Tuesday, March 19, 2024

The Part of Greer Garson is now being played by Claudette Colbert

Once Greer Garson came over the the US and started working at MGM, they teamed her with Walter Pidgeon in a series of movies like the recently-mentioned Mrs. Miniver that the audiences loved. A movie that feels like MGM had it planned for Garson, but which does not in fact star her, is The Secret Heart. I recorded it the last time it was on TCM, and recently watched it.

In an apartment in New York, a young man named Chase Addams (Robert Sterling) is returning home after a stint in the Navy, presumably having served in World War II since the movie was released in late 1946. He's returning to his girlfriend Kay (Patricia Medina) who is likely to become his fiancée. Kay informs Chase that his sister Penny (June Allyson) is also home, and that's a cue for Kay to reveal the first half of the back story. Penny is supposed to be at her boarding school, but she hasn't returned since Easter break. Chase is worried about her, and Kay informs him that Penny has gotten worse, playing the piano to think about her late father and stopping any time anyone else shows up. She doesn't even want to play with her own brother around.

At about the same time, Lee Addams (Claudette Colbert) walks in to the office of New York psychologist Dr. Rossiger (Lionel Barrymore). Lee has the same surname is Penny, but is in fact only Penny and Chase's stepmother. Penny has been seeing Dr. Rossiger, but Lee is worried about her. Meanwhile, Dr. Rossiger sees that some sort of family therapy might be in order so he asks Lee to reveal the other half of the back story.

Ten years earlier, Larry Addams was a widower with two younger children. He met Lee and the two fell in love, but Lee's aunt wasn't so sure the two should get married. After going to England to see her aunt, Lee decides she's going to marry Larry after all. On the ship back to New York, she meets Larry's friend Chris Matthews (Walter Pidgeon), and he falls in love with Lee not realizing that she is going to be married to Lee. They get married, but Penny doesn't seem to like her new step-mother all that much.

Larry, meanwhile, is an alcoholic who wanted to become a concert pianist but couldn't afford it, so he took up work as an investment banker and drinks to dull the pain. But he's also been embezzling money from his clients, and when that catches up with him, he decides to commit suicide by throwing himself off a cliff near their farmhouse in Rhode Island. Larry left his family with a lot of debt, and Lee sets about trying to pay off those debts, not telling Penny the truth about how the father she loved really died.

Back in the present, Dr. Rossiger suggests that if the family goes back to the farmhouse where Mr. Addams killed himself, perhaps Penny would finally be forced to confront the past and finally get over the trauma. Wouldn't you know it, but Chris, being into sailing, has a boat and country house near where the Addams' farmhouse is. Meeting up with Lee again and with her being a widow, it might be a good time to pursue her like in Imitation of Life. However, also like Imitation of Life, Penny finds herself falling in love with Chris. When the truth of whom Chris really loves comes out, that might just drive Penny over the edge....

The Secret Heart is another of those movies that MGM tried to make a Big Important Picture after the war, dealing with new themes in Freudian psychology, even though it's not quite a prestige picture. However, this is MGM, which means that once again we get all the glitz that MGM could bring to such a project even when glitz is not what the material needs.

The Secret Heart isn't a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination; it's just that it's one of those movies that consistently feels as though it's got something not quite right about it. As much as the stars try, than can't quite overcome the saccharine nature of what should be serious material. Everything from top to bottom is professionally made -- but it should have been made in some other way.

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