White Cliffs of Dover The (1944)

White Cliffs of Dover The (1944)

Directed by Clarence Brown this patriotic World War II film boasts a cast of a dozen or more familiar faces including Irene Dunne Alan Marshal Roddy McDowall Frank Morgan Van Johnson C. Aubrey Smith Dame May Whitty Gladys Cooper Norma Varden and Peter Lawford. And that’s just the credited cast. Tom Drake June Lockhart Elizabeth Taylor and Ian Wolfe also appear.

The story is told mostly in retrospect by Susan Dunn (Dunne) who is evidently a head nurse at a London hospital in WW II on the eve of D-Day. Though she was born and raised by her newspaperman father Hiram (Morgan) in Oklahoma she’s saying that it seems like she’s lived all her life in England. She recalls coming to the “green land” as a young woman on an ocean liner in April 1914 with her father and a young man (Johnson) who’d made their acquaintance. Hiram is “proud to be an American” and has a lot of grumbling to do about the differences between the two countries and their cultures. After nearly two weeks on vacation Susan hasn’t seen very much of London outside of museums nor met anyone besides those living in the boarding house (run by Varden) where she and her father have stayed. That all changes on the last evening when an old gentleman the Colonel (Smith) decides to take her to an exclusive party which includes the Queen!

At the party Susan meets Sir John Ashwood (Marshal) who sweeps her off her feet and convinces his mother Lady Ashwood (Cooper) to invite her to stay. Hiram begrudgingly allows her to stay an additional week but returns to America himself. After days of idyllic life on the Ashwood’s large estate John proposes to Susan. Though she doesn’t accept immediately sighting the differences between them he more or less “forces” her to accept by chasing her back to London and insisting. Hiram toasts them at the wedding and the young couple goes yachting on their honeymoon (Wolfe is the boat’s Captain). However WW I breaks out and John must report to his unit to serve as an officer. For three years Susan lives with Lady Ashley and Nanny (Whitty) the woman who’d raised John and his brother Reggie (John Warburton) who’s killed in the war. Later Susan is allowed to travel to France to spend a weekend with John. Nanny tells Susan they should “take care of business” while they see each other. While in a seaside hotel in Dieppe together they learn that the United States has entered the war. A French band actually plays our National Anthem.

*** SPOILERS ***

Susan returns to England and nine months later has a child a boy. She and Nanny bring the baby to see the Colonel at the boarding house in London. They hear a band playing American patriotic music and go to the window. The “Yanks” are marching down the street in perfect formation while a proud Susan holding her baby looks on. The British are grateful. The next scene shows the Colonel phoning the Ashwood’s to inform them of the Armistice and learning that John had been killed in action. Susan is distraught but encouraged by Lady Ashwood to tough it out. So she raises her boy John Jr. (McDowall) with help from the Lady Nanny and her father who seems to have come to stay with them. John Jr. rides his horse around the large estate stopping to see a young girl Betsy (Taylor). There is an odd scene at a luncheon outdoors to which John Jr. has invited two neighborhood boys who happen to be German. The implication is that they are proud of their heritage and are aware of their country’s plans to try & conquer the world again. Hiram warns Susan of the inevitability of another war prompting her to make plans to sell the estate and return to America with John Jr.. But the boy convinces her otherwise and they stay. Betsy and John Jr. grow up together then WW II breaks out. We see John Jr. in uniform (Lawford now) saying goodbye to Betsy (Lockhart now).

The story returns to the present with Susan examining D-Day casualties as they arrive to assign them to the appropriate wards. Of course John Jr. is one of them. Later on his deathbed he relates how he was injured to his mother telling of a young American (Drake) in his bunker located in the same general area of his conception in France. The film closes with Susan looking out the window thinking platitudes about honoring the dead by continuing the fight.

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2 Comments on White Cliffs of Dover The (1944)

  1. Norma J Hooper // May 9, 2015 at 11:37 pm // Reply

    The last paragraph of this review contains a huge error from a Canadian perspective. One of the most poignant parts of this movie is that John Jr. (Peter Lawford) dies of wounds received in the 1942 raid on Dieppe where he was conceived, and many Canadian soldiers died. It wasn’t D-Day!

  2. We appreciate the correction. Thanks.

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