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The Very Thought of You: Warner Brothers, 1944

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Posted: Tuesday, April 29, 2014 12:08 pm

I’ve always had a problem with that popular phrase “The Greatest Generation”. Yes, the generation born around 1920 gave us a magnificent gift, but they never claimed sole credit for the victory that millions and millions of other people from earlier generations helped make happen. Of these earlier contributors, Winston Churchill, Britain’s P.M. and an honorary American citizen born in 1874, is of course the greatest example, but there are countless others who always will remain obscure.

One of our forgotten benefactors was a foundry worker described in an April 1944 Davenport newspaper article that ran under the headline: “Iowa’s Most Remarkable Woman War Worker”. The article tells us of an oven tender with 40 years service at the French & Hecht plant located next to the Mississippi River in Davenport. A “core baker” in charge of the ovens used to heat treat metals, she even helped push the heavy castings into the ovens, though this was not required of her. An inspiration to others, she worked steadily all day. As a warning to younger “Greatest Generation” workers who liked to stay up late socializing, she declared, “you can’t run around all night and expect to amount to anything the next day.” Her name was Emma Wieckhorst and she was born March 10, 1865. The article claimed that this 79-year-old put in 10-hour days, six days a week, and that she liked her job, and liked it even better knowing that she was helping to produce vitally needed war material.

During and after World War II, Hollywood made many films about war workers, and one of my favorites is The Very Thought of You, a Warner Bros. release from 1944 produced by Jerry Wald, directed by Delmar Daves, with a script by Alvah Bessie and Delmer Daves, from an original story by Lionel Wiggam. Mostly set in southern California, this film tells the story of two young wartime couples. Janet Wheeler (Eleanor Parker) and Cora Colton (Faye Emerson) work in a parachute factory, and their guys are a couple of Army non-coms, Dave Stewart (Dennis Morgan) and “Fixit” Gilman (Dane Clark) who are enjoying a short leave in California after serving two miserable years in the Aleutians fighting the Japanese. A patriotic war story complete with lectures on our wartime duties and obligations, the film is also a touching romance graced with special magic.

In my life, I’ve known at least two WWII vets who served in the Aleutians, and the stories they told me are clearly reflected in this film. I’ll never forget the way USAAF fighter pilot Marshall Elwood Smith described the fierce winds that roared through those islands, giving an eerie inflexion to their spooky name, “The Williwaws”. And so, in The Very Thought of You, we begin with Staff sergeant Dave Stewart struggling through a nightmare of blowing snow in a howling wind that obliterates the film’s title music. When he fights his way into a Quonset hut his men howl at him to shut the door, but he stuns them with unexpected news: “We’re going home!”

The men can’t believe it, and he has to explain what home—to them a now dream-like concept—means. Soon they’re climbing into trucks and on their way to the transport ships. With SSG Stewart is his buddy Sgt. “Fixit” Gilman who is uneasy about the prospect of being around “female women” again. (As Aleutian vets wryly noted, there was a beautiful woman behind every tree on those islands—and thanks to the fierce winds, there were no trees.) “Do you think I’ll still be attracted to women?” Fixit frets. “Long time, no she,” he laments.

Magically, sergeants Stewart and Gilman are transported from white hell to blue heaven. Conveniently labeled for us on the screen, “Pasadena, California” is seen here as a soothingly silent place nestled beneath distant peaks with gentle piccolo notes, courtesy of a pastoral melody, via Franz Waxman, erasing the howl of the Williwaws. On their way to San Diego, the guys stop off in the famed Rose Parade city to visit the campus of the California Institute of Technology, “Caltech”, a formerly familiar haunt of Stewart’s where he had spent four of the happiest years of his life learning to be a structural engineer. Yet, typical of this movie, there is something very wrong here—Dave is out of place now. The campus is populated by strangers, and the professor he had worked with for years, seeing him in uniform, admits he didn’t know Dave was in the army and hadn’t noticed that he had been gone for the last three years.

Fixit claims that this just goes to show that you should never try to go back to nowhere. Desperate to reintegrate himself with civilian life and all its feminine comforts, Fixit says he’s going to introduce himself to the first woman he meets. On the bus, he’s almost as good as his word. The first woman turns out to be old and odd though, so Fixit fixes his eyes on a young blonde—not gorgeous, but very spunky looking—wearing a defense plant identity badge. Cora Colton (Faye Emerson) is savvy and wary and gives as good as she gets to the uniformed wolf licking his chops over her.

