The Secret Heart (1946)


June Allyson (Good News) plays Penny Adams, a disturbed young woman whose obsession with her dead father is driving family members crazy. On the advice of Penny’s psychiatrist (Lionel Barrymore, Key Largo), stepmother Lee, played by Claudette Colbert (It Happened One Night), moves the family back to their summer home, the place where Penny’s father committed suicide years before. However, old wounds are reopened and Lee finds herself unable to deal with Penny’s emotional problems.

Reaction & Thoughts:

Unusual (for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) production that almost plays like a glossy Val Lewton (Cat People, I Walked with a Zombie, The Leopard, etc.) horror film. The Secret Heart is an interesting and bold combination of psychological melodrama and dysfunctional family dynamics.

I’m assuming MGM, the place of clean-cut family fun, noticed the post-war moroseness and decided to tap into the nation’s funky mood. The studio couldn’t, of course, help itself and added high gloss entertainment to the noirish atmosphere.

Directed by veteran Robert Z. Leornard (In the Good Old Summertime) from a script by Anne Morrison Chapin and Whitfield Cook, The Secret Heart was a nice change of pace for June Allyson, who is mostly remembered for playing upbeat characters. I’m not a big fan of hers, but she does a good job playing a neurotic teenager.

It’s Claudette Colbert’s film, though. She does a really good job as Allyson’s long-suffering stepmother. Walter Pidgeon (Mrs. Miniver) plays Colbert’s love interest and his laid back approach to acting is effective here. Pidgeon has a nice chemistry with Colbert.

The cast also includes Marshall Thompson (Fiend Without a Face), Audrey Totter (The Postman Always Rings Twice) and ex-silent star Anna Q. Nilsson (Sunset Boulevard). You can hear Hume Cronyn’s (Cocoon) voice in the party sequence.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

The Secret Heart relies a bit too heavily on dated ideas regarding the Electra Complex, but it is an interesting movie. The actors are very good and MGM’s high production values are a big plus. Nicely photographed by George J. Folsey (Meet Me in St. Louis and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers). B&W, 97 minutes, Not Rated.

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