I can honestly say that until the release of this movie by Twilight Time I'd never heard of this movie. I found that strange since there are so many movies that are at least mentioned in various books and articles and yet this one somehow never caught my attention. So I went in with no clue what to expect.
The movie revolves around young Hilda Crane (Jean Simmons), a young woman who returns to her mother's home in small town USA after a run of bad luck, bad situations and bad choices in New York City. She married early, divorced, married and divorced again and had no future prospects relationship or business wise. Now she's returned home to try and find her way with the help of her mother Stella (Judith Evelyn). Of course her lifestyle thus far has left her with quite the reputation there in town.
Hilda proclaims that she'll follow her mother's advice and submit to the way of the world, one of drudgery away from the big city lights and chained to a modest home. She'll give up her freedom and belief in romantic love and replace it with a life of domesticity.
Walking her old college campus she runs into former professor and lover, Jacques DeLisle (Jean-Pierre Aumont). Seeing him again rekindles her dreams or romance at all costs. He takes her to his apartment and tells her she was the one woman he always longed for. He's about to have a book published that should leave him well off and he wants her back. But at what costs? The more he speaks the more she realizes he wants her as the woman on the side and not his wife.
Hilda has always had the eye of someone else from her past. Russell Burns (Guy Madison) owns a successful construction business now and has always loved Hilda. Not only does he send her a message he proposes to her right off the bat as well. He takes her to a home he's in the middle of constructing and tells her that he had the plans made to suit the style she always loved but it will need her touches to make it a home. Still smarting from the run in with DeLisle she accepts Russell's offer. She does so even though she knows she doesn't love him.
Willing to live the life her mother wants her to she finds another roadblock in her way, Russell's mother (Evelyn Varden). A domineering mother who runs her son's life she's unhappy that he wants to marry Hilda. So much so that she goes to Stella's house to confront Hilda. After a series of questions and comments Hilda refuses to change her mind Mrs. Burns leaves in a huff.
Torn between wanting to marry the man her mother thinks she should in the hope of finding domestic bliss and the romantic passion she dreams of in a man who wants her to be nothing but his "courtesan", Hilda finds herself in the middle of yet another romantic problem, still determined to live her life for herself and not for what society thinks is best for her. When DeLisle returns, successful and about to marry a woman for money, still wanting Hilda on the side, her problems become more pronounced.
The fifties were known for so many melodramas like this one, heaping on what had come before them and adding to them a bit of scandal in the making. To imagine a woman returning home after a divorce was one thing in the past but to come home after two was almost unimaginable. On top of that we have a strong willed character here determined to pursue the goals she sets for herself rather than those established by society. The end result is to cause herself more pain. Does that make the movie a morality tale or does it allow her some leeway, enough room to move in her own skin and determine a life for herself that is the best of both worlds?
Watching the movie I couldn't help but think that the sexual revolution of the sixties destroyed the possibility of making a movie like this afterwards. Free love resulted in women unbridled by the morals of the past. They could not be shamed by public standards and that scarlet woman model wouldn't hold water ever again. The goals that Hilda wants in this film would become the norm and whatever it took to reach those goals would be encouraged and applauded. The thing is that both worlds aren't quite reality, both sides have repercussions to deal with in their wake.
I've read some say that this was one of Simmons best performances but I'd beg to differ. Yes, she does what is called for here but the character is prone to overindulgent histrionics, making speeches rather than conversation and certainly more self-centered than most characters on film. Feelings for the character move back and forth from sympathy to dislike but in the end you feel that you're seeing less a woman in control and more a child who wants it all at no cost. Simmons delivers her lines well and acts wonderfully, it's perhaps more the dialogue written for her that makes the role seem a bit off.
The supporting casts does an amazing job here. Evelyn as her mother moves from caring to demanding, supportive and well-meaning but in the worst way possible. Here we have a woman who gave up her dreams for the life of a housewife and accepted it and now wants her daughter to do the same. The opposite side of that coin is Varden as Mrs. Burns, a woman who wants to control everything about her son, pushing away any potential romantic interest he might develop and trying to buy off Hilda with cash at one point. Both women are looking to control their offspring coming at it from different directions and both are more destructive than constructive. Aumont does a decent job here but the accent and attitude seem cardboard cutout rather than a character with depth. Madison is stalwart and little else, the man who suffers for his love but accepts whatever he can get from her.
The movie felt a bit long at times but not overly so. As I said it plays like what it is, a soap opera with an all-star cast made for the big screen. Shot in Cinemascope at the time to compete with television the images are well framed and shot and the print used by Twilight Time has been converted to a pristine 1080p high definition blu-ray. Extras are small but interesting and include an isolated music track, JEAN SIMMONS: PICTURE PERFECT an episode of the old Biography series and the original theatrical trailer. As with all their releases Twilight Time is limiting this to just 3,000 copies so if interested buy one right away.