Tuesday, July 31

Home Before Dark: Favorite Movie #32

1958 Drama
From Warner Bros
Directed by Mervyn LeRoy

Jean Simmons
Dan O'Herlihy
Rhonda Fleming
Efrem Zimbalist Jr.
Mabel Albertson
Steve Dunne
Joanna Barnes
Joan Weldon
Kathryn Card

She made very few films that were unworthy of her immense talent.  A contrasting and quite true statement, however, is that this is the best acting job she ever pulled off.  She is, of course, Jean Simmons, whom I outlined in a previous posting.  I was too eager to wait for this review before gushing about one of my ten most favorite actresses of all time so I did that posting on her.  Once said, despite this film being her personal best and it being on my 50 Favorite Films list, it is not my favorite Jean Simmons film.  You
will need to wait for my top ten to hear about that one.  For you super movie enthusiasts, those of you with trivia running through your veins, I can tell you it was made the same year as this one.  So what was it?  Whatever, it was a very good year for Simmons.  Only two years later, in 1960, she would have another indelible year when she made Elmer Gantry and Spartacus.

Other than the presence of Miss Simmons, this film was special to me because it depicted love and its many faces, jealousy (my opinion of which I covered in my review of Leave Her to Heaven), mental illness and smalltown snobbery.  I would drool over any of those individually in a film but all together?  I am so there.

Filmed in black and white to aid you in the bleakness of the situation, we see Arnold, a college professor, enter the front doors of a mental hospital.  He is picking up his wife who has been there for a year.  We soon learn that Charlotte became somewhat unhinged at that time and needed to be hospitalized.

About to leave, the doctor grabs Arnold to bring him up-to-date on Charlotte, what she's gone through, how she's done, how she's likely to do.  He asks if the home Arnold and Charlotte return to still houses her stepsister Joan and Inez, Joan's mother, who was once married to Charlotte's father.  Arnold answers yes.  The doctor says for Charlotte's best recovery, she should not return to the same situation that precipitated the problem in the first place.  Ignoring him, Arnold asks if they should sleep apart.  The doctor says no and adds "unless she feels she needs to be alone."  We know that Arnold is going to ignore that as well.

What Arnold does not ignore is his job and climbing up the social ladder .  He also does not ignore Joan.  It is apparent, too, that Arnold is unavailable and so cold to Charlotte that it borders on being sinister. 

What sent Charlotte off the deep end in the first place was the jealous suspicion that Arnold and Joan were having an affair and that they lied to Charlotte when she questioned them about it.

For an audience it doesn't take long to see that nothing has changed and something has to change or the hospital is going to be revisited, something Charlotte clearly does not want.

Through her treatment she came to learn that she was suffering with some delusions but that was now history.  The real drama unfolds as Charlotte now starts thinking that she was right in the first place and that her husband and sister are continuing their behavior right under her again-suspicious eyes.  The realization of this, of course, threatens her way of life and we see what a slippery slope it is climbing back up to wellness.

She has a dark moment toward the end of the film that certainly remains very memorable for anyone who has ever seen it.  How it all turns out, if you don't know, is up to you to find out.  (It wasn't long ago that this film was produced on a DVD for the first time.)  But I can tell you the final 10 minutes and two or three scenes are well worth the journey getting there.

It would be a blight on the Hollywood landscape to forget in any way the fine films directed by Mervyn LeRoy.  As a former actor himself, he had an ability to coax the best out of his actors and is responsible for overseeing such films as Waterloo Bridge (1940), Madame Curie (1943), Thirty Seconds over Tokyo (1944), Little Women and East Side, West Side, (both 1949), Quo Vadis? (1952), Mister Roberts (1955), The Bad Seed (1956) and Gypsy (1962).  Dramas, comedies and musicals were all well-served by LeRoy and fans of any of those films know what he could get those actors to do.  He, too, knew the types of films he wanted made with his imprint and Home Before Dark is most beholden to his special touch.

Dan O'Herlihy and Rhonda Fleming

Along with Simmons, both Irish actor Dan O'Herlihy and Hollywood beauty, Rhonda Fleming, turned in dazzling performances.  While I do not wish to fault O'Herlihy whatsoever,  I think this generally overlooked film suffered because a more well-known name was not cast as Arnold.  This is but one more time that I see James Mason in a part he did not play.

Fleming, known for flaming red hair in many a Technicolor B-film (but Saturday matinee specials for me... and I have around 9-10 of her films in my collection) had to go blonde for the part (as did the brunette Simmons) and then no Technicolor.  What was she thinking?  Whatever induced her to accept the secondary female part, become a blonde and play a rather unsympathetic role... I say, good on you, Rhonda.  You're not only beautiful but brainy.  

Even Mabel Albertson, a character actress probably only known to the more serious filmgoer, was so wonderful as the talkative stepmother.

What I liked about the Efrem Zimbalist role was that it was this character that serves almost as a narrator of sorts.  He explains the action or someone's behavior, offers no judgments of Charlotte and serves as a reminder of the need for calm and reason.  Zimbalist always could inhabit such a part with believability.

Other than excellent acting and direction, I loved the sets and town that is supposed to be Cape Marble, MA.  They looked and felt authentic and certainly added to the intended sense of gloom.  The original story was written by a woman and I am guessing this is her story.  The screenplay was written by the same woman and a man (her husband?) and done with incisiveness and authenticity, rich in nuance and sprinkled with loving touches.

I think the people involved in Home Before Dark should be proud of that involvement.  I am proud to count it among my favorites.

Next Posting:  Kim Novak


  1. Mabel Albertson is arguably best known as the mother of Darren Stevens on TV's "Bewitched." I've seen her in a couple of film roles -- including, I think "Barefoot in the Park", but I Bewitched has to be her most known work, IMHO.

  2. Thanks for the reminder. I had forgotten about "Bewitched." I would agree that it would be her best known television work, but I think if she were alive, she would agree her best film work was "Home Before Dark." Thanks for writing.