As many of you know the wartime film “Since You Went Away” (1944) is one of my all time favorite movies.
It has everything: An excellent cast filled with cameos, poignant moments, and magnificent camera work. But one of my favorite things about the film is the Hilton’s English Bulldog Soda.
The movie revolves around Ann Hilton (Claudette Colbert), her two daughters Jane and Bridget (Jennifer Jones and Shirley Temple), their boarder Col. Smollett (Monty Wooley) and a slew of other characters that move in and out of their lives. However, though Soda is just their pet, he still plays an instrumental role in the film-he even has his own theme music during the movie. When ever Soda has an appearance, a little tune is played by an oboe.
Soda seems to respond or foreshadow the main characters emotions throughout the film.
A few examples:
•When we enter the film, Ann is coming back from seeing Mr. Hilton off to fight in the war. Soda is lying sadly, flat on the floor in front of his Mr. Hilton’s favorite chair. One of his owners has left him. Jane and Bridget come home from school and Mrs. Hilton tries to put on a happy front for them. But her daughters start to cry, because they realize nothing will be the same without their dad. At this moment, Soda trots into the room-sensing his family is sad and he needs to be with them. Soda hops up on to Mr. Hilton’s bed and rests his head on his master’s robe.
•Another moment the girls are gathered around their mother as she reads a letter from Mr. Hilton. Soda is laying near the chair with her as if he is listening too.
•The Hilton’s rent the master bedroom to a boarder while trying to make ends meet without Mr. Hilton’s salary. Col. Smollett ends up renting the room. Smollett is very particular- he wants his eggs boiled exactly at 2.5 minutes and is irritated by the laundry hanging in the bathroom-among other things. It comes to no surprise that he has a low tolerance for dogs. So of course, Soda attaches himself to Smollett, much to his dismay. The Colonel announces his displeasure for the dog right when he comes into the house.
Soda growls and barks at Col. Smollett as he starts to put his belongings in the room, most likely saying, “This is my master’s bedroom, you shouldn’t be here.” When Smollett is about to go to bed, Soda is laying on Mr. Hilton’s bed and Col. Smollett says, “That monstrous animal seems to have attached himself to this bed.”
Soda is protecting his family against this strange man in their household, but Soda gets more friendly towards Col. Smollett-as Smollett does towards Soda. At first he complains about the dog and doesn’t like how Soda follows him around. At his birthday party, Soda begs for cake beside Smollett’s chair. During a game of charades at the Christmas party, Smollet is lying on the floor, and Soda walks up and starts licking him on the face. Though Col. Smollett won’t admit it, he likes Soda’s company towards the end of the movie and even calls him when its time to go to bed.
•Soda seems to be in tune with what is going on around him and his family. Like I mentioned earlier, he is aware when his master has left, but he is also aware when Mr. Hilton is in danger. Mrs. Hilton receives bad news about her husband from the War Department. That night, she sits in her husband’s chair and looks through their scrap book which includes a dance card from the night they were engaged, the horoscope for the day they were married and their daughter’s birth announcements. As Ann Hilton starts to cry, Soda trots into the room, puts his front paws on the chair and she hugs Soda as she sobs.
On Christmas Eve, Mrs. Hilton gets a telephone call with a cable gram message containing good news about her husband. As Mrs. Hilton happily calls out to her daughters that their father is coming home, Soda perks up from his spot in bed with Col. Smollett, barks and runs to join his family.
Though several of Soda’s scenes are rather emotional, Soda also offers a good bit of comic relief. Some of the funny scenes are when he is bothering Col. Smollett. My personal favorite is when Soda is sitting on the front lawn and the sprinkler turns on, he runs away and shakes himself. Unfortunately, the scene directly after this is when Mrs. Hilton gets a message from the War Department. Soda’s water sprinkler scene gives us a false sense of security and happiness with the Hilton family, but also offering a funny moment before we receive bad news.
Though Soda isn’t the star of “Since You Went Away,” his performance is as enjoyable as the cameos of Guy Madison, Keenan Wynn and Lionel Barrymore. He is my personal favorite movie dog, and I’d like to name a dog ‘Soda’ after him. Soda is aware of his surroundings and family’s emotion during wartime and tries to take care of them.
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