Friday, January 03, 2014


In Lynboro, Vermont, high school friends Henry Fonda (at right) and Joan Bennett are walking home together as he reads love poetry out loud. When he trips and falls, she takes advantage of the moment and kisses him. She wants to marry him right away, but he wants to wait until he graduates and makes something of himself. Two years later, he's in college and she's living at home waiting for him to finish. When Bennett gets lost in a snowstorm on her way to a Christmas party, she seeks shelter at a cabin occupied by sophisticated writer Alan Marshal. Over the course of the evening, he charms her so much that they run off to elope. Three years later, Bennett, Marshal and their baby daughter live in Paris where Marshal has become a dissolute troublemaker. He is killed in a drunken duel, and eventually Bennett accepts an offer from her guardian aunt (Dame May Whitty) to come back to Vermont. Fonda has become a biology professor at the local college; he is unattached but as soon as Bennett shows up, a somewhat unstable student (Louise Platt) starts flirting with Fonda, making an awkward triangle that becomes a rectangle when a fellow student (Tim Holt) makes his interest in Platt known. The way out of this tangle threatens to turn tragic when Pratt tries unsuccessfully to kill herself—or so she claims—and Bennett finally forces a showdown in a speeding car, in the middle of the night.

This romantic melodrama is fairly light in tone, so much so that it keeps threatening to turn into comedy, and it begins with a lovely  half-hour or so covering the background of the characters. Fonda and Bennett, both shot in a kind of gauzy focus, are personifications of foolish, romantic youth. The snowy night scene in which Bennett meets Marshal (pictured at left) is equally lovely, in the way it looks and the way it plays out. But once we get around to the present, something is lost in both the cinematography and the characterization. Fonda's character doesn't seem to know what he wants, is mostly a passive agent, and he becomes almost unsympathetic. Though Bennett comes off in a better light, I even began to think that she should just give up and go back to Paris. Platt, Holt and Dorothy Stickney (as Fonda's mother) are good as the characters who we like to dislike. Alan Marshal is so charming as the roguish author that I really missed his presence in the latter part of the film. Perhaps the problem is that the first half is so interesting that much of the second half just feels like narrative coasting. Still, I'd recommend this, especially to fans of the stars. [TCM]

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