Here we are three days before Christmas and I have one more movie for the holiday season. It seems to be almost poetic that we end with this film because it has something in common with my other favorite under appreciated Christmas movie, REMEMBER THE NIGHT (which was the movie that started us off for holiday movies). I’LL BE SEEING YOU is not a movie that I had heard of before but I recently came across this post by SisterCelluloid. She described this movie so beautifully that I had to set my DVR and watch it for myself. And thank goodness (and SisterCelluloid) I did!
In a train station at Christmas time men and women bustle to and fro, soldiers and sailors on leave chat, buy souvenirs, and rush to catch their trains. Amidst all this chaos two people drift, just slightly out of sync with the rest of the people around them. Mary Marshall (Ginger Rogers) and Sgt. Zachary Morgan (Joseph Cotten) are each passengers on the train to Pine Hill, on board which they meet. Each carries with them a secret, one that makes them social outcasts. Zachary suffers from shell shock and has been living at the military hospital. The doctors there have granted him a Christmas vacation away from the hospital to prove to him that he is getting well and will eventually be able to return to the real world. Mary is an inmate at the Women’s Prison and is on furlough for Christmas, traveling to visit with her relatives. Of course neither one shares their secret with the other. Mary pretends that she is a traveling sales girl and Zachary claims he is going to see his sister. As the train pulls into the station the two disembark together. Mary climbs into her cab and Zachary asks her name and the address where she will be staying. He tells her he plans to call her, which Mary happily agrees to and the two part company. Zachary goes to the local YMCA and Mary arrives at the house of her Aunt Sarah (Spring Byington), Uncle Henry (Tom Tully), and cousin Barbara (Shirley Temple).
Mary finds herself welcomed with open arms, at least by Aunt Sarah and Uncle Henry. Barbara, with whom she is sharing a room, is friendly but there are not so subtle slights such as separate soaps for each of them and towels marked by names. Mary notes these slights but makes no mention of them, feeling that it is almost her due because of her situation. She feels out-of-place in the world having lost three years inside the prison. She laments to Aunt Sarah her loss of youthful dreams such as having a husband and a child, a home of her own. She feels that she is out of sync with the rest of the people around her, and she regrets not having something purposeful or meaningful in her life because of her prison sentence. With three years left to serve it doesn’t seem to Mary that these are things that will change any time soon. And then the telephone rings. It is Zachary and he is calling to speak with Mary. He asks her to come out with him as he has found that his sister is not in town, so he will be all alone. Mary counters and invites him to dinner, much to Barbara’s delight.
Dinnertime arrives and so does Zachary, and he is instantly made to feel at home. Barbara is terribly excited to have a soldier over for dinner and it is all Aunt Sarah can do to get her back into the kitchen to help. Zachary privately confides to Mary that he doesn’t really have a sister in town, he simply got off the train to keep seeing Mary. Before Mary can respond to this news dinner is served, and conversation turns to Zachary and his many medals. Barbara notes that he has been awarded the Purple Heart and wonders how he was wounded. In order to change the subject Aunt Sarah asks Zachary about his sister but just as he is about to tell the truth about his pretend sister, Mary steps in and backs up his story. All forgiven, Mary and Zachary leave to attend a war movie. During the film Zachary can barely look at the screen and after he is evasive when answering Mary’s questions about his time in the war. But, he happily notes, Mary is the first person that he feels comfortable enough with to talk about his experiences. He is feeling so good that he suggests that they go and get a drink at a local soda fountain. While there they are served by a soda jerk who was a soldier in the First World War. He relates to them the story of his own experience with shell shock that has left him with a facial tic. Zachary becomes more and more uncomfortable during his story, until he finally rushes from the booth and out into the night air. Mary follows and Zachary apologizes for his behavior but he is unable to tell her the truth behind his emotional reaction.
Back home Mary finds Barbara still awake, writing letters to serve as morale boosters to her list of soldiers. As Mary goes to put her coat in the closet she finds that Barbara has divided the closet, keeping her belongings separate from Mary’s. Sensing Barbara’s distrust, Mary relates to her the real story of why she was sent to prison. For those who haven’t seen this movie, I”m not going to spoil this part here. It is a big reveal and pretty shocking, deserving of the surprise the filmmakers intended. I think that those who have seen this movie would agree with me. After learning the truth, Barbara begs Mary for forgiveness and the two cousins make a fresh start.
The next day Zachary calls on Mary and invites her out to the lake. He wants to explain his behavior from the night before and reveals his condition to her. He is most afraid of ending up like the soda jerk and becomes frustrated because he knows himself better than the doctors do. They tell him that he is doing just fine, but he knows his timing and his rhythms and something is still off. He asks Mary to help him believe in himself just as she believes in herself. Mary agrees but is distracted because while they have been walking they have gotten closer and closer to the state line. She encourages Zachary to have faith while subtly steering him away from the border. Once home she confides in her Aunt Sarah, wondering if she shouldn’t just tell Zachary the truth about her situation. She feels that Zachary is beginning to care for her, and she obviously cares for him (even if she denies it) so that it might be for the best to be honest. However, Aunt Sarah advises against it wondering what good would it do as Mary is only on furlough for a few more days and after all “it isn’t as if they were getting married”. Mary sadly agrees but things take a turn when Zachary invites the entire family to the YMCA for a New Year’s dance.
This is such a wonderful movie, I really hope it becomes more well-known. Ginger Rogers is terrific and shows every reason why she is an Oscar award-winning actress. Too often I think Ginger Rogers gets pushed aside and categorized simply as a dancer or Fred Astaire’s partner, but she was an extremely talented actress. I liked her in KITTY FOYLE, for which she won said Oscar, but I LOVED her in this. Mary is guarded, sad, grateful, loving, and fragile. The emotions she shows feel honest and real, and it never feels like acting. Joseph Cotten is wonderful, really showing a different side of himself. I’m used to seeing him in roles such as GASLIGHT or THE STRANGER, roles where he is completely self-possessed and confident. But as Zachary Morgan, he shows such a vulnerability and brokenness that he seems to be a different man altogether. Together, he and Ginger are just magic. It’s more than just chemistry, it’s believability. You honestly feel that these are two real people and you are simply watching their lives unfold. I loved this movie and I hope to find a copy for my own collection soon, which is a bit difficult as it is out of print. Hopefully it gains a larger audience, especially now that TCM has added it to the rotation. This might be a Christmas movie, but it is a film that is beautiful, poignant, and touching any time of year.