Saturday, July 30, 2016

Madame Joan vs. Vichy France

This is my entry in the Joan Crawford Blogathon hosted by In the Good Old Days of Hollywood.

I must admit at the outset that I was (and still am) not that familiar with Joan Crawford.  I had previously only seen one movie in which she was in, Grand Hotel.  My main knowledge of her came from the Faye Dunaway portrayal of her in Mommie Dearest.  And Blue Oyster Cult recorded a song titled Joan Crawford (Has Risen from the Grave)  [which actually doesn't have anything to do with Joan Crawford...or maybe it does.  Since I haven't seen many of her movies, I wouldn't know...]

I was reluctant to enter another star-oriented blogathon, but Crystal is a hard woman to say no to, so I cast about for a possibility or two.  I would have gone for two of her late career movies (Strait-jacket and Berserk!), but I foresaw a lot of trouble finding them on the cheap, as I did not already have copies in my library (I am an avid collector of cheesy cult drive-in style flicks).  But, as I have a very extensive John Wayne collection, I had a readily available choice of one in which Joan costarred with him, Reunion in France.

A little background on this film.  According to one source I read, Crawford only agreed to to this film if John Wayne would be in it with her.  She had a crush on him and flung herself unabashedly on him, only to be spurned.  She has later been quoted as saying she thought it was one of the worst performance of her career.  (Could it be she had regrets from an unrequited love...?)

Reunion in France (1942)

In this film, Joan plays Michele de la Becque,  who is initially a very laissez-faire woman at the beginning of World War II.  France at this point is defending against the advances of the forces of Nazi Germany, of which the French powers that be are supremely confident they will withstand.  You kind of get the idea that Michele thinks the war ought to bend to her own wants and desires instead of the other way around.  Her boyfriend, Robert Cortot (Philip Dorn), is involved with the defense of France and desires that Michele leave the country before the war arrives.  Michele is reluctant to agree to go without him, but finally relents.

A few months later, she returns to France after it has fallen to the Germans.  She finds her house has been taken over by the Germans as a base of operations, although they are willing to allow her to live in a room in the servant's quarters (quite generous of them, don't you think?).  Without access to her wealth, she is forced to take a job as an assistant to her former clothes designer.  And worse, it appears that Robert is now joined with the Vichy government and Germany to design weapons and material for their use.

Robert still loves Michele, although her love has waned somewhat in view of his defection to the enemy.  Which leaves her open to new possibilities when she encounters Patrick Talbot (John Wayne), a downed RAF American Eagle Squadron pilot who has had the unfortunate circumstances of being downed by the Germans and on the run from them.  Pat, who dubs Michele "Mike", manages to hide out from the Germans with her, and during their stay together manages to cause her to fall in love with him.

Robert, unaware of the presence of a competitive suitor, is trying to wrangle for Michele some letters of transit to get her to Lisbon, and to safety from the Germans.  She wants him to also get papers for Pat, but does not reveal to Robert the RAF status of Pat.  She gets him to agree because she convinces Robert he is a student who has somehow managed to lose his papers.  The Germans in charge are suspicious and there is a lot of intrigue going on within the film.  Circumstances even lead to the arrest of Michele.

Twists and turns in the plot and a surprise, but somewhat fabricated, ending make this an entertaining movie, although it has a lot of parallels to Casablanca, which is a far better movie.  Still, for the passage of an hour and a half, it is worth checking out.

John Carradine, looking very young and spry from the characters I am used to seeing him play, makes an appearance as a smarmy Gestapo officer.  Don't blink, or you'll miss Ava Gardner as a shopgirl. She isn't listed in the credits, and neither is another familiar face. If you think the wife of General Schroeder looks vaguely familiar, it is indeed Natalie Schaeffer (Lovey Howell on Gilligan's Island).

Time to fire up the Plymouth and head home, where, thankfully, no Nazis have commandeered the residence.  Drive safely folks.



  1. Never seen this one. I'll have to look for it. Interesting review.

    1. Thanks. It is OK as far as wartime propaganda movies go.

  2. Hi Quiggy, this is not a bad movie at all, though it is as you note anti-Nazi propaganda...but so is Mrs. Miniver...

    Not being a fan of westerns (maybe the only genre I don't go for), I do nevertheless appreciate the talent and charisma of the great John Wayne, in this movie and in my favorite Wayne pic, The High and the Mighty.

    This was Crawford's last movie at MGM before she was laid off after being named Box Office Poison for several years in a row. But she reinvented herself with another long run at Warner brothers, starting with the brilliant noir classic Mildred Pierce.

    Reunion in France was just on TCM recently, too, by the way...

    1. Mildred Pierce has been on my to watch list for months. But I guess I can say I've never really been a fan. I probably wouldn't have watched this one (definitely wouldn't have had it in my collection) if it didn't have Wayne, though.

  3. I like John Wayne here, but the 1st time I saw this I was surprised his role was quite small compared to his usual films.

    1. Wayne was still transitioning to stardom in 1942. This was more or less a Joan Crawford movie with Wayne tossed into the mix, rather than vise versa.


I'm pretty liberal about freedom of speech, but if you try to use this blog to sell something it will be deleted.