From Metro Goldwyn Mayer
Directed by Vincente Minnelli
As a teenager I was raring to go to see this film back in 1960. It had that family dynamic that I was drawn to and it was about southerners which also captured my fancy. If that weren't enough, it starred two of my favorite actors, Robert Mitchum and Eleanor Parker. Of course, I just watched it again and it is still as meaningful and vibrant to me today as it was 55 years ago.
It opens with powerful Texan Wade Hunnicutt getting shot while hunting. He is saved from death by his illegitimate son, Rafe, whose importance in Wade's life the father barely recognizes. The culprit is a young man whose wife has been sleeping with Wade. It seems a lot of wives have slept with the town's richest, most powerful and most egotistical resident.
Wade lives on a plantation with his beautiful wife, Hannah, a woman who left their bedroom when she first found out about Rafe. It may be that she could have turned away from his cheating but she could not endure the public humiliation. The Hunnicutt family was nothing if not proud. Hannah planned to leave Wade but decided to stay with him when they struck a deal. He would maintain a hands-off policy on raising their son, Theron. The boy would be hers alone. Wade reluctantly agreed. They both knew she didn't want to be the ex-Mrs. Anybody.
A few of the men of the town call Theron Hannah's boy and have good-natured fun with him like sending him on wild-goose chases seeking imaginary prey. One day Wade looks around 17-year old Theron's room, a place he'd rarely visited, and decides it's the room of a boy. He determines it's high time to turn the boy into a man. Living in their town means he will show Theron the path to becoming a hunter. He tells his son that hunting is not for the game but for the cunning, courage and endurance. What every man hunts is himself, he says.
Hannah, of course, bitterly reminds Wade of his long-ago promise but he tells her he's changed his mind. He feels entitled to change their agreement because, after all, he's the man of the house. He feels Hannah has done a good job in raising the boy but at the same time he's displeased that she has turned Theron into a mama's boy.
Theron goes along with Wade because he is enticed by his father's sudden attention and the shiny promise of becoming a man. The father tells the son, after some shooting lessons, to take their hunting dogs and go on a hunt to kill a boar that has been making a nuisance of himself. This hunt might be called a highlight of the movie and, according to Minnelli, was the most difficult segment to film.
As Theron is growing up he becomes involved with Libby, whose father hates the Hunnicutts. If that's not bad enough that Theron feels such rejection, mainly because of his own father's reputation, one day his mother tells him that Wade is Rafe's father and Theron becomes unhinged. It's not just because the information has been kept from him but because he realizes the disregard Wade has always shown for Rafe. Theron now feels contempt for his father, telling him if Rafe is no son to you, then you're no father to me. But his slings and arrows are also directed to his mother for the secrets and lies and for keeping him too close to her. The entire family is just a shrink's appointment away from losing it.
Suddenly finding his life too unsettling, Theron tells Libby that he cannot continue their relationship. He does not know that she is pregnant nor does she tell him. That pregnancy sends the film into its final passages, opening up the dramatic element even more and bringing out the true colors of the principals, resulting in the death of one. The final moments between two of them at a cemetery are very touching. If they don't choke you up, we'll assume you just can't be choked.
It's hard to believe that Clark Gable and Bette Davis were the original choices for the two leads. She particularly would have been all wrong. Minnelli, who had worked with Mitchum in 1946 when he played Robert Taylor's mysterious brother in Undercurrent, thought the actor would be perfect as Wade Hunnicutt. And perfect he was. The fact is Home from the Hill is one of the five best roles Mitchum ever had... and that's quite a statement about an actor who never gave a bad performance. Wade is not portrayed as a bad guy, per se, but rather a not very nice one. Mitchum, with his fierce masculinity and sometimes scary demeanor, always seemed a bit more breathtaking when he was playing a character on the outskirts of society.
As another member of the southern gentry, Parker is also perfection. Hannah must be beautiful, tempting and alluring along with being embittered and cold. The only time Mitchum's Wade steps away from his rough demeanor is when he tries to re-woo Hannah. With a woman like this, you keep trying. Her character went from embittered to broken to kind. Like Mitchum, Parker was admired by Hollywood, thought of as a good actor, but the sorry-ass town really didn't know what it had in either of them.
A good reason for seeing Home from the Hill is George Peppard. This was only his third big-screen appearance and I left the theater in a bit of a daze, having thought I'd just seen an enormously handsome actor with a pretty good set of acting chops. With Rafe one thought that he was the very best of the family, not the worst... or as I'd like to say, he was the white sheep of the family. Rafe knew his way around his redneck neighbors and fellow hunters, but he was gentler and kinder than they were. Peppard was called upon to deliver some tender, emotional words and much of the overall success of the film can be attributed to him as a result.
Peppard's infamous behavior had already begun on this film, however. It actually gave light to what a good actor Peppard was because in real life he was not like Rafe. He fought bitterly with Minnelli especially over Rafe's tender moments. Fresh from the Actors Studio, Peppard told Minnelli he didn't feel it. Minnelli told him to pretend then... that that's what actors are paid to do. Peppard wanted to walk off the picture and luckily spoke to Mitchum, whom he regarded as a handful on movie sets as well. Peppard was certain they would be sympatico. But Mitchum assured him that he would never work in this town again, that he was too green to exhibit such behavior. To his credit, Peppard listened and turned in a fine performance... one of his best.
As Theron, this was only Hamilton's second film. I have never been particularly drawn to him as an actor. But I thought he brought forth some good stuff as Theron and probably because I saw in him what Minnelli told him he saw... the quality of a privileged, sensitive mama's boy. In just watching the film, I realized the perennially-tanned one is the only cast member still alive.
Bravo to Minnelli for taking on such a rough-hewn, hard-edged, honest, masculine work. He did occasionally do good dramas (The Bad and the Beautiful, Lust for Life and the just-then completed Some Came Running) but was better known for lightweight fare, comedies and musicals, often featuring his wife, Judy Garland. His effete manner, his refinement, his taste for color and fabric and style was better suited to Gigi, for which he won an Oscar, than one would imagine for this rather butch project. It is some of the reason Peppard had a problem with the director. The same could be said somewhat of Mitchum. He was a let's-just-do-it kind of actor and he found Minnelli's penchant for fussiness a bit much. With all said, the director did a fine job indeed.
It was finely crafted by married screenwriters Harriet Frank Jr. and Irving Ravetch whose work on The Long Hot Summer, The Sound and the Fury and Hud proved they knew their way around stories from the south.
The title comes from the last lines of a Robert Louis Stevenson poem, Requiem:
Home is the sailor
home from the sea
and the hunter
home from the hill.
If you've got four more minutes, take a look at the trailer...
Another good 60s film