Not every war film produced by Hollywood during World War II revolved around the men who served in combat. There were also films that focused on the vital role women were playing during the global conflict, including dramas about military nurses who risked their lives taking care of the wounded soldiers, and about the women who tried to keep their families together or worked in factories while the men were in the Pacific and European theaters. There was even a memorable film starring four actresses based on their own experiences entertaining the troops.
So in the spirit of Memorial Day, here’s a look at some of the films that captured the bravery and sacrifices women made on the war front and on the home front.
‘So Proudly We Hail’
Claudette Colbert, Paulette Goddard and Veronica Lake -- three of the biggest stars of the day -- headline this patriotic 1943 Paramount drama about military nurses who are stationed in the Philippines in 1942 where the Allies had two of their worst defeats on the islands of Bataan and Corregidor.
Directed by Mark Sandrich, who did most of the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musicals, and penned by Allan Scott, the film is based on “I Served on Bataan” by Juanita Hipps, a nurse who served in the Pacific and managed to escape Corregidor before its surrender. Even the hard-to-please New York Times critic Bosley Crowther said the film gave audiences “a shattering impression of the tragedy of Bataan.” Goddard earned an Oscar nomination for supporting actress. A trailer that featured the Army Nurses Corps appealing for volunteers ran with the movie.
‘Cry ‘Havoc’ ’
MGM’s 1943 nurses-in-war drama was based on Allan Kenward’s play “Proof Through the Night” and revolves around a group of nurses also stationed at Bataan. The women are a mixture of professional caregivers as well as volunteer civilians with varying degree of expertise. Like “So Proudly,” the film doesn’t shy from depicting how these nurses put themselves in harm’s way. A nurse dies during an attack by the Japanese on a hospital; another is lost for three days and is found in a state of shock. And in the end, they have to surrender to Japanese forces. Margaret Sullavan, Ann Sothern, Joan Blondell and Fay Bainter are among the stars.
Ginger Rogers turns on the tears in this 1943 melodrama as a young woman working in a defense plant while her husband (Robert Ryan) serves in the military. Having a difficult time facing his absence and raising their child on her own, she asks her co-workers to pool their resources and rent a house together. The film struck a chord with Rosie the Riveters and married women who were keeping the home fires burning while their men were away at war.
“Tender Comrade” was a commercial hit, but just four years later its screenwriter, Dalton Trumbo, and director, Edward Dmytryk, were blacklisted as communists by the House Un-American Activities Committee. This film was given as an example of their communist leanings, especially in its scenes of communal living, the use of the word “Comrade” in the title and such lines of dialogue as “share and share alike, that’s democracy.”
‘Four Jills in a Jeep’
A whole platoon of stars entertained the troops both in Europe and in the Pacific, including Bob Hope and Marlene Dietrich. Kay Francis, Martha Raye, Carole Landis and Mitzi Mayfair went on a five-month USO tour starting in 1942 -- they were part of the “Feminine Theatrical Task Force” -- and performed in England, Bermuda, Africa and Ireland. They were in four air raids, survived an earthquake and illness.
Landis, who nearly died of an infection after her appendix was removed, wrote a book about their adventures. And in 1944, the woman starred as themselves in a musical-comedy-drama that fictionalized their stories. Though there’s more fluff than substance, the film features terrific musical numbers from Carmen Miranda, Alice Faye, Betty Grable and Dick Haymes.