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Although not dealing with the catastrophic events of 1918, On Valentine's Day is an absorbing drama that strikes a winning balance between stage and filmic graces. The beginnings of the Robedaux family are here, as Horace struggles to earn money and his wife hopes for a better future than their rented room. Her stiff-necked father means well but is punishing her for running off aand marrying a boy he disapproved of. Now things seem to be getting better and the parents eager are to greet the new baby. But father wants to intervene in Horace's affairs.
The reason these movies work lies in the characters created by Mr. Foote. If the Roubedouxs are based on people he knew in real life, he's a fortunate man. Horace and Elizabeth are a civilized and even tempered couple with endless patience and charity for those around them. In this second film our affection for them has already been firmly established. We derive further enjoyment from characters like Elizabeth's companion Bessie, a somewhat dim-witted but good natured girl who sits in dumb silence through most proceedings but tends to fire off long strings of irrelevant questions when things become too tense for her.
Star Matthew Broderick is back for this prequel, showing his propensity for causing trouble in college and giving his father no end of grief with betting and lying. He's a good natured troublemaker but is only in the film for ten minutes or so.
The main plot problems center around two unstable characters who make us fear that something tragic is going to happen. Horace's cousin Tyler's premature senility is becoming more and more erratic as he fixates on a failed romance he had twenty years before. He takes 15,000 dollars from the bank and distributes it as Christmas gifts to near-strangers on the street. When he's reminded that his lost love is buried in West Texas, Tyler makes plans to go there by rail and then goes down to the river with a packed bag and a gun. The other sorry soul is a straight alcoholic terrified of the doctor's needle (with justification) thinking that he'll be turned into a dope fiend. He also is obsessed with a mate, the wife who left him.
Foote manages to keep these characters circling around Horace and Elizabeth's parlor without the show ever seeming stagey, and the pacing here is even better than in the somewhat episodic 1918. Once again, the period is evoked flawlessly, as is the sleepy town where everyone knows everyone else's business.
Image's DVD of On Valentine's Day is not quite as beautiful as 1918, with slightly rougher colors and a grainier image, but it is still fine. Much smaller in scope, it has no big parade scenes and only a few moments downtown, but none of that is missed. There are no extras, so I'll be looking online to learn more about Horton Foote and how these shows came together.
Apparently the title Story of a Marriage was a named used when On Valentine's Day and 1918 were shown together.
This second sequel to 1918 steps back even earlier into the lives of the characters in a small East Texas town. It's even less complicated than On Valentine's Day but is equally satisfying. The drama has the clarity of an excellent one-act play and takes place almost completely on the front porch of the Vaughn family in 1915.
Savant ended up seeing this "Elizabeth and Horace" trilogy in reverse order, which did the experience no harm whatsoever. The universal situation of living with one's parents and trying to respect their wishes while forming one's own life is beautifully conveyed here.
It will also be an eye opener for those of us who have little notion of just how restrictive life was in many families a century ago. The Vaughns are formally dressed at all times. The father of the house demands respect and the main task of the household seems to be to keep him happy. Cross dad, and mother's on your case. Elizabeth and Laura are fascinating to watch as they meet every confining and mildly tyrannical situation ("Come play piano for your aunts - now") with grace and apparent calm. Laura is more emotional and frequently breaks out crying for reasons nobody can fathom, although we know it's because of the general atmosphere of stifled self-expression. Elizabeth has worked herself into a state where she's hiding most of her feelings from her parents just to keep the peace. Tonight dad puts the pressure on, with mother as his 'enforcer.'
All this is done without a single unkind word. It's a 'perfect' family that Elizabeth knows has to stop, at least for her. Father's loving guidance reserves the right to police her every move, and he's making speeches about her staying home and never getting married. Something's gotta give, even in this serene environment.
And how serene is it? All everyone talks about are failed relationships in the family, marital disasters and unhappy lives. And worse are the scandals among Elizabeth and Laura's crowd, the sons and daughters of the well-to-do. Father uses this as a pretext to run everyone else's lives. Elizabeth decides otherwise.
In this smaller venue, the cast seems even better. Hallie Foote is marvelous as the even younger Elizabeth, with her hair done up Mary Pickford style. There's no Matthew Broderick this time, but he's more than compensated for by the wonderful Amanda Plummer (Pulp Fiction). William Converse-Roberts also does a fine job as a mature young man admitting his own lack of self-confidence.
I have to admit that I never responded so positively to Horton Foote's To Kill a Mockingbird but I loved the pace of this drama and the style of the character interaction. I wish there were more 'Robedoux' films to see.
Image's DVD of Courtship looks fine, with an enhanced transfer. Again, the color is not exceptional but the picture is less grainy. Most of the film is shot at night on the Vaughn's front porch, and the evening blacks are rich.
I'm surprised that Image didn't promote these films as a package. Neither the announcements nor the DVD cases themselves make any mention of the fact that they form a close trilogy; this is a perfect candidate for a 3 DVD set.
Many of the movies that debuted on PBS' American Playhouse are deserving of serious releases. I really wish that a forgotten thriller called A Flash of Green would resurface. It starred Ed Harris and Blair Brown and I remember it as an excellent thriller.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,