Monday, August 06, 2007

Reunion In France (1942)

UPDATED 8/29/07

Don McKeon from Scranton, who has submitted several wonderful local references in entertainment to this blog, emailed me on Saturday to tell me about a classic film in which not one, but two silver screen legends say Wilkes-Barre in their dialogue.

MGM's 1942 wartime melodrama Reunion in France stars Joan Crawford and John Wayne. It was produced by Wilkes-Barre native Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who added references to Wilkes-Barre to almost every film he was a part of---from A Letter To Three Wives to All About Eve.

Crawford portrays Michele de la Becque, a born-into-wealth Frenchwoman who could care less about the impending German invasion of Paris. After vacationing in the South of France, Michele returns home to discover Paris (and even her own home) has been occupied by the Nazis. Witnessing the Nazi occupation firsthand and upon discovering her fiance, a French manufacturer, has sold out to the Germans, Michele becomes a true French patriot and opponent of the Nazis.

One evening, Michele encounters downed American flyer Patrick Talbot (John Wayne) and decides to let him hide in her apartment as she attempts to get him safely out of the country.

In one scene, about 46 minutes into the film, Patrick and Michele are sitting in her apartment as an exhausted Patrick lays on Michele's bed:

Michele: When did you eat last?

Patrick: Eat? A couple of years ago in Wilkes-Barre. Leg of lamb, mashed potatoes, apple pie, three cups of coffee. Ever been to Wilkes-Barre?

Michele: Wilkes-Barre?

Patrick: Pennsylvania. Ever see the Susquehanna? Ever see Pittsburgh play Carnegie Tech? (gets up to leave) I'll get out in just a minute.

Michele: No, I think you better try to get some sleep.

Patrick: (dozing off) I don't need to try. Lady, here I go again.

After Patrick falls asleep, Michele examines his tag (which she finds hidden in the soul of his shoe) and reads it aloud: "RAF, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania."

In the next scene, Michele and Patrick are having breakfast in her apartment:

Patrick: I told you all there is to tell.

Michele: Except for one detail. How did you get from Wilkes-Barre to the RAF?

A few scenes later, before they share their first kiss, Patrick says to Michele:

Patrick: Imagine what your eyes will do to Wilkes-Barre.

Later, when the Nazis are catching onto Patrick, a screen shot compares his U.S. military ID with his fake French student ID. The screen reads:

Name: Lieutenant Patrick Talbot
American Eagle Eagle Squadron, R.A.F.
Nationality: American
Address: Wilkes-Barre, Penn., USA

Patrick's final reference to Wilkes-Barre appears nears the poignant conclusion of the film:

Patrick: (to Michele) London isn't as far from Wilkes-Barre as...Lisbon.

In 1942, the public reaction to the then-topical Reunion in France was mostly negative--critics trashed the film and audiences ignored it.

Although I had Reunion in France on VHS a long time ago (and kept it in my collection for several years), I had never seen the film. Jim O'Neil, a colleague of mine who works in the Readers Service Department at Albright Memorial Library, asked me a few months ago if I had seen the film; when I told him no, he told me the film was atrocious and hysterically overdone and must be seen to be believed.

However, I borrowed the library's recently acquired DVD of Reunion in France and really liked it. I thought Crawford and Wayne both gave solid performances and had great onscreen chemistry.

Joan Crawford would make only one more film, 1943's Above Suspicion, before ending her longstanding MGM contract and signing with Warner Bros. Three years later, she won her first and only Oscar for 1945's Mildred Pierce; she continued starring in films (including Sudden Fear, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and Straight Jacket) and appearing on television until her death in 1977. However, after the publication of her adopted daughter Christina's scathing memoir Mommie Dearest in 1978, Joan's image became forever blemished with accusations of child abuse and, of course, with this memorable line.

John Wayne became a huge box office draw in Westerns such as Red River, The Searchers, and 1969's True Grit, for which he won an Oscar for Best Actor. He passed away from stomach cancer in 1979.

Reunion in France has recently been released on DVD, and a copy is now available to borrow from Albright Memorial Library. To place a hold on Reunion in France, click here.

Much thanks again to Don McKeon of Scranton. Keep em' comin'!

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