The White Cliffs of Dover Reviews
For all you others...well, I think this is a gem of a film...one of those flicks that you really don't hear or read too much about - but you end up completely immersed in the drama during it's two hour + running time. It's dialogue driven with characters you grow to care for. It's also definitely a propaganda film and politics does rear it's ugly head later on in the film (and spoils the mood somewhat)...but i'll address that in a moment.
I've only seen a handful of Irene Dunne films but this one would have to rank as my favorite now. She is just fabulous here as Susan Dunn, an american woman vacationing in London with her father, Hiram Dunn (Frank Morgan) - who is a newspaper publisher. Both are in England to "explore their roots".
They stay at a boarding house where they meet a retired Colonel Forsythe (played by the venerable C. Aubrey Smith) who is viewed as somewhat eccentric by the other boarders. One of the better scenes has Mr. Dunn playing chess with the Colonel which soon escalates into a patriotic war of words when Mr. Dunn finds out that the chess set was actually looted from the White House by the Colonel's grandfather during the War of 1812!!!
Later, to Susan's surprise and delight, the Colonel invites her to a ball where she would have the opportunity to meet the King and Queen of England. This would truly be the highlight of her visit. The other boarders tell Susan not to get her hopes up though because the Colonel's link to high society just a figment of his imagination (or possible senility). But very much to the boarder's surprise - the Colonel is true to his word. Thanks to his military background, he does have connections after all and both Susan and the Colonel soon find themselves rubbing elbows with London high society.
While at the ball, Susan meets up with a young and very eligible aristocrat, Sir John Ashwood (Alan Marshall). The rest of the evening plays out very much like a fairy tale for Susan - culminating in a moonlit ride through London. Wedding bells are soon to follow...
The film is deliberately paced by director Clarence Brown (FLESH AND THE DEVIL, ANNA KARENINA) and covers the period between the 2 world wars. You get a sense of the ebb and flow of the lives of the characters - of life's ups and downs. Another film which I liked and has a similar feel and theme would be David Lean's THIS HAPPY BREED released the same year but follows the lives of a british working class family instead. While Lean's film was a british production, THE WHITE CLIFFS OF DOVER is an american production based on a popular poem by Alice Duer Miller. Poem and film extolls the virtues of both England and the United States and meant to boost the morale of the moviegoers for both countries.
The propaganda really starts to get heavy during the last part of the film - especially during an awkward scene when 2 German lads are invited to the Ashwood estate and a debate ensues between Susan's father (Frank Morgan) and the 2 youths - who reek of the Nazi youth movement of the 1930's. I suppose it was meant as a reminder to the audience who the real enemy is... but the scene is so jarring compared to the rest of the film that I wish it could have been played more subtly.
Considering what has taken place in the world during the years since the end of World War II, the films message and plea for world peace seems poignant especially viewed today - have we really learned our lessons?
Anyway...have your hankies ready while viewing this one.
The backbiting between Irene and her English counterparts early in the film is funny, posing one of the movie's unanxious emotional successes which as well include strong romantic and maternal joys and longings, WWI, brief bursts of rage, mourning, WWII, and the like. A scene in the movie circa the early 1930s sends a chill down the spine, illustrating two polite adolescent German boys, part of an exchange program, staying at the English family's countryside manor. Intimating they were part of early Nazi invasion plans, the boys let it slip in a conversation's startling turn for the less comfortable that they are pondering how the estate's large green would be perfect on which for troop gliders to land.