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The Trip to Bountiful

The Trip to Bountiful
1985 / Color / 1:85 anamorphic 16:9 + 1:33 pan-scan / 108 min. / Street Date April 12, 2005 / 14.95
Starring Geraldine Page, John Heard, Carlin Glynn, Richard Bradford, Rebecca De Mornay
Cinematography Fred Murphy
Production Designer Neil Spisak
Art Direction Philip Lamb
Film Editor Jay Freund
Original Music Norman Kasow, J.A.C. Redford
Written by Horton Foote from his play
Produced by Dennis Bishop, Horton Foote, Sam Grogg, Sterling Van Wagenen, George Yaneff
Directed by Peter Masterson

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

There have been many good adaptations of Horton Foote's books, plays and teleplays. The most famous is To Kill a Mockingbird but there are also his Robert Duvall shows Tomorrow and Tender Mercies and his series about families in the 1918 flu epidemic, 1918, On Valentine's Day and Courtship.

This film adaptation of The Trip to Bountiful almost didn't get made, as it had originally starred Lilian Gish on the stage and Foote wouldn't let another actress do the role. But in 1985 Foote's cousin, director Peter Masterson talked him into getting this exceptionally good film going. It ended up earning Foote a writing nomination, and Geraldine Page the Oscar for best actress.


Houston, Texas. Aged Mrs. Carrie Watts (Geraldine Page) feels like a prisoner, as she lives with her son Ludie (John Heard) and his unhappy wife Jessie Mae (Carlin Glynn) in a small house. Jessie Mae isn't the forgiving type and exaggerates all of Mrs. Watts' faults. In retaliation, Carries sulks and plans for the day she can skip out with her Social Security check and return to the happy town where she grew up, Bountiful. Carrie eventually sneaks away on a bus, with the help of soldier's wife Thelma (Rebecca De Mornay). But she loses her purse on the way, and bus agents and a Sheriff (Richard Bradford) could betray her at any time. Ludie and Jessie Mae are searching desperately for Mrs. Watts, who is intent on returning to a ghost town that's no longer listed on any map.

The Trip to Bountiful is a simple idea beautifully presented. As with most of Horton Foote's dramas, by the time we have come to know the characters, even the obvious villains are human and sympathetic. Ludie (John Heard of Cutter's Way) is repeatedly defeated in his attempts to keep Jessie Mae and his mother away from each other's throats, and blames himself for not doing well enough at his job to have a bigger house, to start a family, etc. Jessie Mae is shrill, shallow and vicious to her Mother-In-Law, but her behavior is also understandable given the situation. Carrie Watts idly sings hymns all day long and cultivates other nervous habits, possibly in an effort to drive Jessie Mae nuts.

All of this makes Carrie's flight to a place that no longer exists all the more pitiful. She has a bad heart so we of course wonder if the punch line to this quirky film is going to be a sad old lady dying when she reaches her old homestead. The obvious analogy is that she's trying to recapture a past and a youth that is gone forever.

The pleasant surprise is that although the journey has its problems, Carrie has a splendid time. She meets a worried young wife separated from her husband, a soldier, and they find they have a lot in common. There are some beautifully-acted passages in which Ms. Page expresses the old lady's confusion over life issues - the fact that she never should have left Bountiful, the fact that she never loved her husband.

As with many Horton Foote stories, uncommon kindness is the order of the day. A local sheriff shows up with instructions to hold Mrs. Watts for pickup by her worried son and irate daughter-in-law. Carrie almost sobs; she's twelve miles short of "home." The sheriff befriends her and drives her out to what remains of the family farm.

The Trip to Bountiful turns out to be about healing, acceptance and the hard work of making family peace in trying circumstances. Carrie almost wishes she could just die without having to leave Bountiful again, but her son is right; he doesn't even want to look inside the house, as he cannot see that anything positive can come of renewing old memories. Those old memories are all Carrie really has. Jessie Mae is still a serious pain, but we can tell she's honestly concerned for Carrie, even though her personality isn't likely to show it often.

The Trip to Bountiful is handsomely shot and has the nice period feel and short-story atmosphere we associate with Horton Foote adaptations. The house in Bountiful isn't forced to represent anything more than what it is - an abandoned farm in a depressed area that looks like a perfect place for a picnic. It's neither a lost ideal, like Sterling Hayden's farm in The Asphalt Jungle, nor a haunted, damned place like the town Lassoo in Man of the West. It is what it is, and Carrie has to deal with it.

Geraldine Page is luminous as Carrie, adorable but not begging for appreciation. She surely earned her Oscar. Carlin Glynn makes a fascinating Jessie Mae. She's vain, dull and a real harpy when she gets in an abusive mood, a personality type easily recognizable by all. John Heard's Ludie is actually exceedingly patient and persevering - whoever wrote the weak package text misinterprets his character as cowardly. Rebecca De Mornay lends a note of grace and kindness right when the story needs it. Richard Bradford's sheriff is a genuine surprise, and a much different character than the drunken womanizer Bradford played in the delirious Foote adaptation of twenty years previous, The Chase.

MGM's DVD of The Trip to Bountiful is a flipper disc with an enhanced widescreen transfer on one side and a standard adapted-scan version on the other. Colors are excellent and the delicate soundtrack is nicely reproduced. A trailer is included but the main extra is a lengthy docu about the play and movie made by one of the film's producers, that gives us a better understanding of the history behind the production. Foote and Carlin Glynn are among the interviewees, and we're pleased also to see the author's daughter Hallie Foote (Courtship) give her views as well.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, The Trip to Bountiful rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent DD Mono English only
Supplements: Docu Return to Bountiful, trailer
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: April 29, 2005

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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