Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
In 1964, see, a Henry Mancini song called 'Dear Heart' played on every radio station seemingly five times a day, and became a constant Muzak® hit in elevators everywhere. I was the owner of a cover version on an album by the Baja Marimba Band...
The song 'Dear Heart' goes with Dear Heart, a delightful 'square' movie badly in need of rediscovery. The consistently charismatic Glenn Ford is simply great here, projecting his basic decency and sincerity. Geraldine Page didn't make enough films to settle on a single image, but what she does for the character of Evie Jackson, postmaster on vacation, looks much more difficult than playing a crazy mother (You're a Big Boy Now) or a scattered, selfish movie star (Sweet Bird of Youth).
The story is a screen original by Tad Mosel, a writer from the TV Golden Age of a few years previous. The director is Delbert Mann, who is much better than the reputation given him by auteur critics looking for personal themes. Although most of Dear Heart is resolutely old-fashioned and sentimental, it's honest and intelligent, too. That combination is not all that common.
Welcome to downtown Manhattan. Traveling greeting card sales executive Harry Mork (Glenn Ford) has decided to settle down and have a home rather than live in hotels. He's also giving up the women he visits in every
port city. He's come to NYC to rent an apartment for himself and his fianceé Phyllis (Angela Lansbury). Harry stops off to give the bad news to steady playgirl-partner Mitchell (Patricia Barry) before checking in at his hotel. In the lobby he meets Patrick, Phyllis' son (Michael Anderson Jr.), an errant college boy presently shacked up with his girlfriend Emile Zola Bernkrant (future author Joanna Crawford). Harry also tries to set up a hot date with cigarette counter girl June Loveland (Barbara Nichols). Filling the hotel to capacity are at least seventy postmasters, a pack of solid-citizen squares holding their yearly convention and really letting their hair down. People
are hooking up left and right, but not Evie Jackson (Geraldine Page), a delightfully upbeat postmaster passed up for marriage yet optimistic for her chances. Evie makes everybody's business her own and convinces most people that she's a sincere caring soul -- only rude New Yorkers are immune to her sweet solicitations of friendship. Evie dodges a married conventioneer on the make (Charles Drake) and a masher in the hallway (Ken Lynch). She deftly sidesteps the triumvirate of spinster biddies (Ruth McDevitt, Alice Pearce & Mary Wickes) that expect her to join them in card games and tours. But Evie keeps running into Harry, who is trying to straighten out his own problems. In the silliest of situations they make a human connection that at first seems casual socializing, then an earnest challenging of each other's personalities, and then something more. One problem for Evie is that she never counts on anything: "It's a way I have of avoiding disappointment." She gets the mistaken idea that Harry's marriage is a fib he's made up to protect himself. She feels sure that his desire to spend more time with her, will be an invitation to romance. Will she be hurt again?
Dear Heart takes place in all the rooms and corridors of a hotel, often with thirty people in the frame. Its post- The Apartment attitude has an awareness of the philandering and one-night-standing that occurs with conventions. For his part Ford's Harry Mork is engaged, yet still hot to trot with the pneumatic Miss Loveland; the show gets some Billy Wilder- level humor out of their attempts to slip across the street for a quick one. Did men ever really pick up the counter girls in hotels, as Harry does here? I guess the ones who looked like Glenn Ford could. I wonder if Billy Wilder would approve of Tad Mosel's screenplay, which develops gags and situations with ease and grace. Mosel creates some interesting dialogue business about 'locked and unlocked doors' that keys into whether people are open or closed to honest communication.
I suppose that Wilder would use a sharper razor with the dialogue, but Dear Heart is awfully consistent with its human observation.
Evie is a real find, a busybody who makes busy-bodying seem the way to be. She's open and friendly to everyone, consideration personified, and sincere. She can't pass a person without offering a compliment. She's constantly making funny true observations about people, and not just feel-good junk one might read in Reader's Digest (or Harry's greeting cards). Just as Harry's desire for something better is communicated in the scene with his old flame Mitchell, Evie is contrasted with a childhood friend who left for New York years before. The friend has acquired cosmopolitan manners and a new accent, but three divorces as well.
