Looking back through a prism of history, it's easy to see the appeal of a movie like Home in Indiana. It's a wholesome story, altogether predictable, teaching certain life lessons, not all of them easy, but basically positive. It's the kind of movie that you might find a modern version of on ABC Family Channel. It's a story about family bonds and community that features animals and that, if you scrub out the casual racism, is completely inoffensive.
And I say that with all due honesty. If that's your thing, I'm not judging you. You'll like Home in Indiana. It's not my thing, and I found it a dud.
Home in Indiana is the story of a small-town community and the interloper who comes and shakes things up. Sparke (Lon McCallister) is a newly orphaned teen (?) shipped off to live with his uncle in Indiana. The boy's new homebase is known for its competitive horse-and-buggy races, something Sparke takes an interest in despite his uncle, Thunder (Walter Brennan), having horse-and-buggy PTSD after a race in his youth went wrong. It doesn't hurt that the man in charge of the biggest stables in town has two attractive daughters: the haughty blonde Cri-Cri (June Haver) and the tomboy brunette Char (Jeanne Crain). Sparke becomes friends with Char, not realizing she's the one he should be pursuing instead of her sister, all of which he will figure out on the way to becoming the horse-and-buggy champ.
That's probably enough to tell you, you can likely extrapolate everything else you need to know about Home in Indianafrom that description. It's a perfectly solid movie, exceptional in no ways. It's not even exceptionally bland. The filmmaking and the acting is all decent, ignoring maybe McCallister. He's starchy and unconvincing. But everything else is absolutely sincere. It's just boring as all get out.
So why, then, did I watch Home in Indiana, if it's not my cuppa? Good question. For the same reasons you might try a movie you know nothing about. Critics aren't special. I don't mind rural stories from times past, and I tend to like movies with crossover competitions, linking a specific task with romance. I also don't mind director Henry Hathaway. He's done some perfectly acceptable westerns and noir films, including Niagara with Marilyn Monroe ad the John Wayne version of True Grit. I also like Jeanne Crain in movies like the remarkable Letters to Three Wives and the thriller Dangerous Crossing. So why not give Home in Indiana a spin?
Home in Indiana just didn't click with me. It's uptight and milquetoast and lacking in any nuanced emotion. It's about as deep as a can of tuna. Its homespun morality might resonate with others, just not with me. You likely know who you are. No judgment, let's part as friends. (And for an alternate point of view, check Paul Mavis' review of the movie.)
By the way, the crack about racism wasn't a joke. Home in Indiana came out in 1944, and its portrayal of its two African American characters is, sadly, very much of its time. One is essentially a "magical negro," the other is always comically scared, stuttering, and looking to make money. There is no racial language and they aren't treated harshly, but the movie is kind of worse for how easygoing it all is. I'm pretty forgiving of old films in terms of these things, but this was really bad. It's probably one of the many reasons Home in Indianais getting such a low-key release.
The manufacture-on-demand edition of Home in Indiana is one of the worst DVDs I have seen in some time. There's no way to sugarcoat it. Whatever source material they dug up for this disc is beaten up and faded. The colors are out sync and underexposed. The digital format has only made it worse, adding jagged lines and artefacting. The image is visible, that's about the only compliment I can muster.
The original soundtrack is mixed for mono and is neither here nor there. You wouldn't even notice it if you didn't have to actually listen.
A bad DVD of a mediocre movie means Skip It. Henry Hathaway's 1944 family drama Home in Indiana is fine on the surface, but there are no hidden revelations lurking underneath. The story offers nothing surprising, original, or inspiring, it only serves to teach its own moral lesson--one its inherent racism renders somewhat moot. You might be fine giving it a spin if the disc weren't so poor, but the image quality here is far from ideal. Just best to move on to whatever is next in your queue.
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with Joelle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent project is the superhero series It Girl and the Atomics and the futuristic romance A Boy and a Girl with Natalie Nourigat. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.