Saturday, August 02, 2014

Tonight's Movie: The Secret Heart (1946) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

A wonderful cast makes MGM's THE SECRET HEART (1946) a most enjoyable 97 minutes. THE SECRET HEART was put out last month by the Warner Archive as part of a "June in July" release of several films starring June Allyson.

I hadn't seen this film in over half a dozen years and had forgotten just how much I liked it. It would be hard to find more natural and appealing performances than those given by Walter Pidgeon, Claudette Colbert, and Robert Sterling. It's one of those movies where you wish you could be a guest at their farmhouse and hang out with them all indefinitely, playing with the dog, listening to records, dancing and drinking Cokes.

That's not to say the family in THE SECRET HEART doesn't have problems. The film is basically a melodrama in which Lee (Colbert) nobly follows through on her engagement to Larry (Richard Derr of WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE), even after she falls in love with his friend Chris (Pidgeon) in a shipboard romance. Lee feels a sense of commitment to Larry, a troubled businessman-musician, and responsibility for his young children Penny and Chase (Ann Lace and Dwayne Hickman), to whom she is devoted.

When the alcoholic Larry kills himself after embezzling money, Lee moves with the children from the country to the city so they'll be spared gossip, and she goes to work repaying Larry's debts.

Flash forward a decade, and the well-adjusted Chase (Sterling) is just out of the army, in love with Lee's secretary Kay (Patricia Medina), and newly employed by Chris at his shipbuilding company.

Penny (Allyson), on the other hand, mopes over the piano and is a troubled young woman, obsessed with the memory of her late father and at times vaguely resentful of Lee, the woman who has devoted her life to Penny and Chase. Penny's psychiatrist (Lionel Barrymore) suggests that Lee return to the family's country home for the first time in ten years, hoping it will help Penny face the past and move on.

Upon reuniting in the country, Chris and Lee immediately rekindle the old flame. Chase's Army buddy Brandon (Marshall Thompson), a house guest, is smitten with Penny, but no one was counting on Penny falling for a man who should be a father figure to her, Chris.

As soapy as it sounds -- and is at times -- I find this movie incredibly enjoyable. The cast is simply marvelous. Pidgeon has a way of bringing life and a really interesting, believable responsiveness to every single line, even when he's simply nodding and grunting while smoking his pipe as Allyson talks to him.

Colbert's character, unbowed despite the years of stress and hard work, lights up when she's with Pidgeon, and the actors seem to be having as much fun as their characters. There's a wonderful scene where Colbert's Lee is on the phone trying to conduct business while Pidgeon's Chris attempts to distract her with a drink and caviar, and she laughs "You're obnoxious sometimes!" Their amusement seems very genuine.

There's also a terrific scene where Pidgeon and Colbert join Sterling and Medina dancing to records, until poor disturbed June berates her stepmother for not acting her age. Even a scene as brief as Sterling showing Colbert the Army way to darn socks is terrific, and Colbert's bemused interaction with lovestruck Thompson while they paint together is delightful as well.

Allyson, like Colbert, has long been one of my favorite actresses, though here Allyson has the tough job of being the fly in the ointment, always spoiling things for everyone else with her unreasonable and unrealistic behavior. However, Allyson really sells the role, and the viewer feels a sense of relief seeing her so happy in the final scenes. Offsetting playing a difficult character is the fact that Allyson was filmed at her loveliest in this movie.

The movie is also interesting as it's another of the many mid '40s films in which psychology is a major theme. It's fascinating how many films utilizing psychology in the plot were produced between roughly 1944 to 1947; these films would be a terrific topic for a Ph.D. thesis or a book.

The supporting cast includes Elizabeth Patterson as the family housekeeper. Watch closely for Barbara Billingsley as a salewoman who discusses a bracelet with Pidgeon. The voices of Hume Cronyn and Audrey Totter can be heard during a dinner party scene.

THE SECRET HEART was directed by Robert Z. Leonard and filmed in black and white by George Folsey. Rose Franken, the author of CLAUDIA (1943), was among those who worked on the script.

The Warner Archive release of THE SECRET HEART is a great-looking print. The DVD includes the trailer.

I recently reviewed another interesting film from the "wave" of June Allyson films just released by the Warner Archive, THE GIRL IN WHITE (1952).

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered at the Warner Archive website.

3 Comments:

OpenID vienna said...

This looks interesting. Thanks for the review.

6:04 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I hope you can check it out, Vienna! Most enjoyable.

Best wishes,
Laura

8:49 AM  
Blogger Elisabeth Grace Foley said...

Wonderful review. I'm hoping this turns up on Warner Archive Instant before my free trial runs out...

2:54 PM  

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