During World War II, Hollywood eagerly joined up with America and her allies in an effort to whip a little Axis tail and they too wanted to launch their own assaults trumpeting freedom, courage, and sacrifice. But in wartime, you have to be able to think outside the box and come up with that one-two punch the enemy never sees coming! Thus the excruciatingly unsuccessful teaming of Joan Crawford and John Wayne in a movie about occupied France. (Another unpleasant aspect of a wartime movie like Reunion in France is that sometimes the audience suffers a little friendly fire and becomes collateral damage.)
Crawford plays Michelle de la Becque (mainly by affecting a faint to non-existent accent) and if her character is supposed to represent all that is great about the French people then I have to wonder why we ever busted our hump to rescue them.
You see, she’s one of those fair-weather patriots who “rises” to the occasion only when the war is smacking her upside the head and her boyfriend has turned traitor. Before this, Nazis were sweeping over the rest of Europe and Michelle’s biggest concern was that she was going to have to start getting her silk imported in a diplomatic pouch or something.
The first part of the movie strenuously tries establish her character as a rich, thoughtless, self-centered jerk. This is done primarily by having her mistreat the hired help at the department store that supplies all her beautiful gowns. (Supposedly the gowns were the only positive experience for Crawford while making this film.)
Michelle has a rich fiancé named Robert Cortot who is an engineering genius. He babbles all the time about how busy he is and ships Michelle off to Spain so that he can help win the war. When the Nazis capture France, Michelle slinks back home.
This is when the movie plays the war out in a bunch of spinning newspaper headlines and scenes of Michelle stumbling around with dirt on her face amid a bunch of scurvy refugees including a little kid with a missing foot! When she gets back home, Robert is busy with the war effort, but now it’s the Nazi war effort!
Oh, Robert! Say it isn’t so! Michelle, having been a war refugee for about a week, has changed and is now a superpatriot who can barely contain her contempt for the occupying Germans that Robert introduces her to.
He takes her to a really swanky cocktail party that he’s hosting and she is shocked, just shocked that it is a Nazi dinner party! The only question I have about these Nazi dinner parties is whether they really arranged their dining tables in the shape of a swastika!
With Michelle’s new found sense of French pride, she leaves her fiancé and goes back to her own mansion. She soon discovers that the horrors of war have struck her right where she lives! The Nazis have commandeered her home for some administrative offices and now she is allowed only one room in the entire mansion!
Wayne finally appears about half way through the film as RAF pilot Pat Talbot who got shot down over France and is now on the run from the Krauts. He’s being trailed by some German agents (why don’t they just arrest him?) and he hasn’t eaten or slept in awhile when he runs into Michelle. After a little back and forth, she takes him into her place and gives him some food and a bed.
For some reason Talbot starts hitting on Michelle (isn’t he supposed to be trying to escape back to Britain?), but she’s pulling a wholly unconvincing gimmick about how there’s no time for love in war. Talbot gets in a little he-man action though when he decks the drunk and amorous Nazi that has taken over the rest of Michelle’s pad. Then she concocts a plan to get Robert (even though he’s a traitor) to help her and Talbot get out of France.
I never understood why she thought this plan would work or why she thought that Robert would want to help her after she was so unsympathetic toward his Nazi leanings. Then I didn’t understand why Robert actually did help her. But what really eluded me was why anyone would believe that John Wayne was not only a American college student, but a chauffeur as well!
The Nazis weren’t buying it either and tried to doublecross all involved, but since this is a propaganda movie, the doublecross was really on them!
A terrible, unbelievable story that makes little sense on any level and is topped off by the fact that you don’t believe anything the stars do in this movie (except for when John Wayne slugs that Nazi).
Wayne and Crawford’s scenes could have been filmed on separate sets as little as the played off one another. The film attempted to fashion a love triangle between the three main characters, but Talbot would just periodically grab and kiss Michelle or say he loved her, while she would turn her nose up at him. All the while everyone (including Michelle) figured that Robert was a dirtbag conspirator. Suffice it to say, the love triangle bit flopped along with everything else in this hasty stew of war time posturing and clichés.
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