Is this a RomCom with a backdrop of war or is this a war film with a bit of romance to leaven it? Is this movie more about British class warfare than it is about WWII? Or is this an attempt to humanize and make intimate events that from a distance seem impersonal and anonymous?
This Above All (1942) is all of that and more. An aristocratic lady -Prudence Cathaway (Joan Fontaine)- joins the ranks of the W.A.A.F.s and meets Clive Briggs (Tyrone Power)-a man who has known abject poverty in his childhood- on a blind date. By the time Prudence learns that Clive is A.W.O.L., they've become deeply infatuated with each other. Will Clive return to uniform? With constant air raids and falling buildings, will they survive the day? Will differences in background ultimately keep them apart?
Clive is as much battling his own anti-hero thoughts as he is staving off Hitler's troops. He ponders why he fights for his country during wartime when, because of his impoverished background, his country treats him like dirt during peacetime. The upshot seems to be to win the war against a foreign enemy first so that you can correct domestic issues afterward. Otherwise there's no home to come back to. Heavy stuff.
The author of the source material for the movie -novelist Eric Knight- considered the film a diluted version of his story mainly because the hero's anti-hero thoughts are not as fully spread out as Prudence's arguments that there is a greater evil that must be fought first.
Knight was displeased with This Above All. However, after watching the cinematic adaptation of another Knight novel - Mrs. Miniver - Mr. Knight's wife noted that the film version of This Above All is less "putrid" in comparison.
I like the film. I am especially happy for Tyrone Power who, although he gets the girl as usual, he's got a part to sink his teeth into. The star sometimes despised the matinee idol looks that helped build his career because people didn't always take him seriously as an actor. Well, in This Above All, Power has plenty to work with. I hope he enjoyed playing it.
I'm also fond of the peripheral stuff surrounding the novel and film. Five months before the release of this movie, Life Magazine published a photo essay "This Above All: A War Novel in Pictures." Staff photographers from London auditioned and posed a small cast to recreate scenes from the book at the cliffs of Dover, for instance, and other places.
What they've done, really, is shot a movie in 30 frames. It's wonderful. Though it does remind me of those old photoromance books, but without the thought balloons.
Tyrone Power gets gritty again and makes tough decisions in Abandon Ship (1957).
Read When Hollywood Loved Britain: The Hollywood 'British' Film 1939-1945 By Mark Glancy