Next to Cora is her friend, Janet Wheeler (Eleanor Parker) who, although she wears the same defense plant ID badge, is a different sort of woman—more thoughtful and serious, almost ethereal—which makes her better suited for the more introverted Dave. Before the war changed everything, Janet and Dave actually knew each other, but they never connected. Thanks to the crowded conditions of wartime transport, Janet and Dave now mesh in a hurry.

After a stop to let off a passenger, the bus roars as it lurches forward, and Dave, standing in the aisle, almost falls on top of Janet. Now, inches from delicate beauty for the first time in years, Dave is speechless, but the ice is broken. With a clear, musical laugh, Janet asks, “Aren’t you going to say hello?” “Sure . . . hello.” “You don’t remember me.” “No, ma’am.” “One chocolate malted, no whipped cream.”

In a droning voice, the bus driver announces, “Foothill”, the name of a main road, an historic part of Route 66, that winds through the scenic foothills of the mountains overlooking Pasadena. This is the girls’ stop, and they get off the bus. Inspired, Fixit chases after his quarry, pushing Dave on ahead. Pretty soon, Fixit, amid a flurry of nonsensical small talk is accompanying Cora to her home, while the slower Dave offers an arm to Janet. As it turns out, Janet had a crush on Dave when he was a Caltech student and she was a “soda jerkette” in the campus confectionary. Back then, way too deep into his books, he never noticed her. “Why didn’t I get to know you better?” he asks. “You never tried,” she says.

Now, thanks to the war, with everything changed, he is seeing her for the first time, and can’t bear to let go. Walking arm and arm with her, he says, “You don’t know how good it is to see sidewalks, lawns and porches.” These things are newly precious to him, along with a clear-eyed girl he used to ignore.

Janet has to hurry home, however, because it’s her parents’ 28th wedding anniversary, and the whole family has gathered for a combination anniversary party and holiday turkey dinner, this being the day before Thanksgiving. Dave can’t let go of her, and understanding his feelings, she lets him take her on a quick walk around her block even though this means she’ll be late.

Inside, Janet is coolly received by her embittered mother (Beulah Bondi) for being a few minutes late, and when Janet says she has invited a man to dinner, Mrs. Wheeler doesn’t try to hide her disgust. Janet, who has been warned about soldiers, doesn’t dare say that their guest will be a soldier, describing Dave instead as a structural engineer.

Dave tries to be gracious when he’s invited in, but it’s no use, and thanks in part to the fact that he’s wearing a uniform, all hell breaks loose at the dinner table. Innocently, our soldier has stumbled into a minefield of domestic strife, and once again he’s out of place. Dining with the Wheelers becomes painfully awkward and embarrassing, as the joys of home and hearth must seem almost as far away as they were in the Aleutians.

Janet’s brother, Cal (John Alvin), a young 4-F (unfit for military duty, due to a heart condition) is every bit as nasty as his mother. Janet’s big sister, Molly (Andrea King), is a frosty and formidable bitch who adds more tension to the table. Selfish and cruel, Molly dates other men while her sailor husband, Fred (William Prince), goes in harm’s way, somewhere in the Pacific. When Dave mentions a buddy who welcomed death in battle after receiving a “Dear John” letter from his unfaithful wife, this sparks a nasty exchange between Cal and his sister Molly. Cal practically calls Molly a slut, and she calls him a “filthy draft dodging heel”. Amid this barrage of insults, Janet and Dave retreat to the porch to say good night. Their promising romance seems doomed.

Inside, Mrs. Wheeler laments the ugliness of her anniversary party, incredibly blaming everything on Janet. Janet defends herself, only to be pounced upon by Molly for being foolish enough to get involved with a soldier. For Molly, playing the field and ignoring her vows is the smart way to go. Clearly, there is a war going on within this family, with the battle lines clearly drawn. Janet is defended by her two allies, little sister, Ellie (Georgia Lee Settle), and her father, Pop (Henry Travers). While Ellie is gentle in Janet’s defense, Mr. Wheeler is scathing. He tells Mrs. Wheeler, Molly, and Cal that they make him feel ashamed of his family. “You treated that nice kid with all the courtesy you would show a Jap [sic]!, he says in disgust as he stalks off to his room.

