As in Uncle Sam wanting you. Specifically, Farley Granger, for a stint in the Korean War. This focuses entirely on the home front, in a small ‘anytown’ America, mostly with the Greer family. There’s brothers Jack (Granger) and Martin (Dana Andrews), Martin’s wife, Nancy (Dorothy McGuire), father Thomas (Robert Keith) and mom Sarah (Mildred Dunnock). The boys’ uncle had been killed in WWII. Both Martin and his dad are vets.
Then there’s the Turner and Kress families. Carrie Turner (Peggy Dow) is Jack’s girlfriend, her dad is Judge Turner (Ray Collins). The Kress’s, Georges Sr. and Jr. (Walter Baldwin and Martin Milner), work for the Greer’s. Everyone’s friend Harvey Landrum (Jim Backus) is also a Colonel.
Martin begins by narrating about the town, as we zoom in from a bird’s-eye view to the street level. Then to his dad’s house, where we see the immediate family, including Nancy, and her’s and Martin’s kids. Jack is off to see “Girls, cars, and girls.”
That is to say, Carrie. Jack runs into Georges Sr. and Jr. At the station, Judge and his wife show, along with Jack, all awaiting Carrie’s train–she’s on a break from college. There’s an obvious coolness between her dad and Jack. She seems to want to keep Jack at a bit of a distance.
George Sr. wants Martin to try to get a draft exemption for Junior. Basically he says no, meaning Jr. isn’t justifiably “indispensable.” Harvey, Martin’s former C.O., comes to tell Martin that, though he’d be happy to work for the Greer firm, he’s going back into the Army. Then, Junior chats up Martin about the Army. Junior is clearly gung-ho.
At the bar, we see Junior, Senior, and Martin. This scene will come back in a haunting manner. At first, the bartender won’t serve Junior a beer; but after hearing a radio broadcast about the war’s escalation, Jr. gets his beer.
Back at the Greer’s, mom talks about Jack’s summons to the draft board. They talk about the war. She asks him about getting a deferment for Jack. Anyway, at Carrie’s, she’s getting ready for a big night. With Jack, that is. “I think I have everything for the dance” says Carrie, “comb, lipstick, cigarettes, and a young man.” Ok, I guess.
At the dance, she continues to disdain everything, including most of what Jack says. Even after they kiss, she feels she has to say “this doesn’t mean anything.” Walking in the nearby woods, she confesses that she just “doesn’t like how you make me feel.” Must be a really bad feeling.
His plans are simpler, involving kissing. She gets home. Dad objects, once more, about Jack; she lays her cards on the table–he’s a boredom reliever, that’s all. Back home with Jack and Martin, we see that Martin does intend to seek an exemption for his brother, but then crumples up the letter, as the radio announces further escalation.
Martin confides to Nancy about the war news, regarding Junior and Jack especially. Next day, Martin tells his brother that, although mom asked him to write an exemption letter for him, he didn’t. Jack says it’s ok. Well, it’s got to be; Carrie’s dad is on the draft board, meaning he’s going in.
Martins son Tony has a cool B-17 model; an English neighbor recounts the effect of a German bombing raid, but he’s really too young to get the reality of it. Anyway, at the family dinner, dad enjoins Jack to “kill a lot of ’em.” Now Jack’s realizing that he’s been “railroaded.” He goes on that we ought to just nuke ’em. Nancy kicks him out; but they both might agree that there’s nothing good about the war in Korea.
With that, Martin splits too. Carrie wants to take Jack to the station; he doesn’t appreciate her apparent phoniness. But she talks a lot about how her father is so ramrod straight that he’d send her and her mom into the army if he could. Instant reconciliation.
He proposes, she denies. He’s right to compare her unfavorably with Nancy, who didn’t come apart being an Army wife. Next scene is Jack’s departure from the station. As soon as his family gets home, Sarah trashes all of the looted memorabilia. “You can take all this junk back to where you ‘captured’ it from, the pawn shops…in New York.” In your face.
