Monday, March 02, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Home Sweet Homicide (1946)

I've been very interested in seeing HOME SWEET HOMICIDE (1946) since first hearing about it, and thanks to the kindness of reader Maricatrin I was able to enjoy it tonight!

HOME SWEET HOMICIDE is a melding of mystery and family comedy, starring Randolph Scott as a police detective and Lynn Bari as a widowed crime novelist raising a trio of precocious children.

The movie begins with an amusing opening credits sequence, with the tune "Home Sweet Home" punctuated with screams and sirens. In short order we're introduced to writer Marian Carstairs (Bari) and her three very self-sufficient children, who run the household while their mother is locked away with her typewriter. The children, played by very fine child actors, are Dinah (Peggy Ann Garner), April (Connie Marshall), and Archie (Dean Stockwell).

One afternoon the children are walking to the neighborhood malt shop when they hear what might be gunshots. Being the children of Marian Carstairs, they note the time. They soon learn a neighbor (Lenita Lane) has been killed. Was it her husband (Shepperd Strudwick), his girlfriend (Anabel Shaw), another neighbor (Stanley Logan), or someone else?

Detective Bill Smith (Scott) is on the case, along with his partner, Sgt. O'Hare (James Gleason). Marian and the children are all tickled that handsome Bill's name matches that of the hero of Marian's 28 novels. That seems like a good omen!

The children unfortunately decide they will make better detectives than the police, and if they can solve the crime their mother's career will benefit from the publicity. This means they don't tell the police the correct time of the murder or a couple other important details, ultimately endangering their lives.

Their childish decision in a matter of life and death, despite being such otherwise intelligent children, was the only part of the plot which went off kilter for me, although some of the repercussions are amusing. I loved Sgt. O'Hare's constant refrain that "I have six kids of my own, four of them girls!" which has a nice payoff in the final scene.

Other than not caring for the children's "coverup," this movie is a great deal of fun, played by a bright, able cast. Scott and Bari are charmers -- it's hard to believe someone as cute as Scott wasn't already snapped up, and Bari in particular strikes all the right notes as the children's savvy mother. This was one of Scott's last couple of non-Westerns, along with CHRISTMAS EVE (1947).

The children are played by three of the best child actors of the '40s, plus Dinah's best friend is played by Barbara Whiting, her costar in the previous year's excellent JUNIOR MISS (1945). It's a lot of fun watching the children manage the household, particularly young April's expertise at roasting a turkey, calculating "15 minutes per pound." At the same time, they seem like "real" children in their interactions with one another. All three of them are quite good, but Stockwell is particularly adorable as Archie, who detests his oldest sister calling him "Baby."

Some aspects of the film are interesting as a peek into daily life in the '40s. For instance, when Archie wheels out the trash can, it's quite small for a family of four (not to mention two pets). Was the trash picked up much more frequently then? (I remember trash was picked up twice a week when I was young, and now it's just weekly.) Was there less disposable waste in the '40s? Or was the can simply an unrealistic size?

Similarly, I was curious when Bill told Marian he went to a "rental library" and picked up a couple of her books to read. (She chides him, saying authors want books to be purchased rather than borrowed, to increase the royalties!) I thought "rental library" was odd terminology. Were there libraries other than free public libraries in the '40s? Had he actually rented the book, like one would a video? (Talk about an antiquated term, but you know what I mean...) Or perhaps it was just an unusual way to refer to a regular library.

HOME SWEET HOMICIDE was directed by Lloyd Bacon and filmed in black and white by John F. Seitz. I'd love to know where the Carstairs house was located; it seems like a real neighborhood rather than a backlot.

F. Hugh Herbert's screenplay was based on a novel by the prolific Craig Rice (a pseudonym for Georgiana Craig). The film runs 90 minutes.

This film from 20th Century-Fox is currently very hard to come by; I'm unaware of it ever having been shown on Fox Movie Channel in the last few years, nor has it had a VHS or DVD release. Peggy Ann Garner's JUNIOR MISS (1945) has come out on DVD from the Fox Cinema Archives; perhaps one day this film will follow. My children would have loved this one when they were younger! Audiences in general deserve having access to this very enjoyable film.

11 Comments:

Blogger Derek said...

Home Sweet Homicide is one of my favorite movies of all time. Watched it as a kid with my borthers and sisters. Loved the family and mystery aspects. Randolph Scott was a wonderful father figure in this film--a departure from his cowboy movies, that I'd seen before.

