Movie Diary 2/22/2021

My Foolish Heart (Mark Robson, 1949). A curious and memorable Samuel Goldwyn production, Oscar-nominated for the beautiful Victor Young-Ned Washington title song and Susan Hayward’s performance. Most of it is flashback, as a bitter Hayward recalls a romance with soon-to-be-soldier Dana Andrews, which left her pregnant and eventually married to dullard Kent Smith. Robson served his apprenticeships with Orson Welles and Val Lewton, and you can see both influences in the film (there’s even a Lewton “bus” – that is, a visual and aural intrusion that startles – in a group of kids loudly bursting into a shot during the heroine’s reverie in Washington Square). The script, by the Epstein brothers, has a lot of spiky lines, and an unusual amount of articulate disillusionment; it’s based on “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut,” by J.D. Salinger, who was annoyed enough about the changes to his story that he shunned Hollywood thereafter. Hayward is Hayward, a kind of audience projection of women from magazine stories, and Andrews plays an odd duck. In his first sequence, crashing a society dance party and rescuing the Idaho-bred Hayward from a faux pas, he comes across as a gallant nonconformist; later he’s a standard Guy on the Make, ripe to be redeemed by love. The film has a couple of moments where we see Andrews alone – outside of Hayward’s observation, that is, and yet still in her flashback, as though we’re sharing her daydream of what he must have been doing when they were separated – a curiously moving device. Robson and cinematographer Lee Garmes create a noir-laced visual scheme, almost always interesting to look at (Andrews’ bachelor pad is like a stage set: prepared for tidy Greenwich Village seduction, but revealed to be a pit of masculine disarray when the lights are turned on). The movie unfolds in repeated glimpses of small apartments, train stations, sidewalk stoops, and unhappy cocktail bars, and there’s one bench in a mansion, where Hayward first speaks to Andrews at the society party, that accrues meaning, especially when Hayward re-visits it late in the story. When we see it sitting empty at a party it’s the physical embodiment of the now-absent Andrews; when someone else sits there, it’s a violation of his memory. And yet the movie leaves behind one other possibility in its soap opera wake: that Andrews might have been a really ordinary man, made important only by his death and by Hayward’s fierce nostalgia, a nostalgia that gives her reason to be waspish and mean in the present-day part of the story.

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