I’LL BE SEEING YOU. Selznick/Unired Artists, 1944. Ginger Rogers, Joseph Cotten, Shirley Temple, Spring Byington and Tom Tully. Adapted by Marion Parsonnet from a radio play by Charles Martin. Directed by William Diertele and George Cukor.

   Among the oddest of Christmas films, I’ll Be Seeing You offers a deceptively simple tale and makes it resonate with surprising counter-rhythms and a touch of noir.

   The plot in brief: It’s the Holidays, and Ginger Rogers is visiting relatives in a small town, but after New Year’s Day she has to go back to Prison, where she’s serving a six-year stretch for Manslaughter.

   On the train, she meets Zach Morgan (Joseph Cotten) a soldier who impulsively decides to get off at her stop and get to know her. But after the Holidays, he too must return — to a VA hospital where he’s being treated for what we now call PTSD.

   The romance that follows is built like a fragile house of cards as we see them start to build trust in each other, confidence in themselves and tentative plans for a future that just ain’t gonna happen; he’s got to go back to the Hospital (she doesn’t know it) and she must return to Prison (he doesn’t know it) and even as love grows in the holiday climate, tension builds as we wonder what will happen when they find out….

   Director Diertele heightens the drama by stressing the small town atmosphere and the loving cohesion of Ginger’s family (Tom Tully, Spring Byington and Shirly Temple at that awkward adolescent age.) Her furlough has been hard fought-for, and the depth of feeling when she reunites with her family is.. well it’s one of those moments we watch Movies for. Joseph Cotten is welcomed by her family…

   ….And then it hit me: This is the reverse side of Shadow of a Doubt (Universal, 1944 – just a year earlier!). We have Joseph Cotten once again as a man with a secret coming to a small town and ingratiating himself with an All-American Family. Only this time, Ginger is the killer, and the flashback to her crime has a haunting Woolrichesque quality to it that matches anything in Shadow.

   As I watched both films I saw how Cotten incorporated elements of one character into the other and differentiated them at the same time. Both men are charming, but Zach ‘s charm is a clumsy, off-hand thing, while Uncle Charlie’s is a practiced act. Both men wear masks, but Cotten lets Uncle Charlie’s mask slip to chilling effect, while Zach’s mask crumbles heart-wrenchingly. Watching both films back to back I gained a new appreciation of Joseph Cotten’s talent, all too rarely used and too often wasted.

   But all this is a sidebar at best. I’ll Be Seeing You is a moving if modest triumph of off-beat movie-making. A film of genuine charm and feeling. And perfect for the Christmas Season.