HOMECOMING (1948)


Firstly let me say i have weakness for these so called  ‘Women’s pictures’ which became a genre in of their own.  I  was skeptical of HOMECOMING (1948) since it was a later career Clark Gable picture and I read in some biographies of how he disliked  the material he received.   In this instance both Clark and Lana  received a gem.

HOMECOMING (1948) was   Directed by Mervyn Leroy from the same studio that gave us the quintessential Hollywood  coming home war picture of the  forties: MGM’s  THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (1946).    Hollywood had a market now for this style of picture with real drama occurring during the demobilization of all countries.  MGM had capitalized on the war story of  Girl/boy find each other and part because of shipping out as shown by the roles  of Van Johnson  as  the “fresh faced” soldier to the female cast next to him  to the brilliant  Judy Garland/ Robert Walker  picture  THE CLOCK (1945).  What makes all those films and indeed what makes any picture of that scope work for me is the  story and the ensemble that executes it.

 

HOMECOMING (1948)  was one of the  first roles Clark Gable was assigned to  after the death of Carole Lombard in plane crash in 1942.  The  first  being ADVENTURE (1945) which  was touted in the poster  that  GABLE IS BACK AND GARSON’S  GOT HIM’ followed by THE HUCKSTERS which was  another “soldier home in transition’ film  this time  with Deborah Kerr.  The main difference from all of these previous pictures being not quite successful or fulfilling for some is that HOMECOMING (1946)  is not an action picture but one of the heart.    I suggest  its  cerebral picture much like  the thinking in spite of the action, seaU storms and battles that goes on in  Gable/Crawford picture  STRANGE CARGO (1940).  Gable also gets to star against the underrated  Lana Turner who worked together  in HONKY TONK (1941) with whom he had better  on screen chemistry.

The story is quite simply American Surgeon Ulysses Johnson (Clark Gable) is coming home from the War.  As his ship nears the port of New York City the story unfolds in flashback.   Ulysses is  successful with huge house and wife Penny played Anne  Baxter.  They are childless because Ulysses never thought it was necessary or cared.  He is a ruthlessly efficient  surgeon who inspite good intentions reneges on promise to help  college  chum and  fellow  medical person Dr. Robert Sunday (John Hodiak) with  files he wanted  a consult on.   Sunday visits the  Johnson’s residence on the eve of Ulysses  leaving  for the  War only to find his work has not been done.   An argument ensues between the  two old friends  with Sunday accusing Ulysses of not caring for anything  in fact  going to war because its the  ‘place to be”.   Penny walks in ending to confrontation.

Penny and Ulysses promise not change because of the War as he goes off to do basic training. He gets assigned Nurse Lt. Jane “Snapshot” McCall (Lana Turner) and their adventure begins  through Europe. The two grow close as  want to happen in War yet they maintain their dignity. McCall has a  Son who’s Father was killed in China years before. Ulysses writes Penny each night professing his love for his family and telling her of  the hard nosed  nurse. McCall even  give  Johnson the  nickname of  “Uless” in fun. Of course the inevitable happens and sparks  fly but for all the right reasons  and with  dignity.

The picture  features a lightly naughty but fun bath sequence in which McCall asks Ulysses and  Lt. Col. Avery Silver  (Ray Collins) to have a bath with  her at  near by Roman ruin.  Avery begs off  and both Ulysses and  McCall go it alone with some amusing results.

 

 

McCall gets reassigned as  per  regulations.  They finally kiss in the doorway of Ulysses’s  tent with Turner  walking into the background in a  brilliant shot very reminiscent  of GONE WITH THE  WIND (1939).

 

Johnson gets leave in Paris where he meets McCall again by chance who has  yet to be reassigned.   The two head off in the Battle of the Bulge where they work together again. They grow  close but he  ‘belongs to someone else’ and their affection is unspoken till one night as  they are surrounded  at Bastogne when they both sadly reveal their feeling. The affection come out with words and gestures and almost a poignant admittance  to their Love masterfully handled  by both Gable, Turner and the choice of shots with lighting.

The story shifts to Penny Johnson and her  growing belief that she has lost her husband to ‘Snap Shot’ which she confides to Dr Sunday who is a family friend.  She  even tries to guess which one is  ‘Snap Shot’ from a picture of  the  unit Ulysses  send home

The story changes and people change. How can one  not be changed  by the experience of war of  operating sixteen hours  a day, watching people die including  personal friends like  Monk  (Cameron Mitchell)who delivered the Johnson’s laundry now   Sgt. Monkevickz who asked Johnson to look at him before he left for the  War. Canada makes  it into the film when Monk (Cameron Mitchell) say he is going off to fight in the Canadian army because they are fighting now much to the belittling of  his choice by Ulysses Johnson.

Lana Turner is wonderfully sensitive  as  the  not so glamorous Nurse Lt. Jane “Snapshot” McCall.  It is never explained  why her character is called  Snap Shot by all in the  film perhaps it is  her  cool efficiency which her character  shows in operating room situations. Turner does  well in military clothes as she  did before in the  KEEP YOUR POWDER DRY (1945) in which she was a motor pool mechanic complete with grease.  This offers Turner an chance to do what she did  for  years like no other  and that was  shed small tears very slowly without moving a facial muscle.

 

The  cast  is rounded out  by wonderful rock solid John Hodiak as  Dr Robert Sunday who like his name suggests is  the  pious center of the picture. Hodiak does  well in his moments with Gable as  the  two spar in great give and take  session.  Hodiak also offers the  shoulder  confessor to cry on for Penny Johnson who was played by his real life  wife Anne Baxter.    John Hodiak when onto an all to brief career in film which is a shame  due  to his  dark intense looks and  well modulated  tones could have been so much more.  Hodiak passed away tragically  at  age forty one of a fatal heart attack.

 

Anne Baxter looks  very inch the role of the wife.  Baxter variations of this role of  the unsure  glamour girl  like she  did in this picture  and  in  CIMMARRON (1960) as  Dixie Lee.  She wears the clothes well and does  the mannerisms well yet  leaves one with tone of  unsure about her life which is exactly what  the  roles  requires.   Her tone is light in speech which changes with one  crucial sentence when talking later  in the film to Ulysses.  Baxter is the  faithful wife that Hollywood  and Louis B. Mayer wanted  in HOMECOMING (1960)

Life had taken its tole on Gable which is only evident in a sequence in which the lines on his  face are evident during a  flashback moment of both him  and  Penny meeting for the first time.

HOMECOMING (1960)  is limited in action sequences  in spite of the  War going on plus there is some judicious editing of history. One cannot help but think that when one sees Ulysses Johnson wistfully or  tenderly   thinking on screen silently it is not Clark Gable dreaming of Carole Lombard and their  years. Life and  Art all in one. The picture  offers a  good  cast  with Gable, Turner, Hodiak and Baxter shining right along side  THE BEST YEARS OF  OUR LIVES (1946)

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