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I'll Be Seeing You (1944)
I'll Be Seeing You is a Christmastime curiosity, an oddly gloomy but subtly hopeful romance about two people struggling with their own surprisingly complex baggage. The film has material that attempts to lighten the mood or add a bit of charm to the proceedings, yet most of it plays out fairly passively, with director William Dieterle never quite able to generate either enough of a spark between Cotten and Rogers (as pleasant as they both are), or even much humor among the side character to really lift the spirits. At the same time, it's the film's uniquely serious premise that makes it compelling to watch even as it never completely clicks as a cohesive whole.
Individually, both Zach and Mary are compelling characters with compelling issues. The screenplay, written by Marion Parsonnet based on a play by Charles Martin, offers Zach a nice bit of backstory involving his skill as an athlete which he measures his own degraded reflexes against. When he throws a stone and can't hit a nearby lamppost with it, it doesn't mean anything to Mary, but once he explains himself, it provides a nice bit of insight his perspective on his own struggle. Mary, meanwhile, has a story that feels depressingly timely, about a creepy boss who cornered her in a room and gets pushed out a window by accident when he tries to force himself on her. Cotten and Rogers punctuate the courtship between Zach and Mary with nervous pauses and hesitant looks that add another layer to the usual nervousness associated with first dates, and both are good at illustrating how the other person is able to lure them out from behind their emotional walls.
However, the pairing of Cotten and Rogers never manages to develop beyond more than what feels like a supportive friendship. Whether it's simply an issue with the stars' chemistry, or perhaps the weight of their individual problems mutes the mood, but there's a thoroughly sexless energy between the two of them that never develops even as Dieterle has both performers turn on the charm. Honestly, the best relationship in the movie is between Mary and her cousin Barbara. When Mary first arrives, Barbara is suspicious and curious about Mary's manslaughter charge, and often says callous things without thinking about it. When Mary takes the brunt of these microaggressions without complaint, Barbara does a 180 on her opinion of Mary. The commentary notes that Temple was looking for a more adult role, and it's true that the film paints her character as an excited kid, but it's a role that Temple imbues with an infectious excitement.
Between the two characters' backstories, Zach's provides more opportunities for Dieterle to imbue the movie with some stylistic flourishes, including an unexpectedly terrifying dog attack, followed by a night of sweat-drenched panic. When a waiter temporarily corners Zach and won't shut up about his own history with the Army, Dieterle manages to generate an intensity he struggles to create elsewhere. That's not to say the flashback sequence illustrating Mary's crime is done hastily by comparison, but Mary is not tormented by the memory in quite the same way that Zach is. At all other times, Dieterle's style is unintrusive and straightforward, allowing conversations between Zach and Mary to play out uninterrupted. On one hand, it shows he's got confidence in his performers, but on the other it's never very romantic -- perhaps the film could've used a pair of directors that tackled the screenplay's intentionally opposing tones.
As is the norm with Kino Lorber Studio Classics Blu-rays, they've stuck with the original poster artwork for the cover here, cropped to fit the smaller frame. The rest of the artwork uses their very sparse template of black backdrop, white text, and a couple of photos. The one-disc release comes in a Viva Elite Blu-ray case (non-eco), with a booklet inside the case advertising other KLSC releases.
The Video and Audio
Kino's 1.33:1 1080p AVC presentation of I'll Be Seeing You looks particularly nice, with excellent fine detail and depth that matches the sort of aggressively promoted work done by Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox on major films. The one minor difference between those sorts of headline remasters and this is the presence of some extremely minor print damage that crops up throughout. Contrast appears excellent and there is a nice healthy grain field. Sound is an impressively dynamic DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono track that balances the dialogue and music nicely without age-related issues or distortion. Although the film is mostly straightforward, there is one sequence, where Zach suffers a particularly debilitating psychological episode, where the mix even gets a chance to show off a little. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing are also included.
One extra has been produced for this release, an audio commentary by film historians Kat Elinger and Samm Deighan. The two introduce themselves one after another, but it's ambiguous about whether or not the two were actually recorded at the same time, with the pair handing off cleanly to one another, and with both offering up details that have a composed air that suggests they've been prepared in advance. Deighan elaborates at length on the political and social "purpose" of films in the same genre with respect to both soldiers and the war effort as well as women's changing role in society, the tone of the film, and how I'll Be Seeing You stands out a bit against some of its contemporaries, while Elinger tends to speak more extensively about the careers and history of the cast and crew. A very informative and engaging commentary.
An original theatrical trailer for I'll Be Seeing You is also included.
While I'll Be Seeing You doesn't quite deliver on its central premise, it's also easy to understand why anyone who enjoys it can't really settle for anything else. The film's unique premise creates a tone I can't ever remember seeing in another film. Kino's Blu-ray looks and sounds excellent and comes with a very good commentary track, so consider this one-of-a-kind film to be recommended, warts and all.
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