THIS ABOVE ALL (Anatole Litvak, 1942)

Sanitizing Eric Knight’s novel, whose title and content predictably misread Polonius as Shakespeare, Anatole Litvak’s This Above All balances wartime romance and wartime propaganda. It’s the most charming, entertaining Hollywood film about the British homefront during the Second World War.
     Prudence, although an aristocrat, enlists in the ranks of the WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force); she meets and falls in love with deserter Clive Briggs, who totes a working-class chip on his shoulder. Why fight for a nation so riddled with class division, when even winning the war will not improve Clive’s lot? Prudence, a patriot, insists that England must win the war. After he and Pru have married, Clive sets the film’s politics to “acceptable” by reasoning that Pru’s war must be fought and won first, but after that his war must be fought and won. The victim of a German bombing raid, Clive looks ahead to a future of social equality and political equity from what is likely his deathbed in hospital.
     As wartime romance, this film is far, far better than Mervyn LeRoy’s World War I-set Random Harvest. It is also better in every way than William Wyler’s Mrs. Miniver—for instance, in its much more rattling and terrifying portrait of the German bombing that ordinary people endured. Both the LeRoy and Wyler films came out the same year as the Litvak, with Wyler’s winning the best picture Oscar and LeRoy’s being nominated. This Above All was not nominated.
     Joan Fontaine’s performance as Prudence is piercing and heart-walloping—an emotional powerhouse. Tyrone Power, who plays Clive, is at his best here. However, Power draws an (explosive) inadvertent laugh when Clive refers to a “deep” feeling of his. Power (like his reincarnation/facsimile, Tom Cruise) had no “depth.”
     R.C. Sherriff wrote the script.

One thought on “THIS ABOVE ALL (Anatole Litvak, 1942)

  1. Thank you for an insightful, mostly positive review of this very fine film. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been commercially released, so it is little known by the general public, unless they are fortunate enough to have Fox Movie Channel. For this reason, I was happy to see a positive recommendation, for those who might be able to catch it on a television broadcast.

    I like all three films that you mention in your review – This Above All, Mrs. Miniver, and Random Harvest. I agree, though, that This Above All is the best of the three and should have been considered for an Oscar nomination. I enjoyed both the book and the movie, This Above All. I am glad, however, that the movie gave it more of a happy ending than did the novelist.

    The one aspect of your review that I feel is off-the-mark is where you compare Tyrone Power to Tom Cruise and say that he “had no depth”. Tyrone Power was really quite a fine actor, as he showed in many roles. He gave fine dramatic performances in such movies as Nightmare Alley, The Sun Also Rises, and Blood and Sand. He showed a comedic flare in movies such as The Mark of Zorro and Luck of the Irish. I think that some critics often gloss over his acting ability because they see him more as a handsome matinee idol. While he was indeed a handsome matinee idol, he was much more than that, as he showed in countless movies. I’ve read much about his incredible stage performances, where he got his highest praise as an actor. It’s too bad that those could not have been captured on video for fans to enjoy and to see what a truly good actor he was.

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