8:32 PM  
OpenID vienna said...

Would love to see this. Maybe one day it will come out on DVD. Great cast.

11:23 PM  
Blogger Elisabeth Grace Foley said...

I got to see this recently when it was posted online for a little while. Being an avid mystery reader, I thought the mystery element was probably the weakest part, not just because of the kids' deceptions but the small number of (rather obvious) suspects. But I enjoyed all the kids' interactions, and James Gleason's character was a real hoot! My parents kept saying that real kids wouldn't talk like that...but between the '40s slang I've heard kids use in other films of the time, and the fact that these ones were supposed to be precocious to begin with, I'm willing to believe it. :)

5:19 AM  
Blogger Maricatrin said...

Laura, I'm so glad you enjoyed it! And thanks for the mention, you're very welcome:-)

Like you, I did shake my head a little about the kid's dangerous decision. I guess we're to assume that being so accustomed to fictional murder mysteries, reality got a little blurred for them?

And your guess is correct, rental library books were rented much like videos are today. "How to run a rental library," by Groff Conklin, published in 1934, explains in part:

"...throughout this book the author uses the term 'rental library,' rather than 'circulating library': this is because he feels that the latter is a misnomer. 'Circulating library' is generic for any institution which allows books to be read off its own premises, and includes types of public and private libraries that do not charge for the privilege of using books. The rental library as such is strictly limited to that type of book-renting business which is organized for the purpose of profit."

The whole book is available online, but the subject might not maintain interest for anyone not related to a librarian! (lol)

10:12 AM  
Blogger Kristina Dijan said...

This looks really fun and you can't help but love this cast. I enjoyed reading these comments, too: "today I learned" about the rental library. Little did the movies know they were going to teach us these historical details as well as entertain.

12:25 PM  
Blogger Caftan Woman said...

"Phenobarbital!" There was a time when I borrowed that line from Archie to replace less colourful expressions. Adorable movie - and book.

12:31 PM  
Blogger Laura said...


I'm so delighted by the response to this movie, both from those who remember it fondly and those who would like to see it. It's wonderful hearing how special the movie is to those who have seen it.

Caftan Woman, your reference to "Phenobarbital!" made me laugh!

One of the things I also enjoyed in the children's conversations was the topical references, such as mentioning Cary Grant and Irene Dunne.

Many thanks to Maricatrin for answering my question on rental libraries -- Kristina, you're right, it's amazing the interesting facts we can pick up from movies! Very interesting info indeed.

Maricatrin also kindly let me know that at this moment the movie is available on line for anyone who'd like to check it out -- as always, move quickly as what's out there today can be gone tomorrow!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hx3qeU5KO-E …

Best wishes,
Laura

12:15 AM  
Blogger Kell 62 said...

Derek, I so agree! This is also one of my all-time favourite films. Like you, I fell in love with it when I saw it on TV as a child.

The children were intelligent and savvy, so unlike the 1930/1940s Hollywood tendency to over-sentimentalise childhood, or family life for that matter. I really loved the way their mother not only relied on them to run the household so that she could immerse herself in her deadline (but not in an exploitive way), but I also admired her mature willingness to listen to their feedback and suggestions about how to solve the 'problem of page 89' etc.

And wasn't Dean Stockwell the most gorgeous little boy - and what an actor? He has SO deserved his long and fruitful career.

Laura, I obtained a DVD of HSH through a Classics DVD source - it's not a pirate. Is it OK for me to provide the link here?

12:05 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Kell 62,

I'm fascinated how many people recall this film fondly, especially given that I just discovered it! :)

I very much agree, I like the fact that the children had been taught to run their home and were competent doing so -- after all, it was up to their mother to earn enough writing to put food on the table -- and I also liked the way that their mother interacted with them.

I think it would be OK to post the link. Hopefully at some point we'll be able to get this from Fox Cinema Archives.

Best wishes,
Laura

7:24 PM  
Blogger Kell 62 said...

Hi Laura

I bought the DVD online about three years at ‘Loving the Classics’:

http://www.lovingtheclassics.com

The link to the actual film is:

http://www.lovingtheclassics.com/home-sweet-homicide-1946.html

2:22 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks, Kell 62! I've had some good luck with past purchases at Loving the Classics.

Best wishes,
Laura

3:02 PM  

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