Now available on demand from Warner Archive is Dear Heart, a gentle comedy for wistful romantic shut-ins, or perhaps a light drama that slips into comedy. It’s a showcase for Geraldine Page as Evie Jackson, a talkative, lonely postmaster (“I suppose I should say postmistress but it sounds too racy”) who arrives in New York for an annual convention. She’s a needy warm-hearted person who pushes at the edge of desperation before pulling herself back to self-deprecation. Page perfected this type so well, she eventually won an Oscar for it 20 years later with a movie called The Trip to Bountiful.
Evie’s unmarried but she’s tasted the apple. She’s been around with one or two of these conventioneers and now longs for something permanent. She’s like a more modern, midwestern, less doomed version of a Tennessee Williams heroine, perhaps from The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone or The Eccentricities of a Nightingale. When she’s not leaving herself phone messages or having herself paged, she bumps into a greeting-card salesman called Harry Mork (Glenn Ford). He’s also ready to settle down and has impulsively proposed to Phyllis (Angela Lansbury), who has a grown but boyish son (Michael Anderson Jr.) who drops in out of the blue. Much is made of Phyllis hailing from Altoona.
This is one of Ford’s thousand movies of the 1960s, and as usual, he’s very solid as a solid guy—ordinary without being bland. It’s his burden to realize somewhere in Act Three that he and Phyllis (who also drops into the movie suddenly) want opposite things. In other words, he must save himself from sophisticated modern women (including his previous mistress Patricia Barry, whose apartment is impossibly mod and sterile) and “rescue” poor downhome old-fashioned Evie from Avalon, Ohio.
Writer Tad Mosel portrays Harry as representing the confused sexual mores of early 60s Hollywood, which was beginning to admit that people had sex outside of marriage but wasn’t sure what to do about it. Even though he’s looking forward to his marriage, Harry instantly hooks up with a vulgar blonde (Barbara Nichols) for a quickie, and then he gets uncomfortable when his future son asks for sex advice, telling him he shouldn’t sleep with anybody. He’s further put off when Phyllis says she’s never going to worry about such things, because he thinks a real wife should worry. Harry’s hypocrisy is observed but not resolved or diagnosed.
Mosel and director Delbert Mann both came from the tradition of dialogue-driven TV plays of the 1950s. Mann’s auspicious feature debut was Marty and he followed with dialogue and character projects like The Bachelor Party, Separate Tables and The Dark at the Top of the Stairs. Mosel would write a similar “poignant heroine” piece for Sandy Dennis, Up the Down Staircase.
Their approaches blend harmoniously in this film, which takes place over two days, mostly in the bustling hotel and a few real locations packed with hurrying crowds, as shot in clear black and white by Russell Harlan. We wish the entire film could be on the streets of 1964 New York, because that’s one of its attractions today. It’s designed in a manner that keeps the image clear and spacious even when packed with supporting roles and extras. This atmosphere is among this minor film’s pleasures, along with familiar supporting faces Richard Deacon, Ruth McDevitt, Mary Wickes, and Neva Patterson. Henry Mancini’s music consists of the sweet, yearning title tune played in variations now and then.
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