Movies about life on the home front during World War 2 are of great value to us today in terms of seeing how the average American adjusted to wartime conditions: rationing, buying war bonds, planting victory gardens, that sort of thing. Watching fathers, brothers, sons and friends ship off to another country to fight must have been harrowing, but one gets a sense that those left behind knew their loved ones were giving their lives for a just cause - unlike today, when the reasons for going to war are less clear-cut. A modern viewer may need to put any cynicism aside when watching these movies and consider the time in which they were made.
Early in his career, William Holden made a homefront movie called Dear Ruth, based on a hit play. The premise stretches credibility a bit: political activist teenager starts a pen-pal relationship, in the identity of her older sister, with a soldier overseas. When he comes to town on leave, he's eager to meet his correspondent, but of course, it's not who he thinks it is. No one wants to let him down, though, because he is a soldier in the war, so older sister maintains the ruse, to the chagrin of her fiancée.
I admit, I did not follow my own advice; I failed to turn my gimme-a-break-o-meter off. The highly idealized family presented here may have had little resemblance to reality, but in 1944 (the year the original play came out), the audience likely saw a model American family doing their patriotic duty by supporting the war and the troops.
Yes, the little sister is really fanatical about it, doing things like wearing a beret in support of France and volunteering her parents as blood donors, but that was the mentality everybody was expected to have, because this was a war that had to be fought, no question. That's hard to truly understand from the perspective of someone who grew up after Vietnam.
As a story, though, I didn't buy it because I couldn't understand why Miriam, the little sister, felt the need to use Ruth's name. (The Biblical names held no significance as far as I could tell.) Was she scared? She didn't come across that way. Did she think Ruth was lonely and needed a man? Ruth already had one, and she was going to marry him. Did Miriam make a mistake? She made it clear it was intentional. So I don't know what it was.
Plus, the fiancée kinda got a bad break. He had a right to be mad about Ruth keeping the deception up, yet he's kicked to the curb in the end for no good reason - by the father, no less. Ruth really seemed to love him in the beginning, but he's not William Holden, so he gets shoved aside.
A title card in the beginning sets Dear Ruth in "a suburb of New York," but I was pleasantly surprised to discover this actually takes place in Queens! A delivery man refers to the address in Kew Gardens. Plus, people actually take public transportation - trains and buses - so it's not like this is somewhere out on Long Island. I guess anything that wasn't Manhattan was automatically "the suburbs" back then. Whatever.