BluRay/DVD Reviews

DEAR HEART (Warner Archives)

By • May 19th, 2014 •

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Of late I’ve grown to like Glenn Ford. His noirs (GILDA, THE BIG HEAT, HUMAN DESIRE, EXPERIMENT IN TERROR BROTHERHOOD OF THE BELL), and his westerns (JUBAL, THE FASTEST GUN ALIVE, 3:10 TO YUMA, COWBOY, THE LAST CHALLENGE) are all imbued with his powerful, low-key persona, and while there’s plenty of evidence that he can do wrong (check out THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE, one of the worst films of all time: he helped mightily to earn it that dishonorable place in film history), still I’ve become willing, even eager, to take chances on him that I never would have when I was younger.

DEAR HEART is a big, wacky, heart-tugger that must have been odd even when initially playing theaters in ’64. It feels miscast – both Ford and particularly Geraldine Page seem inappropriate for the roles they play, but both give it their best. I can’t imagine that either one of them was the director’s original choice, and there’s evidence that editor Formar Blangsted strove valiantly to save the narrative, even sacrificing some inner logic to do so. While someone probably could have engineered Ford’s role better, I don’t know that anyone could have salvaged Ms. Page’s Evie Jackson as written – a dangerously-ditsy, pathologically faux-happy pain-in-the-ass who seems to be lying not only to everyone in sight with her uber-positivism, but to herself as well. I dated a woman not unlike Evie, and Ms. Page’s performance gave me the willies.

On the other hand, Angela Lansbury as Phyllis, the mother/fiancé from hell, fresh off her stint as one of cinema’s all time venomous femme fatale’s in THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, brings a dollop of that lethal quality to this role. She plays Ford’s under-researched choice of a new mate. Making her appearance in the third act, she’s the best one in the film. Michael Anderson Jr. as her emotionally unhinged son, who unburdens himself burdensomely on an unsuspecting Ford, delivers an excessively weird performance. I kept expecting him to pull out a butcher knife and run amok.

The story unfolds in a hotel that caters to business conventions. Ford is there representing a greeting card company. Page is attending a perennial postmasters’ convention, has made a manic commitment to remember everyone’s name and personality, and also seems to have been pursued by an inordinate amount of men who, it is suggested, she took up on their few-days-away-from-the-wife come-ons. In fact, the way the narrative unfolds, there are a whole lot of desperate men and willing women in that hotel, not only from Page’s and Ford’s ilk, but from the likes of Ford’s soon-to-be-stepson (Anderson) who he’s never met until the teenager barges into his life, lets his girlfriend take a bath in Ford’s hotel room, and generally imposes on the good-natured Ford while repeatedly putting down his own mother.

The film’s screwball-comedy nature may have worked better in ’64. I say ‘may have’, because I really can’t believe, either then or now, that so many characters in the film would fall for Page’s good-neighbor-Sam shenanigans. When Ford backs out of his upcoming nuptials in favor of Page, it (only barely) works because his looming new family trumps her in the intolerably screwed-up behavior category.

Delbert Mann directed, and the film’s trailer, included on the disc, proudly announces that he was the director of MARTY (1955). He also tackled other socially conscious flicks such as MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT, DESIRE UNDER THE ELMS, SEPARATE TABLES, and THE DARK AT THE TOP OF THE STAIRS, as well as serious TV productions, before switching over to ‘fun’ stuff like LOVER COME BACK, THAT TOUCH OF MINK, and QUICK BEFORE IT MELTS. Judging from some experimental staging (Ford and Page play out a several-minute-long scene near the end with their backs to the camera), I suspect that Mann was planning for bigger things from this project. Finally, however, it’s just too foolish, despite some really nice moments, coming both from Ford’s grounded performance and, believe it or not (after all I’ve written), from Page, who reminds me an awful lot of Marilyn Monroe in the way she plays close-to-dumb. Although the film was released two years after her death, who knows, maybe earlier, in development, Monroe was a consideration for the role. Or maybe Page was just invoking her.

Henry Mancini contributed the score, which at times seems to search in vain for the right moods to bolster Page’s scenes, but his theme song went up for an Academy Award, and the studio plays up his track record in the trailer. Cinematography is by Russell Harlan, who had worked with Mancini on HATARI, and also shot KING CREOLE (giving Elvis Presley his best role, and New Orleans a noir feel), RED RIVER (among seven for Howard Hawks, including THE THING), and TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. His Standard Widescreen work is slick, making equally good use of negative space and frames crammed with action.

The disc is quite nice, with the voice track a little less full than the music track. If you’re a Geraldine (THE BEGUILED, SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH, SUMMER AND SMOKE, TOYS IN THE ATTIC, THE TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL) Page fan, and want to see her in something lighter (aka daffier) than those titles, this will probably be a lot of fun for you.

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