SUNDAY DINNER FOR A SOLDIER set the table for two fresh faces, an old pro and a trio of not bad child actors in this pleasant 1944 entry, a gentle family comedy with a topical undercurrent of seriousness. Well directed by prolific craftsman Lloyd Bacon, it was popular with wartime audiences, ranking 40th for the year with a gross of $6,500,000.
Though barely scraping by, the Osborne family (four orphaned children and their grandfather) plan to treat a soldier based at their nearby Florida airfield to a home-cooked Sunday dinner. Assorted mini-calamities erupt that threaten to wreck everyone’s hopes, but where there’s family spirit and patriotic will, providence will provide.
Nice slice of period Americana, with director Bacon keeping things in check so the sweet and sincere story doesn’t become either silly or saccharine. Even the family mutt doesn’t overdo the cutes. Melvin Levy and Wanda Tuchock wrote their screenplay off a novelette done by Martha Cheavens (Penny Serenade). Audiences in war-consumed 1944 left the theater relating to the positive yet fingers-crossed finale.
Blossoming as a girl-next-door star, 21-year old Anne Baxter plays the elder sister who has to run a roost ruffled by her younger three siblings (Bobby Driscoll, Connie Marshall, Billy Cummings) and exasperating grandpa (Charles Winninger). Airman-to-the-possible-rescue is newcomer John Hodiak. Twenty-nine, Hodiak drew notice that year, cast in four other films, most notably Lifeboat, while Baxter likewise turned up in five, including the tearjerker The Fighting Sullivans, also directed by Bacon. Though sparks took a while to flame, Baxter and Hodiak tied the knot in 1946.
86 minutes, with Anne Revere, Jane Darwell and Chill Wills. Rory Calhoun has one of his first bit parts.