Sunday, October 14, 2012

Home Before Dark

I mentioned some of the continuity problems I had with the movie Home Before Dark back in July 2011. The movie is airing agin tomorrow morning at 11:45 AM, so now would be a good time to write a fuller-length post that's actually about the movie.

At the start of the film, we see a woman, Charlotte Bronn (played by Jean Simmons), being released from the state mental hospital in Marblehead, MA, one of those coastal New England communities that had their day in the sun decades ago and are now becoming eclipsed by other more economically vibrant parts of the country. Picturesque and full of big, drafty old houses, but more importantly, a stock character for upper-middle-class strait-laced social values. Think Peyton Place or the town at the beginning of Valley of the Dolls before the action swings to New York and Hollywood. Charlotte is being brought home by her husband Arnold (Dan O'Herlihy), who stuck by her all this time despite the accusations she made while mentally ill which many people would have found damaging. Namely, Charlotte suggested that Arnold was having an affair with her stepsister Joan (Rhonda Fleming)! But now that Charlotte has been cleared of those delusions, she's safe to go home.

When she gets home, she finds that some things have changed. Specifically, they've got a lodger, in the form of Jake Diamond (Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.). He's a visiting professor at the same college where Arnold is a professor, and since he's going to be there for only one semester, why not live with one of the professors who has a spare room in his house? Some things, on the other hand, haven't changed. Arnold seems strangely aloof, and there's a lot of talk in low tones about Charlotte, as though they're talking about her and don't want her to know about it. It naturally leads Charlotte to begin to wonder again whether her suspicions that landed her in the mental hospital in the first place were true. This time, however, Charlotte has a bit of an ally in Jake the outsider, and also has a plan to prove whether or not what she suspects is what was actually happening....

Home Before Dark is an interesting idea, but one that really gets bogged down. It's wildly overwrought at times, much like a previous Charlotte who had a nervous breakdown (Bette Davis' Charlotte Vale in Now Voyager). It's also incredibly talky: the story probably could have played out in about a 100-minute running time (for some reason, I'm suddenly reminded of Ingrid Bergman's suspicions in Notorious), but in fact runs a bloated 136 minutes. The color and scenery could do with a crisper print, too, although apparently there aren't better prints out there. Jean Simmons does well in a movie that's all about her, but the rest of the movie swings between the formulaic and the unrealistic. As I mentioned in 2011, Home Before Dark has made it to the Warner Archive collection.

No comments: