Film Festival: Christmas classics
I’ll Be Seeing You (1944) is a World War II drama brought to the screen by David O. Selznick. It’s a Christmas story and a love story starring Ginger Rogers, Joseph Cotton, and Shirley Temple.
Selznick bought the rights to the 1938 Broadway song I’ll be seeing you. The song was used for the title and provides a theme song for the film.
“I’ll be seeing you / In all the old familiar places / That this heart of mine embraces / All day and through”
We are introduced to the young lovers at a busy train station at Christmas time. Zachary Morgan (Joseph Cotton), a sergeant, is overly hesitant trying to buy a magazine at the stand. We see Mary Marshall (Ginger Rogers) asking for candies that aren’t available and haven’t been for awhile under rationing. There is something mysterious about these 2 people.
Zach and Mary ride on a busy train with lots of GIs traveling for Christmas furlough. They share seats with two young soldiers who are excited and want to talk.
“What do you say we look up the coffee guy and get something to eat? I’m loaded. I’ll buy everybody coffee and sandwiches. No ifs, ands, or buts, the treat’s on me. Papa’s out on leave. I’ll be back in a flash with the trash!” –friendly sailor
Zach decides to get off at Pine Hill, the town where Mary is visiting her uncle. He says he is visiting his sister, but he moves into the YMCA. He has a healed bayonet wound and he’s on 10-day leave from the hospital to see if he can manage psychologically. He has a Purple Heart hidden in his bag.
Mary arrives at the Marshall home to be greeted by Aunt Sarah (Spring Byington) and her teenage daughter Barbara (Shirley Temple). It’s a cozy home all decorated for Christmas.
“Look, there’s just one thing. We all know that I’ve been in prison and that I’m going back in 8 days. And there’s no use pretending it isn’t so. It just won’t be any good unless everybody says what he thinks and doesn’t try to cover up.” – Mary
Barbara has to share her bedroom with Mary. Barbara is seventeen and very lively. She’s got tennis rackets, pennants, and photos on walls. Barbara has labeled things and divided things so that Mary doesn’t touch her things.
Aunt Sarah is very welcoming to Mary, and trying to help her be optimistic about her future after prison. She makes biscuits, rolling out the dough and cutting them with a jelly jar.
Zach calls and Aunt Sarah agrees to invite him over for dinner. Barbara is very interested in Zach when he arrives and turns up the flirt. Zach admits to Mary that he made up the story about having a sister in Pine Hill. He just wanted to get off the train where Mary was getting off. In another room, Uncle Henry won’t tell Barbara why Mary is serving a prison term.
Zach and Mary’s first date
Mary and Zach go to a war movie and it is very hard on Zach. He can’t really watch it.
“Is the war really like that? –I guess so. –That’s funny. – Why? –I mean that you should only guess so. –Well they have experts making those pictures. I guess that’s the way they see the war. Beach a mile long, thousands of soldiers and tanks and machine guns and everything. I guess that’s the way it is. –But it wasn’t that way for you, huh? –It’s just a difference in size. To a guy that’s in it the war is about 10 feet wide and kind of empty. It’s you and a couple fellows in your company maybe… It’s all kind of mixed up. Sometimes it’s all full of noise and sometimes it’s quiet. It all depends on what you’re thinking about I guess. It depends on how scared you are, how cold you are, and how wet you are. I guess if you ask 100 guys what the war is like they’d all give you a different answer.” –Mary and Zach
Zach feels better after talking to Mary, so he invites her to a diner. The owner gets jazzed up about Zach’s medals and talks about his own time fighting in World War I. Zach freaks and runs out. He can’t explain to Mary and ends up leaving her standing on street.
Once home, Mary decides to tell Barbara her secret.
“One day when I was called into my boss’ office he invited me to a party in his apartment. He was single and I started dreaming. Bosses do marry their secretaries.” –Mary
Zach calls to ask to take Mary out in country so he can explain his behavior. Mary lies to him about being a traveling salesperson.
Christmas and New Year’s Eve
Zach joins the family for Christmas. Aunt Sarah makes a flaming plum pudding. Uncle Henry leads singing at the table with Oh come all ye faithful. They all open gifts together by the tree. This loving family atmosphere gives Zach and Mary lots of feelings.
Zach invites the family to the YMCA New Year’s Eve dance. He brings corsages, camellias for Sarah and orchids for Mary. At the party, Zach and Mary meet a senator who wants the soldier’s point of view from Zach.
“What gives you the idea that just because a fellow puts on a soldier suit he thinks any different than anybody else? … A lot of soldiers have got one idea about what should happen after the war. A lot of soldiers have other ideas.” –Zach
Zach and Mary are two lonely people with secrets. Will Barbara understand what is going on between them? (Have you seen how cute and fashionable Shirley Temple was as a teenager?) Will Zach and Mary manage to find happiness? Tune in to I’ll Be Seeing You for a homey old-fashioned Christmas and a good holiday drama.
Resource links for I’ll Be Seeing You
- I’ll Be Seeing You (1944) from IMDb
- Joseph Cotten biography from Turner Classic Movies
- Biography from Ginger Rogers’ Official Site
- Biography from Shirley Temple’s Official Website
- World War II rationing from the National WWII Museum
- History of the Purple Heart
- How to light a plum pudding from Irish American Mom
- 1940s teen fashion from Vintage Dancer
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