World War II was quite possibly the only time in American history where the whole nation came together. Patriotism and shouting America and being an American was a prideful thought. America was a young, strong nation compared to war torn tired old Europe. It was when the “American Dream” still meant something and middle America thrived. Men were more than willing to fight for the American Dream. Obviously many did not come back home leaving their loved ones devastated. Happy Land from 1943 screams American ideals, small town values, and the happy, close knit family. Some films from the World War II era I find to be too preachy when it comes to screaming America but there is something about Happy Land that is just right.
Lew Marsh (Don Ameche) runs the popular drugstore Marsh’s in a small town in Iowa. He has a loving wife Agnes (Frances Dee) and a son named Rusty. Like most young men at the time, Rusty is off fighting in the war. He is fighting in the navy and all the customers at Marsh’s ask Lew how Rusty is doing. One day a telegram comes for Lew and Agnes telling them that their only son and child was killed in action.
For weeks Lew does not go to the store. He is rightly depressed but depressed to the point where he just sulks around the house and is despondent. The town reverend goes out to the house to speak to Lew again but Lew is having none of what the reverend has to say. While sitting outside in the backyard Lew sees what appears to be his grandfather whom he affectionately called Gramps. Gramps died twenty-years before, just a short time after Rusty was born. Gramps tells his grandson that he has come back to show him what life was like and how happy and fortunate he and Agnes were to have Rusty in their life.
Gramps first takes Lew back twenty-five years when Lew came home from World War I. Right away Lew got to work in the drugstore without even changing his uniform. That day he meets Agnes who had asked for a special kind of milkshake that Gramps would make for her. Lew thinks she is a bit odd but of course they soon fall in love and get married. They have Rusty and at the time Rusty is born Gramps gets really sick. He tells Lew as they walk around town that he was not going to die before he saw his great-grandson and he did. Gramps takes Lew through so many of his and Rusty’s life moment. Lew and Agnes were good parents to Rusty and he turned out to be a young, kind man.
Without even realizing it Lew had been out walking for three hours. When he returns home Gramps’s voice tells him to go to the drugstore. Lew goes and one of Rusty’s fellow soldiers Tony comes to the store. Rusty had told Tony that if he ever needed anything he should go to the drugstore and to his family since Tony does not have any. Lew knows Tony will never replace Rusty but they accept him because their son did. Tony tells Lew and Agnes how their son died which was trying to save another soldier’s life.
Don Ameche and Frances Dee were wonderful. I adore them both so much as actors. You feel so much more the characters and their heartbreak because their acting was so good.
Happy Land was an excellent film. Usually when a classic film from the 1940s is about the War and is all sentimental and screams America I lose interest very fast because I get annoyed. With Happy Land there was never a moment when the sentimentalism or the patriotism gets on my nerves it was so wonderfully and perfectly done. I feel this film was made for the families who lost loved ones during the war as a reminder that their sons or husbands or brothers had good lives and were loved and their sacrifice was not in vain. Happy Land is a film I highly recommend seeing as soon as you can. It is available to view in full on YouTube.