes but played with such excellence one doesn't mind. It's a Jerry Wald picture, after all, and one expects, even cheers, the soap opera quality he perfected in the late 50s.

The second half shows the men before and during battle on a Japanese held Pacific island, with scenes interjected at random of the girls they left behind.

Bradford Dillman is dull as always, but the character would make him so regardless. France Nguyen shines as his love interest in a small part full of pathos and tenderness. Dana Wynter delivers in a character quite unlike most she played, here as a needy, self-pitying, rich wastrel trying to reform (but not very hard). Robert Wagner shows that even as a very young man he had true star quality. Jeffrey Hunter is solid and intense, showing just what a loss his early demise was to the history of films. Hope Lange tears at the heart with every line and look in a letter perfect performance as his young bride.

The heartrending nature of the last scene in particular is alone worth the whole movie combined, but there are many good moments beforehand. For fans of late 50s/early 60s soap opera films (see below) there are few better.

The production values are first rate, as was typical with Jerry Wald productions during this period. The saturated colors are rich, oozing with that unique period's Technicolor values. The sets and costumes are stellar. If you've seen Peyton Place, The Long, Hot Summer, or The Best of Everything you know the look. Everything has that brand-new look, even when the scene is one of a dilapidated house or a foxhole.

A bit long at 1 hr 46 min, the look and the performers nonetheless hold you the entire time without becoming bored. The story lacks forward motion, so the pleasure comes chiefly from the scenery, the actors, and the heart-on-a-sleeve style common to the genre. To paraphrase Yogi Berra: if you like this sort of movie, this is the sort of movie you'll like.

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