A lot can be said about the communism screenwriter Dalton Trumbo appears to have ‘inserted’ into the film. I don’t disagree with those who say it is there– in a story where a group of women during wartime share a communal living space. Trumbo took a traditional women’s melodrama with a theme about home front efforts, and he used it to talk about fascism in America. Of course, for most of the audience, such ideas went sailing over their heads. And for those had a vague understanding of Trumbo’s goals, they didn’t quite glob on to the bigger picture. During the postwar era Trumbo and his pals– including the director of this film– paid dearly for exploring such issues in TENDER COMRADE.
I’ve read reviews that zero in on Ginger Rogers’ performance as well as the performance of her leading man Robert Ryan. I didn’t have a problem with either one of them, though some of their scenes are a bit corny. Ryan even has a line where he refuses to let Rogers know the contents of a love note he wrote to her, since he admits it was sappy.
Some reviewers have commented on the other women Rogers shares a house with in the movie. I’d say Ruth Hussey probably has the best supporting role, playing a lonely wife who tries to justify her unfaithfulness. She gets a few showy scenes, and these moments actually take the focus away from Rogers. Also, a very young Kim Hunter does a swell job as a newlywed, especially in scenes near the end when her character’s husband returns from combat. I didn’t particularly care for Mady Christians’ stereotypical German housekeeper. Trumbo should be blamed for making her a cliched foreigner with a thick accent and predictable comments about her homeland. Most of the housekeeper’s dialogue is unintentionally funny. She’s best when she’s off screen.
There aren’t many factory scenes. We get one sequence near the beginning of the film, with Ginger riding a forklift in front of a process shot, acknowledging the other women working with her. Hussey has a brief moment riveting, then we cut to a lunch break where they all decide to pool their money to rent a house together. We’re led to believe this is a story about women in modern day America where women feel the effects of war after their loved ones have been taken away from them.
There are some interesting speeches where they complain about rationing, or about having to do their part while the men are gone fighting. The film launches into very lengthy flashbacks that focus on the romance between Rogers and Ryan. It is almost like Trumbo couldn’t figure out whether to set it in the time right before the war or in the present day. I suspect extra flashbacks were added to increase Ryan’s screen time, since he was an RKO star in the making, and his character is sent off to war and otherwise never seen again.
Finally, I want to comment on how anti-climactic the ending is. As you can see, even the film’s title card indicates the husband has died. During the film, when the editors prepare us for one of the many romantic flashbacks, there are screen dissolves that show the couple walking in some heavenly realm. It is very obvious he will be killed, long before she receives the telegram informing her about his death. Though I must say the scene where she sets the telegram down and lifts the baby out of the crib and “introduces” him to his father (in a picture frame) is very poignant. After she sets the baby back into the crib, she realizes she will have to keep her chin up and move forward. And I suppose when women saw the film and left the theater, they were trying to keep their chins up, too.
TENDER COMRADE is directed by Edward Dmytryk and airs occasionally on TCM.