Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Heart and Heaven

Caught up on a couple of old movies recently: Places in the Heart (1984) and Heaven Knows, Mr Allison from 1957.  The first stars Sally Field in one of her best roles, and the second has a relatively gentle Robert Mitchum co-starred with Deborah Kerr.  Kerr plays a nun, so for most of the film only her face is visible.  Other body language is almost minimal, but this doesn't stop her giving a wonderful performance.  

Yes, both the movies are old-style, tear-jerkers, the former focusing on forgiveness and the latter on an impossible relationship that nevertheless transcends its boundaries.  Places in the Heart is a story about forgiveness (there's an echo of the beginning of Les Miserables early in the piece) and how people who ought not to get along can manage to do so if they're willing.  It also has a curious subplot that never quite connects with the main story.  In this Lindsay Crouse plays Field's sister whose husband, played by Ed Harris, is having an affair with a mutual friend.  Obviously Crouse connects with Field because they're sisters - they have a few short scenes together - but for the most part this story plays out by itself almost in parallel with the main one.  At the very end all the characters are gathered together in church for a service.  A wonderful travelling shot begins with Harris being forgiven by Crouse - the touch of her hand on his is enough to tell us.  The camera moves from row to row as each person receives the communion wine, and finally we see Field's deceased husband sitting beside her.  He was accidentally shot early in the film by a young and very drunk negro, who was subsequently lynched. The camera moves a foot or two more and there is the negro boy.  He whispers to the husband, Sorry, and there's a look that might mean all sorts of things on the husband's face, but none of them are antagonistic.  It's a strange ending that comes out of nowhere - there hasn't been a hint of the surreal prior to this.  For all that, it's in keeping with the tone of the movie and its theme.

John Malkovitch plays a blind boarder who's foisted upon Field as a way to forestall her having to sell the house.  Of course they eventually learn to get along, but the performance by Malkovitch is somewhat over-the-top (Malkovitch is always over-the-top, you might think) and for me it jarred. 

Heaven Knows etc is a story about a marine who lands on a deserted island in the Pacific during the Second World War.  It's not quite deserted: a nun has been left behind on the island through some odd circumstances and the two begin a rather edgy relationship.  The Japanese arrive, take over the island, but fail to realise it's not quite as empty as they think.  They also fail to notice that their supplies are getting lower than they should be as Mitchum does a daring night raid on the stores. Eventually the US arrives on the island and conquer the Japanese.  That's pretty much the story, but Mitchum and Kerr invest the script with a great deal of warmth and humour, and humanity.  Kerr's character might seem a bit too much a member of the weaker sex at times, though Kerr brings some feistiness to the part, and Mitchum is given the chance not only to be a gentleman but also to be very protective gentleman.  The actors manage to make both the people credible, and John Huston films the whole thing with minimal fuss, knowing that he can rely on his two main cast members to do all the work. 

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