Ok, then Jack in boot camp. Oh, boy, there’s Jr. chatting up Jack. Junior is getting shipped out soon. They get a weekend pass, and head home. Strangely, Jack is more mature and confident than Junior. “You’ll chalk up a tremendous score!” Jack tells him, encouragingly. They do find two nice girls. Ah, a bar scene. They dance, all is well until they try to order beers. The girls don’t want to settle for ice cream. So much for that.
Next day, Nancy gets a visit from Carrie. The girl’s love-lorn, clearly second-guessing her refusal to marry Jack. Nancy tells her that it was tough waiting for Martin to get back from ‘his’ war, but it turned out as well as could be.
Wisely, she also tells her that was only her experience. Carrie more or less decides to drop college, everything, to marry Jack, if he still wants her. Her dad tries to talk her out of it; but his credibility is at an all-time low, as she wouldn’t be talking about marrying a soldier if her dad hadn’t sent him up.
Jack and Harvey meet on the same train; Jack tells the Colonel that Georgie is MIA. Getting into the station, Jack greets the family, including Carrie. Tellingly, Jack leaves Carrie’s greeting to the last. But they agree to meet the next day. At the bar, old man Kress is getting hosed, thanks to the bad news about his son. Martin sees Harvey there. They talk about the future.
George Sr. greets them. He seems to blame Harvey, who’s in uniform. Poignantly, he says “and now, where’s George? Maybe he was ‘indispensable’ only to me!” Nancy asks Martin what Harvey wanted: “they need me” that is, Uncle Sam does. He can apply for an exemption, but hesitates.
Nancy doesn’t get it. He thinks his infant son will one day quiz him about what he did during the war. But he’s already been in the Big One. Meanwhile, Carrie and Jack go walking in the woods. He mocks her a bit about how distant and disinterested she was. Then he reveals “I learned how to be lonely in the middle of 20,000 men.” And that he’s learned how to love her. They’ve both grown up a bit. She’s made up her mind; real kissing. He’s got her now.
Martin’s telling his daughter a story, pretty good one too. His dad wants to talk about his WWII memorabilia. He confesses that he had a non-combat position; he’d faked a whole combat history. Martin doesn’t care, and he said he already knew anyway.
Martin’s off to his induction post. On Jack and Carrie’s wedding day he’s got the coolest hot-rod waiting, all decked with streamers. It sounds great too. Everyone’s happy, and happy for them. The fly in the ointment, though, is what will happen with Martin? That lingering thought gives an unhealthy reality check to an otherwise romantic ending.
As expected, Andrews and Granger really light this up; both actors had some great film-noir roles in this era, their range and presence (especially Andrews’) amplifies and compliments the drama. Dow is also very good, both as the naughty princess and the romantic lover; unfortunately, given the times, she has to completely abandon college to get married. Worse, there’s a hint that a college woman is somehow not quite the same amount a woman as a married, non-career woman.
For different reasons, Darnell’s character’s short-changed too. Other than mentoring Dow’s character and telling off Granger, she’s marginalized. She’s just, like, some important guy’s husband. For the most part, the supporting cast works well, especially Collins, Milner, and Baldwin.
One thing, though: Collin’s continual face-off with Granger is such a stock bit of my-daughter’s-too-good-for-you stuff. It’s very contrived. Plus, Carrie hardly needs any help keeping Jack off of her, until her sea-change near the end. Combined with dad’s instant hostility, it seems that she wouldn’t have any reason to see Jack in the first place.
These bits wouldn’t matter so much if the tedious pace didn’t give us a ton of time to ruminate on them. The movie’s long, and feels even longer. Something that’s notable, and interesting, is the ambivalent attitude towards the Korean War–very much a reflection of the time. No one’s excited about the war, but, other than Jack, whose situation is personalized, no one tries too hard to avoid it either.
This is entertaining, and has some good stuff, particularly the bar scenes, and the woodsy scenes with Carrie and Jack. But it flattens out too much to make much of a companion to The Best Years Of Our Lives.
You can bet a set of wire wheels that Farmermouse dug the hot-rod; looks like a Model-A with a later flathead V8. He gives I Want You six and a half beers. 6.5/10.