Friday, February 3, 2023

Penny Serenade meets Room for One More

I recently watched a Gene Tierney movie I hadn't heard of before: Close to My Heart.

Tierney plays Midge Sheridan, a housewife who at the start of the movie learns that she is going to be unable to have children, something that unsurprisingly leaves her disappointed, especially because she and her reporter husband Brad (Ray Milland) had a room of their house that they'd always planned to be the nursery even if they never put any furniture in it yet since she'd never gotten pregnant. Then again, you still couldn't use the word "pregnant" in a Hollywood movie of those times.

So when Brad placates Midge by telling her that yes, he still does want to have children, Midge goes to the adoption agency run by Mrs. Morrow (Fay Bainter), seemingly without telling Brad first. Midge finds out that there are a lot of parents who want a nice healthy baby to raise, not being so willing to take an older, hard-to-place child as is the subject of Room for One More. Midge is going to have to wait up to two years, and even then it's possible she and Brad might not be deemed suitable parents.

But somehow through the women's gossip network, Midge hears that some woman just dropped off a baby at the police station, and police have been unable to find the woman. Midge gets the crazy idea in her head that she can jump the line to adopt this child, since a lot of parents are a bit hesitant about adopting a child when the agency doesn't know who the mother is -- I'd guess the more resonable thinking behind this would be the possibility of a hereditary illness. Mrs. Morrow informs Midge that there's still a lot to be done before Baby Danny can be adopted out, and even then, the Sheridans might not be considered suitable parents. Especially after Midge has already decorated the nursery to be for a baby named Danny.

Brad, meanwhile, decides to use his reporter skills to find out about the provenance of the baby, if he can. He speaks to a woman who is not the mother, but who know the baby's mother, who is apparently dead now; this woman doesn't know who the father is. But things really hit a snag when the son of a prominent town citizen gets arrested for robbery. The son was, it just so happens, not only adopted, but in one of those adoptions where it was only found out after the adoption that the boy's biological parents were of bad moral stock. So now Brad is going to worry that if Danny also came from such stock, Danny might be doomed to the same fate. Or, at least, that's what the movie wants us to believe. And Mrs. Morrow understands that holding that kind of attitude really makes Brad unsuitable to adopt Danny.

Close to My Heart felt a lot like the sort of programmer Dore Schary would have made when he took over for Louis B. Mayer at MGM. But, in fact, the movie was made at Warner Bros. This might explain why the movie consistently feels somewhat off in tone. I don't think it helps that it's Gene Tierny and Ray Milland cast as the couple. They don't have the greatest chemistry together, and I don't know that either of them is quite right for the role they're asked to play. Bainter, however, shines in support.

Close to My Heart is an interesting artifact of how Hollywood looked at adoption in the early 1950s, even if it isn't the greatest of movies.

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