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The War Against Mrs. Hadley

The War Against Mrs. Hadley(1942)


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In the first months after Pearl Harbor, Hollywood was full of patriotic fervor. Stars traveled the country selling war bonds, and rushed to enlist in the armed forces. Those who didn't sign up fought the war onscreen, as studios released gung-ho films supporting the war effort. Released in August of 1942, The War Against Mrs. Hadley begins on December 7, 1941, with wealthy Washington matron Stella Hadley celebrating her birthday with family and close friends. When they hear the news about the attack on Pearl Harbor on the radio, Mrs. Hadley considers it an annoyance. She refuses to change her selfish and superficial ways, or to let the war interfere with her comfortable life, even as everything in her life is changing. Her attitude alienates everyone close to her. Even though Mrs. Hadley spends much of the film being thoroughly unpleasant and anything but noble, MGM promoted The War Against Mrs. Hadley as "America's Mrs. Miniver."

Fay Bainter had one of her best screen roles as Mrs. Hadley, and only an actress of Bainter's enormous talent could find nuances in such an unsympathetic character. Bainter didn't make her first film until she was 41, but she had a lifetime of theatrical experience behind her. She had made her stage debut at the age of six, and at 14 began playing ingnues in stock companies. At 20, she made her Broadway debut, and was a top leading lady for two decades. Her stage training made Bainter a natural for talkies, and she made her film debut in 1934. By that time, she was smart enough and talented enough to make the best of the character roles that would be the staple of her film career. She won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar® for Jezebel (1938), and that same year she was also nominated for Best Actress for White Banners (1938), losing to her Jezebel co-star, Bette Davis. Bainter was signed to a contract by MGM in 1940, and spent the next several years playing everyone's mother. The War Against Mrs. Hadley was one of her rare but welcome forays into leading lady territory.

Supporting Bainter's superb performance were some of the best character actors in the business. Edward Arnold, who played Mrs. Hadley's beau, also had extensive stage experience, appeared in silent films, and joined MGM in 1933. He spent 18 years at the studio. Like Bainter, he played primarily character roles, but had some impressive starring performances in Diamond Jim (1935) and Come and Get It (1936). Spring Byington, who played Mrs. Hadley's best friend, was one of Bainter's fellow MGM mothers, specializing in playing sunny but flighty matrons. She was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar® for one of them, in You Can't Take It with You (1938).

The War Against Mrs. Hadley also featured several up-and-coming younger players. Van Johnson had one of his best early roles as a young sailor who falls in love with Mrs. Hadley's daughter. It was his fourth film. Jean Rogers, who played the daughter, had almost a decade's worth of serials and B-movies behind her. Best known for playing Dale Arden in the Flash Gordon serial, she had left Universal and Fox because she wasn't getting good roles. She signed with MGM in 1941. Richard Ney, who played Mrs. Hadley's son, had just played the son in Mrs. Miniver (1942). He, too, was a relative newcomer to films.

Critics, even those who did not like The War Against Mrs. Hadley, praised Bainter's performance. The Time critic, in the magazine's typically wisecracking style, commented on the film's liberal viewpoint: "[It] is an all-out jihad to save Fay Bainter's soul for the New Deal." But he also added, "Fay Bainter succeeds against hopeless odds in making her absurd part plausible." The War Against Mrs. Hadley was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, but lost to Woman of the Year (1942). The winner for Best Adapted Screenplay that year was Mrs. Miniver.

Director: Harold S. Bucquet
Producer: Irving Asher
Screenplay: George Oppenheimer
Cinematography: Karl Freund
Editor: Elmo Veron
Costume Design: Robert Kalloch
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Principal Cast: Edward Arnold (Elliott Fulton), Fay Bainter (Stella Hadley), Richard Ney (Theodore Hadley), Jean Rogers (Patricia Hadley), Sara Allgood (Mrs. Fitzpatrick), Spring Byington (Cecilia Talbot), Van Johnson (Michael Fitzpatrick).

by Margarita Landazuri

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