Mrs. Wheeler and son Cal claim that Janet has disgraced herself for allowing a soldier to pick her up on the street. Janet defends herself, explaining that Dave is a boy she knew for three years at Caltech, and now he’s a soldier with nowhere to go for the holiday, so there is nothing wrong with inviting him over. With eyes brimming with tears, she retreats to her room.

All is not lost. Ellie, a lively girlish girl, whose presence Franz Waxman cues with whimsical music, seems to be a child wise beyond her years. Finding Dave at a nearby drugstore lunch counter on Thanksgiving morning, she flies off, head tucked down like a charging fullback, to fetch Janet. Without telling her big sis what it’s all about, Ellie drags Janet back to the drugstore, and to Dave.

Despite the dreadful experience of last night—dinner table cannibalism—Dave has rented a car in hopes of taking Janet for a ride up to Mt. Wilson. Before leaving Ellie, Dave thanks her and flatters the 16-year-old by saying that if he hadn’t seen Janet first he would have fallen in love with her. Little Ellie, quick to grasp all the implications, exclaims, “You mean you’re really in love with her? So soon?” Janet laughs and warns Dave, “Don’t let her scare you.” Dave smiles and says, “It’s nice scarin’.”

As Dave whisks Janet up into the clouds, magic begins. On their way up to the mountain top, however, Janet starts to look uncomfortable. At about 5,000 feet, she says her ears feel funny. Beginning to realize what a narrow life she has led, Dave asks, “Haven’t you ever been up this high before? Swallow.” “What for?” she asks. “It opens up your ears.” “Oh,” she says and swallows tentatively. “Your ears pop?” “No.” “Swallow again, longer.” “Oh,” she says again as she swallows harder. Overcome with gentle laughter, she exclaims, “They popped!”

Playing on the car radio is the old tune “The Very Thought of You” and it sets the mood: “I see your face in every flower, Your eyes in stars above . . . .” With a dreamy look in her eyes Janet snuggles up to Dave and the two share a brief moment of intimacy for the first time.

Atop Mt. Wilson with the astronomical observatory in the background Dave and Janet walk side by side as harps and violins play, giving the scene a heavenly quality. Despite the fact that Janet lives not far away, she has never been up here before, and intrigued by the fact that Dave has been here, she asks with a probing look, “Did you bring girls up with you when you came?” Dave holds her closer and replies, “You’re the only girl I ever wanted to come up here with.” We now know that little Ellie really is wise beyond her years.

To clear, metallic, bell-like notes, played in a stately and measured tempo, our couple walks out onto a promontory overlooking the vastness below. “What are you thinking?” Dave asks, taking her hand. “That it’s just like it’s the end of the world,” she says. “If it were, I wouldn’t be standing here like this.” Knowingly, she asks, “What would you be doing?” He answers by taking her in his arms. In a token of resistance, she presses the heel of her palm against his ribs. Her fingers curl, then clench into a fist as she receives him, but her wrist is bent back in surrender and soon her open hand is searching his breast with a caress. It is their first kiss.

At the Old Homestead Motel, the crummy motor court where the wartime housing shortage has landed Cora, our couple reunites with their friends. Cora obviously is quite happy with Fixit. “It’s hard to resist a guy who loves life as much as he does,” she says. To this, Dave replies, “That’s one good thing about being in this war—when you come home, lots of things that weren’t important, suddenly are.” “Like what?” Cora wonders. “Oh, like music for instance.” Since he didn’t take the bait, Cora adds, “And gals who used to mix malted milks?” Dave looks at Janet and says, “I’d say Janet was important from the day she was born.”

Two’s company and four’s a crowd so Fixit borrows Dave’s car to take Cora dancing. Alone in the motel room Janet and Dave can’t seem to stop kissing. But Dave is exhausted and soon Janet is watching over him like a mother looking down upon her sleeping babe. After the other couple returns, Dave takes Janet home—it is 3 a.m. On the Wheeler front porch they both acknowledge the impossibility of their situation: “I wish we were married.” “Oh, so do I.” But they are “sensible people” and they know there isn’t time. Dave has a date with a troop train, perhaps as early as this morning, and they must part not knowing if they ever will see each other again. Dave says he’s grateful for the few moments they’ve had together and will be “as long as I live.” Janet holds him closer and says, “You’ll live a long time if prayers do any good.” “If I do,” he says, “we’ll live it together.”

