There are few World War II films that I am as quick to recommend as I’ll Be Seeing You, a 1944 drama directed by William Dieterle and written by Marion Parsonnet. Zachary Morgan (Joseph Cotton) and Mary Marshall (Ginger Rogers, never better) are both on furlough for the Christmas holiday, he from a military hospital and she from prison. The two pass each other, ships in the night, weighed down by their respective past traumas.
Unlike most of its contemporaries, I’ll Be Seeing You doesn’t offer a massive hoorah morale boost. There is a sadness here absent from the home front films of this era. Although, as Mary’s cousin, a teenage Shirley Temple is a bright spot. For me, the quintessential scene for the film takes place during a date between the two leads, after they have seen a war film. “Is the war really like that?” Mary asks, somewhat incredulously. “I guess so,” replies Zach. No one could understand what has happened to either of them.
Like those two proverbial ships, Mary and Zach must eventually part ways. He will return to the warfront and likely be killed. She will return to prison, as her dreams of having a normal life continue to wither. But for now, these two souls without a future can embrace each other, even if it’s only for one night. It’s a note of melancholia rare for films of this era, one that allows I’ll Be Seeing You to age far more gracefully than many of its contemporaries.
If you want to learn more about actress Ginger Rogers, be sure to check out the following books from the 2AD Memorial Library:
- Shall We Dance: The Life of Ginger Rogers (Sheridan Morley, 1995)
- Astaire and Rogers (Edward Gallafent, 2002)