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The Heart Is a Rebel (1958)

 -  Drama
6.6
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Credited cast:
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Gladys
Georgia Lee ...
Joan Foster
John Milford ...
Hal Foster
...
David Foster
Alvy Moore ...
Bill
Sam Gilman ...
Greg Johnson
Rhoda Williams ...
Alice
Kristine Miller ...
Mrs. Johnson
Madge Blake ...
Mrs. Carlson
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Robert Brubaker ...
Dr. Chambers
Billy Graham ...
Himself
Kenneth MacDonald ...
Alfred Carlson
...
Grace
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His Eye Is on the Sparrow
Written by Charles Gabriel and Civilla Martin
Arranged by Kurt Kaiser
Performed by Ethel Waters
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User Reviews

 
Better than you might think...
4 July 2001 | by (under the arch) – See all my reviews

As a strictly non-religious moviegoer, when I saw this movie starting on late-night cable TV I merely intended to view it for whatever entertainment value (and potential kitsch quality) it might provide. I was very surprised at the solid competency that is apparent throughout, especially in both scriptwriting and acting (in spite of sometimes obvious budget constraints.) Believe it or not, the main characters are pretty well delineated and easy to identify with as everyday working people. The script doesn't really hit you over the head with too much Christian dogma; in fact the general public's discomfort with such religious themes is portrayed realistically a few times, most notably when the main character asks the bartender (in the later bar scene) not to switch the TV away from Billy Graham's televised sermon (out of curiosity), but a few moments later he gives in after the bartender complains that the program is making the other patrons uncomfortable.

The main character is well-played by John Milford, and I found his work to be quite moving at times as the struggling family provider who is being pulled in many directions simultaneously (career, family, self-fulfillment, religious faith?); I think the high point of his work in this film may be the scenes in the hospital during which his character rudely yells at the 'saintly' doctor, primarily due to his character's extreme worry and frustration over his son's serious medical condition; his portrayal of unrestrained grief that follows is almost shocking in its vulnerability. This actor does a fine job, and his dark, 1950s-era good looks even add a bit of brooding depth to his character's difficult emotional journey.

I also found Georgia Lee's work in this film to be quite effective and rewarding; her pert, glowing, red-haired sweetness only adds to the attractive combination of sincerity and intelligence that allows her urban housewife character to be seen as particularly well-grounded. I especially was struck by the emotional truth she expresses during the party scene, when she is called upon to defend her budding religious beliefs against the cynical remarks of the 'callous urban sophisticates' (much to the chagrin of her husband, who's trying to score a few integrity points with the boss and his new business client.) Ms. Lee expresses her character's nervous hesitation perfectly during these moments; you can practically feel the adrenaline coursing through her body as she faces potential ridicule from these "important" strangers, all the while knowing that she is garnering certain disfavor in the eyes of her husband.

As an appreciation of deft acting and solid character portrayal, I feel that this movie excels far more often than it disappoints. The scenes depicting Graham's vintage sermons at Madison Square Garden are relatively short, and are therefore not too intrusive into the main storyline.

Although I was left unaffected by this film's religious overtones, the grief and fear expressed by the main characters as they struggle to deal with the serious illness of their young son actually haunted me for a few days afterward, and I still remember certain scenes fondly for their commendably effective theatrical construction. Ethel Waters is quite an enjoyable presence throughout this movie, both for her heartfelt renditions of some gospel standards (most notably "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child"), and for her cheerful portrayal of the ideal nurse/nanny character who watches over the sick little child. The young actor playing the sick boy is surprisingly restrained in his role, too; there is often a tendency to overplay such a focus of parental worry in stories such as this one, but this actor is fairly upbeat without being cloying.

I certainly want to find out who directed this movie; I suspect that its consistent high quality in the areas that matter most when working with a small budget, plus its gentle, non-threatening (& refreshingly non-hysterical) thematic nature, are also due in large part to the talents behind the camera.

An added draw for fans of 1960s TV series will be enjoying a bit of supporting work from the likes of a youthful and endearingly quirky Alvy Moore (Hank Kimball on "Green Acres" (1965)). Also appearing is Madge Blake (Aunt Harriet Cooper on "Batman" (1966/II)), who seems to be giving us a sneak preview of Aunt Harriet, appearing in a mink coat and diamonds...


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