Inside, hell awaits Janet. Calling down from the staircase her mother demands, “Janet, where have you been?” With Janet missing, and Ellie hiding the truth to cover for her, the family sent Cal out to search the hospitals and police stations. Ellie tries to help Janet but is ordered to bed. In Janet’s room, Mrs. Wheeler confronts her, demanding to know: “Did he make love to you?” Janet’s affirmative infuriates her and she strikes her daughter with the back of her hand and then slaps her for good measure.

With this, Mr. Wheeler orders everyone else from the room and two kindred souls join once again: “What happened, Honey?” “Nothing, Pop—I’d tell you if it did.” “Do you love him?” “Terribly.” “Wanna marry him?” “He’s gone.”

The war that brought Dave to her is tearing him away, and there is nothing she can do about it. Pop gently reminds her that people have always had ways of living through everything. Then, revealing the depths of their bonds, she shows that she is his champion, just as he is hers.“I can’t fight [against] the war, Pop, and what goes with it.” “You’re a scrapper. You held this family up when I went to pot.” “You were just fighting tough luck.” We now know that this sad family is redeemed by the love shared by father and daughter.

In the morning, women war workers filter through the plant gates, past the guards, and into the giant parachute assembly area. Cora greets Janet with an exclamation—“Say! That Fixit is a walking vitamin tablet!”—but Janet runs past her to get to a telephone and call Dave. She can’t reach him and comes back to Cora and her job in a mood of resignation. After finishing their shift, however, they are surprised to find both their guys waiting for them outside. The troop train has been delayed and in the meantime, Dave has bought a wedding ring. With the help of Ellie and her dad, pretty clothes are spirited out of the house without the others knowing. Soon, Dave and Janet are married at a wartime wedding chapel where every branch of the military seems to be represented.

Thanks to a sympathetic hotel clerk the couple is given a fancy bungalow at a fancy Los Angeles hotel, The Wilshire, for only $10 despite the fact that this $50 room already has been reserved that night for someone who isn’t there yet. In the room the couple frolics playfully on a couch, but turns quickly serious, as she asks, “Is this the wrong time for Mrs. Stewart to tell you she loves you with all her heart?” With Janet still wearing her overcoat, they embrace and kiss as the camera rises up to focus on the flames in the fireplace.

The housecoat Janet wears in the next shot tells us that the marriage has been consummated in the purity of the flames. They are solemn now, and try to find the words needed to face what lies ahead. They seem to know that their rash union could be a mistake, but Janet is sure their marriage is right: “Cause of the things you say. Things you see I never saw before.” In other words, she knows the most important thing about marriage, that their union has remade them. “You’re not scared are you?” he asks. “Sure, I’m scared, but you’ll come back.”

Janet returns home in the morning to a pathetic reception as her family tries to sing “Here Comes the Bride”, but they don’t know the words. They haven’t even planned a wedding dinner for her. Her mother can only express her shattered hope with a statement that also is a dagger to her husband: “I only wanted my daughters to marry well. I wanted them to profit from my mistake.”

Cold hearted Molly comes up to Janet’s room and gives the bride the sort of pep talk only Molly could give: “I want to talk to you, Jan. You went ahead and got hooked despite my advice. Okay, so it’s spilt milk. You made yourself a lonely bed and you’re willing to lie in it. What kind of marriage have you got? A quick kiss, a swift kick, and bingo you’re a war widow. What kind of a man is it who’ll talk a girl into an overnight marriage, knowing he’s going off to war?”

Janet knows how to defend herself against the words of her sister, but she is unprepared to defend herself against what Molly does next. While Janet is at work, Molly intercepts a telegram and, over the next few days, several letters from Dave, making Janet feel as if she really were a war widow, abandoned by the man she loves.

Fortunately, Dave connects with a phone call to Janet at the parachute factory. Until this moment, neither had heard from the other since the wedding night, leaving both in agony. Without the military address Dave provided in the intercepted telegram, Janet couldn’t write to him, and of course Molly made sure she didn’t get his letters. Dave tells her to meet him in San Diego where they will be able to spend one last night together.

