Whenever I see a list of “classic” films, I rarely see any of the complex character pieces Hollywood produced in the 1950s and 1960s. They produced quite a few, but none ever get much credit. Harriet Frank Jr. and Irving Ravetch wrote a few of them, but the Paul Newman films are–as Paul Newman films–better known than Home from the Hill. I first saw Hill back when I was watching Eleanor Parker films and I’ve probably seen it once since then, just to watch the laserdisc. Like many films I saw seven years ago, I don’t remember a lot about it. The best way to remember a lot about a film is to write about it for a class or something (I doubt these posts will ingrain themselves like actual research did for Mr. Deeds Goes to Town). For example, I forgot how fast Home from the Hill moves along. Thirty-seven minutes passes with the snap of the fingers. It’s a longer film too, 150 minutes, and it’s either got a ten minutes first act or a fifty-five minute one. I’d have to be graded on it to make a judgement.
Home from the Hill features a quintessential Robert Mitchum performance. He’s a Texan land baron who hunts, drinks and philanders. He’s got a wife–Parker–and son, George Hamilton, he has nothing to do with and an illegitimate son, George Peppard, he’s got everything to do with. Each of these characters has an incredibly complex relationship with one another and–for a film with a lot of sweeping camerawork–Minnelli is incredibly gentle with the way he explores the relationships. The editing of the film, the physical cutting between shot to shot, is imperfect, but there are these wonderful moments in the film when Minnelli just lets big things go little. Big things go unsaid. It’s lovely. The film’s extreme beauty in these evolving character relationships, the way they change and their changing value for the audience. It’s some of the finest family work ever done in film (seeing it makes me wonder if Spielberg has seen it, based on his work in Jaws–P.T. Anderson might not have seen it, but he’s seen Jaws I’m sure). It’s a different type of family work then something like Ordinary People, almost an entirely subset. In many ways, the modern Japanese family drama handles camerawork in the same ways.
The acting is excellent. It’s some of Mitchum’s best work and Parker’s great, but it’s the two Georges who surprised me the first time I saw it and surprised me again today. Besides looking identical to a young Anthony Perkins, Hamilton is great. Nuanced, subtle, had a lot of difficult stuff to do. He’s become a joke. So has Peppard. He’s remembered for “The A-Team,” but his performance in Home from the Hill is indicative of a “star quality” the 1960s rarely produced. Peppard’s performance is even more impressive. Mercury Theater member Everett Sloane has a small role–he’s unrecognizable, or at least was to me–and even he has a complex relationship with the characters. Frank and Ravetch adapted a novel, so I’m not sure how much of the structuring was theirs and how much was from the source (after finding out the structure of The Killing is from the novel, no one gets undue credit), but the film’s laid out brilliantly. Again, it’s worth a graded essay, but this post will have to do.
Warner Bros. is rumored to have the film in the works for DVD–I watched my LaserDisc, which is actually rotting, my first experience with that malady–hopefully by the end of this year.