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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.
This is a very good movie for which Jean Simmons won the prestigious New York Film Critics award for best actress. It used to be shown regularly on TV in the 1960s and '70s. Those of us who remember it know it deserves to be brought out of obscurity.
I was just blessed with the opportunity to view "Home Before Dark" again after 25 years or so of waiting and waiting for it to air and I must say that I'm still crazy about this movie!! This is truly one of the best dramas that I've ever seen and believe me when I say that I'm no amateur in this department. I was a very young child when I saw this movie over 25 years ago and hadn't seen it since until today, but the basic story line stayed with me and particular scenes from the film have always stayed very vivid in my mind. I was amazed to no end that the very things that stood out about this movie over 25 years ago, still stand out and fascinate me to this very day. This story of a woman trying to acclimate herself into life after a long stint at a sanitarium is extremely life-like and one of the strongest dramatic performances I've ever seen. Jean Simmons gives an excellent performance as Charlotte . Other outstanding performances were given by a very dashing and young Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. I'm so thankful that this movie finally crossed my path again. It was not only entertaining, but educational. If you ever get the opportunity to watch this film, do so. You will NEVER regret it!
I can certainly sympathize with those who have commented about the lack of a
video release of this title, and their disappointment at its apparent
abandonment in the archives of TV broadcasters. I saw it during its initial
theatrical release, when some very positive critical notices told me I'd be
in for a much-better-than-average viewing experience. Not only was I
impressed with its quality but, even though I've never seen it since, I can
still quite easily recall several of its key sequences and the excellent
performances by everyone in the cast.
After quite a run at Twentieth-Century Fox in a long string of their CinemaScope costumers, Jean Simmons must have truly enjoyed exercising her considerable talents as an actress with the lead role in "Home Before Dark," under the steady hand of Hollywood veteran, Mervyn LeRoy. He was one director who always seemed to get the best out of his casts and had a special gift, it seems to me, of eliciting surprisingly good performances from those lovely ladies, such as Rhonda Fleming in this one, who were usually thought of merely as "glamor girls."
When this film was released I was a relatively new resident of southern California, so its effective use of Boston and other Massachusetts locations, where I'd been born and raised until almost entering my teens, may be the reason that the memory of this film is still quite vivid. Those of us who would like to see a video release might nurture a wisp of hope, what with so many more films now enjoying an entry onto the video catalogues. It's certainly worthy of a place along some of Hollywood's better psychological dramas.
Charlotte (Jean Simmons) comes home from a mental hospital, shaky but
She's been cured of all her delusions - that her husband and stepsister
having an affair, and conspiring behind her back. Except that her husband
(Dan O'Herlihy) really does crave her stepsister (Rhonda Fleming) and they
do talk about her in whispered tones. Even their new lodger (Efrem
Zimbalist) can see it. But they deny it and she tries to deny it some
to keep peace in the family. Finally, she can't. Is she having a breakdown
or a breakout?
Admittedly, it is slow - the direction is cumbersome. But occasionally, it nails Eileen Bassing's novel with its stifling New England academic atmosphere and the rigidity of its codes. Jean Simmons was nominated for Best Actress in this role, and small wonder; it's one of her best this side of Elmer Gantry. Steve Dunne has an engaging appearance, and it's Rhonda Fleming who gets to be unsympathetic for a change.
If I could find the video, I'd buy it. But it's not for teenaged boys.
I haven't seen this film since the mid seventies. I've been waiting, not very patiently for it to aire again. It was also a favorite of an older sibling of mine. We often discuss scenes from this film and Jean Simmons' performance that still rings clear in our heads today. If anyone ever ask us what movie we'd like to see that we haven't seen in years, we'll both shout out, "Home Before Dark" unanimously. We've tried to contact the studio where the film was made. We've looked high and low, written movie stations that aire the classics but no one has yet to answer our request. It's a great film! If ANYONE is willing to sell us a copy, please feel free to contact me. I've always thought Jean Simmons was an awesome actress. This movie confirms my conviction.
