The White Cliffs of Dover (film)

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The White Cliffs of Dover
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Clarence Brown
Produced by
Screenplay by
Based on "The White Cliffs"
(1940 poem) 
by Alice Duer Miller
Music by Herbert Stothart
Edited by Robert Kern
Distributed by MGM
Release dates
  • May 11, 1944 (1944-05-11) (USA)
Running time
126 min.
Country United States
Language English
Budget $2,342,000[1][2]
Box office $4,045,000 (domestic)[1]
$2,249,000 (foreign)[1]

The White Cliffs of Dover is a 1944 film made by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, directed by Clarence Brown and produced by Clarence Brown and Sidney Franklin. The screenplay was by Claudine West, Jan Lustig and George Froeschel, based on the Alice Duer Miller poem titled The White Cliffs with the credit of additional poetry by Robert Nathan. Nathan stated in an interview that he wrote the screenplay in his first work as a contract writer for MGM but the studio credited Claudine West who died in 1943 as a tribute to her.[3] The role of Betsy was shared. Betsy as a little girl at age 10 was played by Elizabeth Taylor and Betsy as a young woman was played by June Lockhart.

Plot summary[edit]

At the height of World War II, Lady Susan Ashwood (Irene Dunne) is a nurse in a British hospital, awaiting the arrival of some wounded men. She thinks back to how she came to Britain many years before.

In 1914, Susan and her father Hiram P. Dunn (Frank Morgan) (publisher of a small-town newspaper) come to Britain, intending to stay a week. Old Colonel Forsythe (C. Aubrey Smith) introduces Susan to Sir John Ashwood (Alan Marshal), a baronet and one of the landed gentry, with an estate and manor house. They fall in love, and despite some friction over her being American, they marry.

Their honeymoon is cut short when World War I breaks out. John is also an army officer; he rejoins his regiment and goes to war in France. Susan and John's mother, Lady Jean (Gladys Cooper) must wait for news, good or bad. John's brother Reggie (John Warburton) is killed in action. John finally gets a chance to be with Susan for a few days in France, which they spend in Dieppe. During their stay, the United States declares war on Germany.

Lady Susan returns to Britain and has a son, also named John. She, and baby John, and Colonel Forsythe watch together as newly-arrived American troops parade through London. The war ends, but tragically, John is killed near the end of the fighting, never having seen his wife again, or his son.

Susan and young John (Roddy McDowall) live in the Ashwood manor house with Lady Jean. Having inherited the baronetcy, he is addressed as "Sir John", even as a boy, and takes seriously his duties as proprietor of the manor. He develops a childhood infatuation with Betsy Kenney (Elizabeth Taylor), daughter of a tenant farmer. Young John invites two visiting German boys to the manor for tea. The German boys shock the Ashwoods by spouting Nazi-like militaristic sentiments.

Susan becomes afraid that there will be another war, and that she will lose young John as she lost his father. After Lady Jean dies, she decides to sell the manor and take John to America. But when she tells him why, John refuses, insisting that he will go into the army as his father did, and fight for Britain if war comes. Susan changes her mind and they stay in Britain.

World War II begins, and Sir John (now played by Peter Lawford) becomes an officer, while his sweetheart Betsy (now played by June Lockhart) becomes a Wren.

The flashback ends, as wounded men arrive at Susan's hospital. To Susan's horror, John is among them, severely wounded. Later, in the wards, a doctor tells Susan John is dying. John tells her he was wounded in fighting at Dieppe, and of an American soldier who died near him. He speaks of the importance of winning a complete victory and a lasting peace. At that moment, American soldiers again parade through London, passing by the hospital. Susan proudly describes them to John, as he dies.



In a scene set in the early 1930s, adolescent German boys visit the Ashwood estate. One of the boys remarks that the estate's large lawns would be ideal for troop gliders to land on - a premonition of the airborne attacks launched by Nazi Germany.

Box Office[edit]

According to MGM records, the film was a big hit and earned $6,294,000 at the box office, resulting in a profit of $1,784,000.[2]

The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Cinematography in Black and White.


White Cliffs of Dover was adapted as a radio play on the September 18, 1946 episode of Academy Award Theater, starring Irene Dunne in her original film role.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Glancy, H. Mark "When Hollywood Loved Britain: The Hollywood 'British' Film 1939-1945" (Manchester University Press, 1999)
  2. ^ a b The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study .
  3. ^ "Robert Nathan interview" in Davis, Ronald L. Words into Images: Screenwriters on the Studio System Univ. Press of Mississippi, 2007. p.42

External links[edit]