Sunday, September 06, 2009

Tonight's Movie: Home in Indiana (1944)

HOME IN INDIANA is an old favorite I hadn't seen in years. I taped it a few months ago and caught up with it tonight. Labor Day weekend is the perfect time for watching this piece of autumnal Americana about horse farms and harness racing.

HOME IN INDIANA introduced three new faces to the movies: Jeanne Crain, June Haver, and Lon McCallister. The three young actors were paired with a trio of the all-time great character actors in Walter Brennan, Charlotte Greenwood, and Ward Bond.

Orphaned Sparke Thornton (McCallister) arrives at a run-down farm to live with an aunt and uncle (Greenwood and Brennan) he's never met. Sparke considers running away and may be headed for trouble, but thanks to the large horse farm next door, he discovers harness racing. Sparke's passion for horses and his friendships with Char (Crain) and the oddly nicknamed Cri-Cri (Haver) put him on the straight and narrow. Sparke's depressed uncle rediscovers his own love for horses and harness racing and snaps back to life.

The "horse" aspects of the story aren't particularly interesting to me, but the movie is otherwise a marvelous slice of '40s movie-making. The movie was filmed on location in Kentucky and Ohio, and there are wonderful sun-dappled shots of the lead characters on fall afternoons, against a background of trees with leaves changing colors. Swimming scenes at the local pond likewise have an authentic look which is very appealing. Edward Cronjager was Oscar-nominated for Best Color Cinematography for HOME IN INDIANA.

Best of all is charming Jeanne Crain as Char, daughter of a horse trainer (Bond). McCallister is too young and bland for me to find of much interest, and lovely Haver is stuck in a thankless "temptress" role as the somewhat manipulative, fickle daughter of the wealthy horse farm owner (Charles Dingle). Haver would go on to a fine career and is an actress I like a great deal, but this wasn't her movie.

Crain, on the other hand, simply glows, whether she's a tomboy with braids or dressed up with flowers and ribbons in her hair. Crain has "personality plus," and the camera loves her. When she's on the screen, the movie is at its most entertaining. With the release of this film, a star was born, and she would go on to star in several of Fox's best films of the next few years, including STATE FAIR (1945), LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN (1945), MARGIE (1946), APARTMENT FOR PEGGY (1948), and A LETTER TO THREE WIVES (1949), plus many more entertaining movies.

Brennan does a good job, as always, and Charlotte Greenwood is terrific as Brennan's wife, though her character disappears in the last section of the movie. Bond's role as Crain's father isn't very big, but his character exudes warmth and integrity; this movie, along with DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK (1939), led to my becoming a Ward Bond fan at a very young age.

HOME IN INDIANA runs 104 minutes. It was directed by Henry Hathaway. The supporting cast includes George Reed and Willie Best. Crain and Haver's eye-catching wardrobes were designed by Bonnie Cashin.

I have fond memories of watching this movie on TV several times as a child; does anyone else remember Ben Hunter's Movie Matinee on Ch. 11 in L.A.? I don't have fond memories, however, of watching films edited to fill time slots and jammed with Cal Worthington and Tarn-X commercials (grin). Although this movie hasn't had a video or DVD release, it was a real treat to watch a complete, uncut copy of this film with no commercials, thanks to Fox Movie Channel.

Movie viewing for classic film fans has happily changed for the better since I was growing up. If you'd told me then about Turner Classic Movies, let alone DVDs, I'd never have believed it!

February 2014 Update: This film is now on out DVD-R from the Fox Cinema Archives.


Blogger Irene said...

I can't understand why this movie has not been released. It's a real shame. Yes, I remember Movie Matinee and also the channel 9 movie of the week - same movie every night for a week. And Cal Worthington (but apparently not his dog spot) is still doing commercials. We don't see him anymore but we hear his voice. Just the other day we were all saying, "he's still around?"

9:31 AM  
Blogger Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

It's just as well we didn't have TCM when we were kids, for those of us that were old movie fans from a very young age. I would have never gone outside to play.

1:03 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Fun to share some of those memories, Irene. I can't believe Cal Worthington's still around either...

Your comment made me smile, Jacqueline. Books were also something that pulled me inside from a young age...

Best wishes,

1:17 PM  
Blogger mel said...

And I have fond memories of watching this movie numerous times on 16mm film (one of my film collector colleagues had a copy of it), many years ago, long before our country had television.

How I wish I could see it again...

8:58 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

What a neat memory about seeing this movie, Mel. I hope you get the chance to see it again soon.

Best wishes,

9:38 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I enjoyed your review, Laura! If I hadn't read it, I might haven given up on watching this, but I stuck it out. You're so right about Jeanne Crain -- she was luminous!

8:00 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks for letting me know, Karen! It's kind of funny to realize I reviewed it Labor Day weekend seven years ago, and now it's running on TCM at the same time of year! I'm so glad you watched its TCM premiere. Crain was so amazingly natural from the start!

Best wishes,

8:22 PM  

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