After work Janet storms into her house and tells Molly and her mother that she is moving out to live with Cora. Then, after packing her bags, she takes the train to San Diego for a “second honeymoon”. The city, a major naval port, is bustling with military activity and it’s impossible to find a room. With the help of Fixit, they manage to get a tent on the beach with a small grill to cook their food. Their last night together in the tent on the beach seems romantic, but in the morning dive bombers start flying practice bombing runs and wake them up: “Kind of hard on our honeymoon.”

As the end draws near Janet becomes anxious: “I’m afraid, Dave. I don’t want you to go.” “You’ve got to be braver than I’ll ever be,” he says, then goes on to explain the importance of what he’s doing: “I’ve seen the Japs [sic] up close. I’ve read what the Nazis want to do with our world. We couldn’t live in a world like that.” “You always say the right things,” she says, reassured.

After he hears the bugle sound at the nearby army camp, they get up and prepare to part. With a final kiss, he says, “Goodbye sweetheart. All my love, all my life.”

Dave walks away, and Janet stands silent on the beach wrapped in her blanket. With eyes brimming over, she waves good bye.

In the following scenes, Janet endures some of the brightest and darkest moments of her life, but as her Pop explained earlier, people have always survived these things. Cora, and Fixit, and Dave and Janet survive, too. The optimistic resolution of their problems makes this an effective wartime propaganda film, but it is more than mere propaganda. The human understanding and insight herein are priceless, telling us so much about the people who fought and won the war.

The dialog and situations in this film reflect the wartime stories I’ve heard all my life. Molly telling Jan about “making a lonely bed” reminded me of a story a woman told me thirty years ago. During the war she was a teenager who proudly and stubbornly defied her parents’ wishes and ran off with a soldier. He married her, bedded her, and then, unlike Dave in our movie, ditched her. Defeated and no longer proud, the pregnant girl returned home to her mother who coldly told her, “You’ve made your bed, now lie in it.”

While many of the wartime marriages I’ve known turned out badly, many did not. The war helped rush people into relationships that were unwise, but it also created opportunities, both personal and professional, that were not there before the war. In this film we see this strangely positive aspect of the war, especially in the way Janet’s narrow life is widened. With a job, and responsibility, and new people in her life, she blossoms into a woman. For many Americans, the war gave them a new start, a new confidence, and greater purpose and meaning. In this and in other Hollywood films, this terrible war is seen as the beginning of the best years of our lives. Thus, by this film’s conclusion, it is no surprise to see that the war, despite all of its challenges and heart aches, even has the power to heal and reconcile the broken Wheeler family.

When we see the war portrayed in such a positive way, we can sometimes forget its cost. For the record, America suffered around 400,000 military deaths, with British and Commonwealth deaths more than 580,000. Our losses, however, amounted to a fraction of the military deaths suffered by Germany (5,000,000), Japan (2,000,000), and the U.S.S.R. (perhaps 10,000,000). Because our main enemies, Germany and the U.S.S.R., fought each other in the ‘41 to ‘45 phase of the war, we were able to sweep into western Europe and remake it along democratic lines. The Soviets, our short-term allies but long-term adversaries, made a far greater contribution to Germany’s defeat, but were unable to reap the main benefits. Stalin had to settle for the booby prize, and set up replicas of his oppressive regime in eastern Europe which along with the USSR itself, were unable to compete with the more dynamic nations of the west. The communists tried to cope with this by turning their nations into what amounted to giant prison camps, but eventually the people rose up to knock the walls down, and communism in Europe collapsed.

As terrible as American losses were, they were light compared to the magnitude of the victory which is why so many here, 75 years after WWII began, still use that fatuous phrase, “The Good War” to describe it. We do well to remember that this “Good War” took 60,000,000 lives, many of them innocent children.

While The Very Thought of You sheds light on that crucial time in our history, not all of it is positive. One of the worst aspects of the film is the treatment of Janet’s 4-F brother, Cal. Yes, Cal is a nasty guy, much like his mother, but it is disturbing the way he is mocked for his physical disability. Those around him treat him as a shirker, calling him cruel names, simply because the doctors have classified him as unfit for service due to his underdeveloped heart. Yes, his having “the heart of a boy in a man’s body” is symbolic of the heartless nature of the bad side of the Wheeler family (Molly, Cal, and their mom), but this symbolism must have made the film even more painful to watch for many men in the 1940s. I once knew a man who, due to a medical problem, was classified 4-F during the war. Despite this, he looked perfectly healthy and some regarded him as a shirker. The issue came to a head one night when he brought his pretty fiancée and her younger sister to a dance. Inflamed with jealousy, some soldiers without girls did all they could to humiliate this man with two. His wounds from this were lasting, and for the rest of his life he despised soldiers, even when that was not fashionable. His health problem worsened with age, and he died before the age of 60.

