Among the other gems in TCM's 30 Days of Oscar programming is a delightful but unfortunately little known British film from 1944, Vacation From Marriage. I can't help feeling that one reason it's little known is the stupid title, which has absolutely nothing to do with the story; the original title was "Perfect Strangers."
|Cathy provides a cup of tea despite her cold|
It's a wartime story of an average middle class couple, Robert and Cathy, living an average, rather boring life; he's a clerk in a big insurance firm, and she's a housewife. (You know they're not going to seem average for long because they're played by Robert Donat and Deborah Kerr.) He's getting to the age where he puffs a little climbing two flights of stairs to their apartment, and she potters around all morning in her woolen dressing gown, sniffling from a perpetual cold in the head.
But as the film opens, he has been drafted into the Navy, and is just about to leave. They are both worried and uncertain about this. She sees him off to training camp at the railroad station, waving a damp handkerchief as his train pulls away.
|Peter at sea|
We see Robert next experiencing his first weeks at sea, desperately trying to avoid looking at the swaying masts, and finding himself unable to dine happily on pork and beans. And he is astonished to receive a letter from his wife informing him that she has joined the WRENs, the women's Naval service.
Next we see Cathy arriving uncertainly at her training station, feeling very much out of place. Eventually she is taken under the wing of another girl, the smart and stylish Dizzy, played by Glynis Johns.
Both of them have adventures on their own -- in fact, both display a certain amount of heroism. And as the conflict goes on, both are tied up with their duties, and it so happens that they don't both get leave at the same time until three years have passed.
|Dizzy and Cathy, WRENs|
When they do finally meet again, neither is entirely pleased -- not at first -- to see how the other has changed, though anybody else would say it's for the better.
This is a wonderful story, straightforward but with hidden depths, and so charmingly played by all the lead actors. And it's more than a light, romantic comedy; it really has something to say, namely that people are stronger, and more resourceful, than they realize, and can achieve more than they thought possible.
|They meet again|
Vacation From Marriage (AKA Perfect Strangers) is going to be shown Wednesday, March 1, at 8:00 P.M. on Turner Classic Movies.