Evie isn't a prude, but she makes a great case for being choosy with one's love mates. The postmasters -- not remotely a glamorous bunch -- engage in sing-a-longs as in Capra's It Happened One Night. But more than a few of them are adulterously pairing off. Drunk biddy Alice Pearce keeps trying to break up a party with the words, "Everybody go to bed." Dodging a casual offer to jump in the sack, Evie comes up with a great speech. When guy tries to minimize the importance of the sex angle, she replies that if it's nothing she doesn't want it. She wants more than 'nothing'.
Much more than nothing is Harry Mork, who is gracious no matter what ploys she tries to pair herself up with him. They interact well, and his only complaint is that she's a little pushy. They can be sincere and plain spoken together. They
listen to each other. It's as if this screen couple has found a forgotten but important quality missing in so many screen romances: simple congenial companionship. Evie stops seeming even a little bit silly, even if she continues to make little mistakes, predicting that the bubble will burst. The way she registers happiness is indeed heartwarming.
Anointed as the everywoman bimbo in Sweet Smell of Success, Barbara Nichols is handed some great jokes. Harry walks up to Miss Loveland's counter in the lobby, trying to think of what to say. Harry: "I've got a strange thing..." Loveland: "Well I don't want to see it." Nichols' deadpan delivery of that and other lines is priceless. Former child actor Michael Anderson Jr. does very well with a part that's a real stretch -- the kid is glib and eccentric and apparently sleeping with his girlfriend, who is always in the next room taking a bath. Angela Lansbury is for the umpteenth time great as the annoying third wheel. Harry wants normality but Phyllis has the idea that her part in their coming marriage is to have everything done for her. She demands that Harry take over responsibility for her son. She expects to be set up in a hotel with an elevator and room service so she'll never have to cook or receive guests. Harry feels prejudged, as if he's already failing to meet her demands. Lansbury plays this kind of character to a 'T'.
Director Mann has excellent help setting up crowd scenes in the hotel, with the convention parties and even in a big train station. Which one? Sorry, I'm from California. Some of the visual jokes resemble the observational humor in Jacques Tati's Playtime. Edie and Harry end up sitting together in a
lunchroom, where the tables and chairs are crammed so tightly together that one scoot sets off a chain reaction. The pair's attempt to talk in the hotel hallway is constantly interrupted by drunken conventioneers, and elevator boys that detect hanky-panky in all things.
By the middle of Act 3 we're so invested in Geraldine Page's Edie that we're dreading a bittersweet ending. Edie is setting herself up to be hurt, even as everything they do together seems so right. But they can't seem to separate. When he asks her to see the apartment he's chosen for Phyllis, she jumps to the wrong conclusions, and must offer the kind of humiliating confession that lonely single people hate to make.
Was Dear Heart considered hopelessly square when new? It now seems a non-condescending ode to ordinary people, perhaps inspired by Delbert Mann's breakthrough hit Marty. It doesn't pretend that things work out for everyone, but puts hope in the idea that connecting with the right person is possible, that we'll know "it" when we find it. Come to think of it, Billy Wilder might have really admired Dear Heart. After The Apartment he had a few years in which his Warm And Human Quotient took a dive, and his contemporary instincts became brittle. Dear Heart carries a very positive charge.
The Warner Archive Collection DVD-R of Dear Heart is a sharp and mostly flawless enhanced scan of a B&W show handsomely filmed by Russell Harlan. Cropping the image for widescreen greatly focuses the drama and comedy, delivering a different experience than old TV viewings. Henry Mancini's love theme is not over-used, and it fits the
movie like a glove. The show doesn't use the vocal, but anybody who lived in the '60s knows the lyrics and can sing along: 'Dear Heart, I wish you were here..."
A trailer is included. It is hosted by Michael Anderson Jr. and tries to make the show look like a bed-hopping sex farce. The terrible original poster used for the disc cover looks like generic advertising art -- the 'carefree' woman pictured needs a Coke bottle in her hand, or maybe a Maidenform® bra.
Viewers expecting a good sappy romance will instead find that Dear Heart is an excellent all-round romance. Geraldine Page in particular is wonderful.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Dear Heart DVD-R rates:
Video: Very Good ++
Sound: Very Good ++
Deaf and Hearing Impaired Friendly?
N0; Subtitles: None
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: March1, 2015
Text © Copyright 2015 Glenn Erickson
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