Each actor/actress perfectly cast for his/her role. Arnold, the cold, loveless husband, aloof yet kissing up to his colleagues at the college (in the movie Ballou Hall is in reality on the Medford campus of Tufts University) to assure his promotion. Charlotte's house, warm, cozy, nicely furnished, typically old New England upscale. Hamilton Gregory, the lovable drunk, crazy about "Charl" and the smooth, kindly Jake Diamond who also loves Charlotte. Inez, Joan and Mattie, the female antagonists, perfectly played. I remember the eerie Danvers Mental Hospital up on a hill on old route one from when I was a kid living in Massachusetts. A shame this movie has never been available on VHS or DVD. I have an old copy I taped many years ago from a local TV station, uncut but with a few rough spots where I edited out commercials. Would like to obtain a better uncut copy and have made into a DVD, but legal problems rear their ugly heads. Warner Bros never responds to my e-mail inquiries about this Mervyn LeRoy film from 1958. Another interesting note, despite their apparent affluence, Arnold drives an ordinary black, 1954 Ford V-8 Fordor Sedan (Crestline or Customline)...nothing flashy. Charlotte Bronn's house (2 Crockett St) is the old "Lafayette House" in Marblehead, MA and is located at the corner of Hooper and Union Sts. (2 Union St). It contains 13 total rooms, 5 bedrooms, 4 baths and in 2003 its assessed value was $1,001,700.
From the responses on view it's clear that many were greatly affected
by this movie and have much nostalgia for it. "Home Before Dark" is one
of those movies that strangely disappear, hardly ever shown on
television and not available in any other form. This state of rarity
often bestows a movie a quality of being somehow special, which is not
always the case.
I would guess that the reason that so many remember this movie is solely the performance of Jean Simmons. It's a very tricky role and Simmons really does extremely well in the part. She manages to walk the tightrope between mental unbalance and lucidity in the most credible fashion.
The rest of the cast are competent but hardly memorable and the film is way too long. There is a lovely theme song, (whose lyrics as is often the case, have nothing to do with the plot), it's credited to McHugh and Cahn, though no credit is given at all to the lovely vocal by Mary Kaye
I have always enjoyed movies featuring Jean Simmons,and her part in Home Before Dark was excellent.Even though this film was slow paced I liked it very much and would like to add it to my collection. This movie was viewed on television years ago but never again.It was no worse than other films of this type but are shown over and over.
Producer-director Mervyn LeRoy knows how to trail a false scent or two
across this story; we receive hints of other films (Gaslight, for
example, or almost any Hitchcock) and begin to wonder. Keeping us
doubting, and keeping us outside the vulnerable and troubled main
character, played superbly by Jean Simmons, we are left in a strange,
low-key state of suspense right to the end. Is she mad, is she being
manipulated for some nefarious end? Are her family conspirators or just
unfeeling? If the latter, who is to blame? We want to rescue this
character, we have in the story two likable men who seem to be
candidates for white knights. Again, LeRoy manipulates our expectations
of a melodramatic plot twist, a catharsis of the sort we have seen in
those other films, in which all will be revealed. But, without spoiling
the story, this is a different sort of film. Between the first scene
and the second to last scene, we are held in a kind of suspended
animation, together with the Simmons character. It is only very late in
the film, however, that LeRoy lets the scales drop from our eyes.
Some may find the other family members too unsympathetic, early on especially. If there is a weakness in the formula, this is it. For me, the powerful sequence on Christmas Eve in Boston the shopping jaunt, the party and the confrontation back at the hotel - settles such doubts as exist.
The ledger is more than balanced, in any case, by a good script, fine black and white photography, a convincing portrayal of a hidebound and catty faculty town (politics has nothing on academe), sensitive direction by LeRoy and, especially, Jean Simmons at her considerable best. This film deserves more admirers. It is that quietly spoken guest at the party who, if you spend some time listening, has more to say than the usual cinema windbags.
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