Sunday, October 27, 2019

Coming Home

During TCM's spotlight on the 100th anniversary of United Artists, one of the movies that they ran was Coming Home. Not having done a post on it before, I DVRed it to watch and do a post on here.

The movie starts off in 1968. Bob Hyde (Bruce Dern) is a captain in the US Marines who is about to go off and fight in Vietnam, which means he'll be leaving his wife Sally (Jane Fonda) behind. Sally, despite knowning this could happen, isn't really ready for it. She commiserates with a friend, Vi Munson (Penelope Milford) who has a boyfriend about to go off to fight with Capt. Hyde, as well as a brother Bill (Robert Carradine) who fought and has returned injured.

Vi has been dealing with it by volunteering at the local VA hospital where the returning injured soldiers -- some of them very badly scarred both physically and emotionally -- are housed in pretty lousy conditions while the government that sent them off to war treats them, being unable to figure out how. Vi suggests to Sally that perhaps she too should volunteer at the hospital. It would give Sally something to do, since Bob is insistent Sally not get a job, these being the days when it was still perfectly normal for a woman to be a housewife.

Sally eventually goes to the hospital, where she runs into Luke Martin (Jon Voight). Literally, she runs into Luke, who is a double amputee who hasn't been able to get a wheelchair yet and uses a cane to propel his gurney. He's also got a catheter to empty his bladder, and when Sally runs into the gurney, it spills the bag of urine onto the floor, which as you can guess pisses off Luke. But this galvanizes her into deciding that yes, she will volunteer.

It's not easy work considering that the hospital is severely understaffed and doesn't necessarily want the volunteers doing stuff that medical staff should be doing. It also turns out that Sally and Luke have a past acquaintance, as they had gone to high school together. They weren't necessarily friends back then, but since they already sort of know each other and both are currently more or less alone, they decide to start a friendship. Unfortunately, it evolves into something more, as both of them also have physical needs that nobody else can really satisfy. Luke still has his emotional needs, which cause him to go on an anti-war rant for the local news.

Eventually, the two decide to break things off for a pretty good reason: Bob is coming home, having been shot accidentally. It leaves him with a limp, which means he can't really fight any more. Sally really does still love him despite having had sex with Luke, and with any luck they'll be able to pick up where they left off when Bob left for Vietnam. Except for one small problem, which is that when Luke went on that rant, military intelligence decided to do some surveillance on him. You can probably put two and two together.

I've stated before that I don't particularly have a problem with movies having obvious messages if there's a good story advancing that message. Coming Home is a movie that most definitely succeeds in that regard. Jane Fonda was far more controversial in the late 1970s than today for her actions during the Vietnam War, so it's easy to see why some people might be wary of a movie with her at the center. While the movie is clearly anti-war, it's only in a couple of Voight's speeches that it could come across as being too blunt with the message.

Fonda and Voight are both excellent, and won Oscars for their roles. Dern is slightly miscast, as he looks much too old to be a Marine going off to Vietnam in a front-line role. He does well with what he's given, as do all the supporting cast. The one problem I had was with the music score, which used a bunch of late-1960s hits but came across to me as overpowering at times.

Still, Coming Home is a movie that deserves a strong recommendation. It's available on DVD should you wish to watch.

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