Another odd thing in the movie is the Wheeler lifestyle. Some foreign viewers of this film must have wondered if almost all Americans lived in luxury because here we see the Wheeler family living in a very beautiful, solid, and roomy two-story house. It’s likely that the home’s elaborate and intricately carved woodwork alone would have been worth more than total value of the average person’s house at that time. This luxury comes despite the fact that Pop Wheeler is “only” a clerk who never lived up to his early promise as a provider, and even had to find refuge with the W.P.A. in an unemployment relief program. By the looks of his home, you’d guess he was the owner of a prosperous business. It’s hard to say why the filmmakers gave the Wheelers such a fine house, but it does allow them to add to Pop’s character. His main occupation around the house seems to be painting the woodwork and he is referred to as the “Rembrandt of Pasadena”. This, along with his sensitive relationship with his daughter, helps to create a typical Henry Travers role—much like his rose-cultivating character in Mrs. Miniver—as a disarmingly simple and humble man who possesses a special soul.

The acting in the film is uniformly good, but the top honors go, hands down, to Eleanor Parker as Janet. Her romantic scenes with Dennis Morgan are wonderful. We lost Eleanor in 2013, and fittingly in TCM’s end-of-the-year memorial tributes, they ran the close-up of her on the beach, wrapped in a blanket, her eyes brimming over, as Janet watches Dave go off to war.

In this film she does things with lines that few others do because what she does could never be put into a script. She manages to find surprising ways to express thoughts and feelings, and some of what she does is difficult to even describe with words.

Especially impressive is the way she does something extra with the smallest of details. When Dave is teaching Janet to equalize the pressure in her ears on the way up Mt. Wilson, Parker has to reply with the word “oh” twice in a short time. A less talented actress wouldn’t even bother to do much with such an insignificant word, but Eleanor Parker does. Since it can be boring to say the same word twice in a short time, she changes the second “oh”, making it come out sounding like a puff of air. She plays the whole scene—the whole film, in fact—with a sensitivity that shows a keen understanding of how to work subtle, almost minute, feelings into her lines.

It’s even interesting to watch her do something as mundane as shaking her head. For Eleanor’s Janet, a head shake is not just a simple “no;” it can have a complex meaning. In Cora’s motel room, Dave asks Janet, “You in love with anybody now?” She shakes her head in a hesitant and playful way to suggest a double meaning or irony. This is a perfect way for Janet to answer because, of course, by the word “anybody,” Dave meant someone other than himself. But she does love somebody now, she loves him, so her special head shake says two things: “I don’t love anybody. I love you.” In other words, she’s saying something beyond words, something that means no and yes at the same time! Her performance here is filled with beautiful moments like this. This is young Eleanor Parker at her finest, and added proof that she was one of our best actresses ever. And like many of the best, she never won an Oscar.

The Very Thought of You does not seem to be a highly regarded film, but it’s director and co-writer, Delmar Daves had a distinguished career with his name appearing in the credits of classics such as The Red House, Broken Arrow, 3:10 to Yuma, The Hanging Tree, and A Summer Place. The film’s other script writer, was a victim of the blacklist, Alvah Bessie, who penned some interesting films in his short career such as Northern Pursuit, Objective Burma!, and Hotel Berlin. Once an important figure in Hollywood’s communist circles, Bessie joined in their inquisitions against fellow communists such as Albert Maltz, dogmatically heaping scorn upon Maltz and branding him with their scarlet letter—the “A” of Anti-Marxism—for daring to say that artists and their work should be judged on their own merits, and not on their politics. Sadly for Bessie, he was later treated to a stiff dose of his own medicine and given a prison term for refusing to answer HUAC on his communist associations. After watching The Very Thought of You, I can’t help but feel sorry that his career was ruined.

All in all, The Very Thought of You is an exceptional film with the power to bring back to life a crucial time in our history. As the war fades from living memory, this precious document, filled with so many true, sad, disturbing, and beautiful things, becomes ever more important.