Firstly let me say i have weakness for these so called ‘Women’s pictures’ which became a genre in of their own. I was skeptical of HOMECOMING (1948) since it was a later career Clark Gable picture and I read in some biographies of how he disliked the material he received. In this instance both Clark and Lana received a gem.
HOMECOMING (1948) was Directed by Mervyn Leroy from the same studio that gave us the quintessential Hollywood coming home war picture of the forties: MGM’s THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (1946). Hollywood had a market now for this style of picture with real drama occurring during the demobilization of all countries. MGM had capitalized on the war story of Girl/boy find each other and part because of shipping out as shown by the roles of Van Johnson as the “fresh faced” soldier to the female cast next to him to the brilliant Judy Garland/ Robert Walker picture THE CLOCK (1945). What makes all those films and indeed what makes any picture of that scope work for me is the story and the ensemble that executes it.
HOMECOMING (1948) was one of the first roles Clark Gable was assigned to after the death of Carole Lombard in plane crash in 1942. The first being ADVENTURE (1945) which was touted in the poster that GABLE IS BACK AND GARSON’S GOT HIM’ followed by THE HUCKSTERS which was another “soldier home in transition’ film this time with Deborah Kerr. The main difference from all of these previous pictures being not quite successful or fulfilling for some is that HOMECOMING (1946) is not an action picture but one of the heart. I suggest its cerebral picture much like the thinking in spite of the action, seaU storms and battles that goes on in Gable/Crawford picture STRANGE CARGO (1940). Gable also gets to star against the underrated Lana Turner who worked together in HONKY TONK (1941) with whom he had better on screen chemistry.
The story is quite simply American Surgeon Ulysses Johnson (Clark Gable) is coming home from the War. As his ship nears the port of New York City the story unfolds in flashback. Ulysses is successful with huge house and wife Penny played Anne Baxter. They are childless because Ulysses never thought it was necessary or cared. He is a ruthlessly efficient surgeon who inspite good intentions reneges on promise to help college chum and fellow medical person Dr. Robert Sunday (John Hodiak) with files he wanted a consult on. Sunday visits the Johnson’s residence on the eve of Ulysses leaving for the War only to find his work has not been done. An argument ensues between the two old friends with Sunday accusing Ulysses of not caring for anything in fact going to war because its the ‘place to be”. Penny walks in ending to confrontation.
Penny and Ulysses promise not change because of the War as he goes off to do basic training. He gets assigned Nurse Lt. Jane “Snapshot” McCall (Lana Turner) and their adventure begins through Europe. The two grow close as want to happen in War yet they maintain their dignity. McCall has a Son who’s Father was killed in China years before. Ulysses writes Penny each night professing his love for his family and telling her of the hard nosed nurse. McCall even give Johnson the nickname of “Uless” in fun. Of course the inevitable happens and sparks fly but for all the right reasons and with dignity.
The picture features a lightly naughty but fun bath sequence in which McCall asks Ulysses and Lt. Col. Avery Silver (Ray Collins) to have a bath with her at near by Roman ruin. Avery begs off and both Ulysses and McCall go it alone with some amusing results.
McCall gets reassigned as per regulations. They finally kiss in the doorway of Ulysses’s tent with Turner walking into the background in a brilliant shot very reminiscent of GONE WITH THE WIND (1939).
Johnson gets leave in Paris where he meets McCall again by chance who has yet to be reassigned. The two head off in the Battle of the Bulge where they work together again. They grow close but he ‘belongs to someone else’ and their affection is unspoken till one night as they are surrounded at Bastogne when they both sadly reveal their feeling. The affection come out with words and gestures and almost a poignant admittance to their Love masterfully handled by both Gable, Turner and the choice of shots with lighting.
The story shifts to Penny Johnson and her growing belief that she has lost her husband to ‘Snap Shot’ which she confides to Dr Sunday who is a family friend. She even tries to guess which one is ‘Snap Shot’ from a picture of the unit Ulysses send home
The story changes and people change. How can one not be changed by the experience of war of operating sixteen hours a day, watching people die including personal friends like Monk (Cameron Mitchell)who delivered the Johnson’s laundry now Sgt. Monkevickz who asked Johnson to look at him before he left for the War. Canada makes it into the film when Monk (Cameron Mitchell) say he is going off to fight in the Canadian army because they are fighting now much to the belittling of his choice by Ulysses Johnson.
Lana Turner is wonderfully sensitive as the not so glamorous Nurse Lt. Jane “Snapshot” McCall. It is never explained why her character is called Snap Shot by all in the film perhaps it is her cool efficiency which her character shows in operating room situations. Turner does well in military clothes as she did before in the KEEP YOUR POWDER DRY (1945) in which she was a motor pool mechanic complete with grease. This offers Turner an chance to do what she did for years like no other and that was shed small tears very slowly without moving a facial muscle.
The cast is rounded out by wonderful rock solid John Hodiak as Dr Robert Sunday who like his name suggests is the pious center of the picture. Hodiak does well in his moments with Gable as the two spar in great give and take session. Hodiak also offers the shoulder confessor to cry on for Penny Johnson who was played by his real life wife Anne Baxter. John Hodiak when onto an all to brief career in film which is a shame due to his dark intense looks and well modulated tones could have been so much more. Hodiak passed away tragically at age forty one of a fatal heart attack.
Anne Baxter looks very inch the role of the wife. Baxter variations of this role of the unsure glamour girl like she did in this picture and in CIMMARRON (1960) as Dixie Lee. She wears the clothes well and does the mannerisms well yet leaves one with tone of unsure about her life which is exactly what the roles requires. Her tone is light in speech which changes with one crucial sentence when talking later in the film to Ulysses. Baxter is the faithful wife that Hollywood and Louis B. Mayer wanted in HOMECOMING (1960)
Life had taken its tole on Gable which is only evident in a sequence in which the lines on his face are evident during a flashback moment of both him and Penny meeting for the first time.
HOMECOMING (1960) is limited in action sequences in spite of the War going on plus there is some judicious editing of history. One cannot help but think that when one sees Ulysses Johnson wistfully or tenderly thinking on screen silently it is not Clark Gable dreaming of Carole Lombard and their years. Life and Art all in one. The picture offers a good cast with Gable, Turner, Hodiak and Baxter shining right along side THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (1946)