The White Cliffs of Dover (film)

The White Cliffs of Dover is a 1944 American war drama film based on the verse novel The White Cliffs by Alice Duer Miller. It was 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, with the credit for additional poetry by Robert Nathan. Nathan stated in an interview that he wrote the screenplay as 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 White Cliffs of Dover
Theatrical release poster
Directed byClarence Brown
Produced by
Screenplay by
Based onThe White Cliffs
(1940 verse novel)
by Alice Duer Miller
Music byHerbert Stothart
Edited byRobert Kern
Distributed byLoew's Inc
Release date
  • May 11, 1944 (1944-05-11) (US)
Running time
126 min.
CountryUnited States
Box office$4,045,000 (domestic)[1]
$2,249,000 (foreign)[1]


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

In 1914, Susan and her father, small-town Rhode Island newspaper publisher Hiram P. Dunn (Frank Morgan), come to Britain, intending to stay for two weeks. 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), 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, baby John, and Colonel Forsythe watch as newly arrived American troops parade through London. 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 bellicose 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.

Differences from source

The source poem has no mention of a romantic partner for Susan's son, John. The poem clearly states that John is following his father into the army, but ends with only Susan's fear that John might die in the war, not that he has even been sent to fight yet.


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.


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 military gliders to land - a premonition of the airborne attacks launched by Nazi Germany.

Box office

According to MGM records, the film was a big hit and earned $6,294,000 (equivalent to $90 million in 2018) at the box office, resulting in a profit of $1,784,000 (equivalent to $26 million in 2018).[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


  1. Glancy, H. Mark "When Hollywood Loved Britain: The Hollywood 'British' Film 1939-1945" (Manchester University Press, 1999)
  2. 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
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