“Such a nice young thing. Not a bit like an American.”
Going into The White Cliffs of Dover I was expecting the most sappy, over dramatic love story that was most likely going to be alright with the only saving grace being Irene Dunne in the lead role. Yes the film is very dramatic and romantic but it is so sentimental, happy, sad, and tragic.
The story of the film is told through a flashback of a woman who is working as a nurse during World War II named Susan Ashwood (Dunne). In 1914 before World War I started Susan along with her father Hiram Dunn (Frank Morgan) travel to England for vacation. As the ship is nearing the dock in London she can see the white cliffs of the island of Dover. Upon seeing the cliffs for the first time she cries she cannot believe the beauty that is before her eyes.
Susan has a fantastic time in London even though the whole time people keep commenting on how un-American her actions, speech, and mannerisms are. Her father is very stubborn and ignorant towards the British he cannot wait for their week in the city to be over so they can go home to their small American town. Before they are set to leave Susan is invited to a ball where the only way she can get in is to pretend she is an Australian cousin of someone she knows. At the party a young man named Sir John Ashwood comes up to her thinking she is of Australian nobility. As the party progresses and ends the two fall in love. John takes her through bits and pieces of London and Susan is totally taken with him and the city.
John and Susan eventually marry but not long after their marriage World War I breaks out and John must join his regiment. Susan and John’s mother wait on pins and needles to hear from him. The last time Susan sees John is when the wives of English soldiers are allowed to travel to France to see their husbands who have been away for more than two years. The reunion is happy but full of sadness not knowing what the future holds.
Susan kept saying that she wanted America to join the War so that it could end and John can come home. When the Americans finally do enter the War they march through London Susan holds up her son who at the time is only three months old and tells him that they are his people as well since he is part Yankee and that he has witnessed the greatest men of them all march through London and that they will bring his father home. Unfortunately the Americans join the fight too late, John dies for his country. Susan is so distraught she takes her son and promises that no matter what he will not fight in any army British or American that he will never have to sacrifice his life for what she sees as something so stupid.
John Jr. grows up and when he is still a young boy Susan wants to take him back to American. The young boy stops the trip when he innocently and passionately says that he wants to be like his father and fight for his country he is not scared to do so.
Back in the present Susan hears that there are men coming in from battle and waits to see if her son could possibly be one of the wounded. He is and the outcome is not good for him. As Susan stands with her son the Americans are marching in just as they did twenty-five years previous.
I cannot even describe to you how heartbreaking and amazing this film is. I was damn near crying so many times it was nuts. Irene Dunne is the reason why this film is so amazing. For the life of me I do not understand why she was not nominated and how she did not win an Academy Award. Dunne was a fabulous actress to begin with but in this film she was just utter perfection. I am so used to seeing her in her comedic roles that seeing her dramatic just blew me away. She was not over the top in any sense of the word. When watching Dunne in The White Cliffs of Dover you are not just watching an actress it is as if Susan Ashwood was a real caring and loving widow and mother. I will never ever stop being confused as to why she is not well known today and why she is so underrated. Irene Dunne is one of the best actresses ever.
The older John Ashwood is played by Alan Marshal who I have never seen in a film before but liked him so much it was so sad to see him go so soon. The young John Jr. is played by Roddy MacDowell and at the end by a young Peter Lawford. Seeing Lawford playing Dunne’s son seemed a bit odd but she was twenty-five years older than him. Frank Morgan will always be the Wizard from The Wizard of Oz but he is always a good time to see in other films. He was funny always screaming out how Americans were better than the British. Elizabeth Taylor has a small part in the film as a little girl who lives on the Ashwood land with her family and whom John Jr. regularly visits.
I cannot even pinpoint the best scene of the film because they are all so fantastic. I liked the scene when Susan has gone back to the hotel after taking John to the train to rejoin his regiment at the front. There is a bandstand outside the room and all the people outside start shouting and become all excited. American has entered the War and the band starts to play the Star Spangled Banner. The only thing I really did not like was the back and forth about the Americans and the Brits. I love the Brits too much and I think I become more upset if someone says something nasty about them than if someone says something nasty about Americans (I am such a good American right?).
At no point during The White Cliffs of Dover was I ever bored or wanted it to end. Let me tell you that with me that rarely happens when I watch any kind of movie. I can just gush forever and ever about how incredible this film is (even if it is one big shout of American propaganda) but just take it from me The White Cliffs of Dover is one of the best films ever made.