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A wealthy but emotionally damaged woman is released from a sanitarium a year after suffering a mental breakdown. She returns to her home, shared with her husband, stepsister, stepmother, and maid. She attempts to start her life over again, but the home environment that caused her breakdown are still there. The lack of support from those closest to her threatens her fragile recovery. Written by
A devastating yet remarkably liberating experience
Charlotte Bronn (Jean Simmons), the wife of a college professor (Dan O'Herlihy), has been released from a State Mental Hospital only to return to the same environment that led to her breakdown. Adapted by Robert and Eileen Bassing from Eileen's novel of the same name and nominated for a Golden Globe in three categories, Mervyn LeRoy's 1958 masterpiece Home Before Dark is a devastating yet remarkably liberating exploration of a woman's struggle to achieve mental health. I first saw this film many years ago and I never forgot the towering performance of Jean Simmons or the film's shattering emotional truth -- that some people are simply incapable of showing compassion to those who are vulnerable. On a bootleg copy taped from television, I was able to revisit it again this week and it flooded my mind with memories of those days of turmoil.
The film is set in an upwardly mobile neighborhood in suburban Massachusetts. Charlotte has long suspected that her husband, Arnold Bronn, was secretly in love with her stepsister Joan Carlisle (Rhonda Fleming). But is unable to confront the fact that her husband does not love her, and slips into mental illness. After one year in treatment, she is released but goes back to face the same nagging suspicions and the same well-meaning but overbearing people including her sister Joan, stepmother Inez Winthrop (Mabel Albertson), and housekeeper Mattie (Kathryn Card). Charlotte does have some support, however, in the person of Jacob Diamond (Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.), a visiting professor that is living with the family for one semester and has to confront anti-Semitic innuendoes at the college.
Diamond reaches out to Charlotte and provides some much-needed kindness but she has difficulty gathering the emotional strength to accept his support. She continues to blame herself for her illness and clings to the notion that her previous suspicions were delusions. Still unsteady and trying to please everybody, she buys a dress that doesn't fit and has her hair done to look like her stepsister Joan, then shows up at a dinner party out of control. Little by little, however, Charlotte begins to muster the strength to confront the truth and the film delivers its message without having to resort to the intervention of a hero-psychiatrist who makes everything right. Charlotte's growth is achieved through her own personal transformation and the payoff is deliciously worth the 136-minute length of the film. Sadly, the original negative of this great movie has been lost and Home Before Dark may never be released on DVD, a loss not only to cinema buffs but also to a world needing an injection of love and inspiration.
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