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TENDER COMRADE (director: Edward Dmytryk; screenwriter: Dalton Trumbo; cinematographer: Russell Metty; editor: Roland Gross; music: Leigh Harline; cast: (Ginger Rogers (Jo Jones), Robert Ryan (Chris Jones), Ruth Hussey (Barbara Thomas), Patricia Collinge (Helen Stacey), Mady Christians (Manya Lodge), Kim Hunter (Doris Dumbrowski); Runtime: 102; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: David Hempstead/Sherman Todd; RKO; 1943)
“… a curio.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The title comes from quoting a Robert Louis Stevenson poem. It’s a rousing patriotic drama about WW2. Up and coming director Edward Dmytryk (“Cornered”/” Anzio”) and gifted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo turn in, if anything, an overly sentimental tale, that certainly seemed like a safe humdrum film. But five years later those fanatical nutcases over at the HUAC destroyed both Dmytryk and Trumbo’s career for making a film they said was sympathetic to Communism. They became part of the Hollywood Ten (others included Alvah Bessie, Herbert Biberman, Lester Cole, Ring Lardner Jr., John Howard Lawson, Albert Maltz, Samuel Ornitz, and Robert Adrian Scott); Dmytryk and Trumbo both would serve jail time as Commie sympathizers. HUAC made a big deal over the title’s comrade and said the film’s hidden intentions supported the Commie cause, as the witch hunters were dead set on proving that the Commies had infiltrated Hollywood. The open camaraderie among the five women helping the war effort while their hubbies served in the service, deeply bothered the witch hunters. The girls said their motto is “share and share alike, that’s democracy.” Dmytryk said in his autobiography that sounded quite innocently democratic when we made the film, but a few years later I was instructed that the real motto of a democracy is “Get what you can while you can and the devil take the hindmost.” There’s also a meant to be stirring tearjerker speech Ginger Rogers makes at the conclusion to her baby when she gets word that her husband has been killed in action, which couldn’t be more patriotic and cheering on the American cause.

The film is too stagy, the dialogue too clunky and the narrative too confining to be enjoyed as anything but a curio, but it has to be seen for one to realize by the reaction it got from HUAC how paranoiac America had become during its Cold War days. Despite its schmaltz, the film was a big box office hit. That was probably due to Ginger’s star power, as at the time she was cinema’s most popular actress.

Bossy and garrulous Jo (Ginger Rogers) marries her nice guy army man Chris (Robert Ryan) and secures work in a Los Angeles aircraft defense plant as a welder. Realizing she could save dough by living in a communal household, she sets up the arrangement with three other women in her workplace whose hubbies are also in the service. The women under her self-appointed leadership include: Barbara Thomas (Ruth Hussey), the unfaithful wife of a Navy man; Doris Dumbrowski (Kim Hunter) who never consummated her marriage to her soldier boyfriend, whom she got hitched with on the eve of his overseas departure; and Helen Stacey (Patricia Collinge), the older woman whose husband and son are both in the service. They hire German immigrant Manya Lodge (Mady Christians), who left her homeland because her people “murdered democracy.” Manya’s husband is fighting in the U.S. Army and she considers it an honor to keep house for the four defense workers. The women decide to include Manya in their arrangement to pool their earnings and split the expenses five ways. The house is run in the form of a democracy, stressing solidarity and frugality.

It’s difficult to see what the HUAC people saw that made them see red. But they used this film as an example to point out how the Commies were sneaking in their propaganda to an unaware American public.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”