THIS ABOVE ALL has Tyrone Power at war again (following A Yank In The R.A.F.), shortly before he went for real in the Marine Corps. But this time instead of wooing Betty Grable, he has a dark secret he shields while beguiling Joan Fontaine: he’s a deserter. From the British Army (the absence of an accent is a don’t ask/don’t tell situation common to movies of the era), but we know, since it’s Tyrone Power, that he will redeem himself by the time 110 minutes have elapsed. Fresh from triumphs in Rebecca and Suspicion, Fontaine does the accent, sans fuss; she and sis Olivia de Havilland had moved to the US from Britain when they were kids. Anatole Litvak directs R.C. Sheriff’s script, an adaptation of Eric Night’s quite successful novel. *
Battered Britain, 1940. Young ‘Prudence Cathaway’ (Fontaine), though part of the upper class, has some radical ideas about how society is stratified, and puts her beliefs into action by joining the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, forswearing connections to a higher rank by entering as a simple private. On an insisted double date, Pru meets ‘Clive Briggs’ (Power), who’s not merely handsome but brittle and hard to read: he’s got several chips on his shoulders, including bitterness at what the war means and who it benefits. A little wooing, aroused guilt and some conveniently placed Luftwaffe bombs will reset attitudes and priorities.
Earnest 1942 drama showcases the stars, and while Fontaine’s big soliloquy about England gets to be a bit much—as in ENGLAND!!—the mini tirades both she and Power are allowed are unusually biting (and prescient) given the time and circumstances. **
An Oscar winner for Art Direction, nicking nominations for Cinematography, Film Editing and Sound. Much as we admire composer Alfred Newman, he does overdo the score here, going wall-to-wall to underline emotions. The 22nd most popular of 1942’s join-the-fight troop, grossing $6,300,000.
Producer Darryl F. Zanuck backstopped the stars with Thomas Mitchell (in bluster mode), Nigel Bruce (hearty mode) Gladys Cooper (venom mode), Alexander Knox (wise mode), Henry Stephenson, Philip Merivale, Sara Allgood, Queenie Leonard, Melville Cooper, Miles Mander, Rhys Williams and Arthur Shields.
* Power: “Anatole Litvak was an inspiring help…. I like his severity. It keeps you on your toes.”
** Hollywood’s love affair with England had been ardent in the 1930s, with a “British colony” of relocated actors essaying various colonial attitudes in drawing rooms or assorted exotic parts of the Empire. When war came, the high point of deference was Mrs. Miniver, the same year as this movie and the year’s biggest hit. Only a handful touched the ‘classes’ nerve like This Above All.