I wonder if, in the early 1970s, anyone could tell Robert Duvall was going to end up playing the scruffy-looking, ne’er do-well with the heart of gold over and over again. He doesn’t particularly act in The Stars Fell on Henrietta. He just shows up and does his thing. His scruffy-looking thing. There’s some attempt at giving him a character–he really doesn’t have any depth–but for the most part, that attempt has to do with his never-spoken love for his cat. The cat’s cute, but it’s hardly enough. There’s some nice stuff with Wayne Dehart, who plays his co-worker in the beginning of the second act (the acts are clearly defined in Stars, usually with fade-outs). It’s 1935 Texas, so Dehart being black and Duvall white gives their relationship some inherent interest, but Dehart’s real good, putting a lot out there, so much Duvall doesn’t have to do much, which is good… because, like I said, Duvall doesn’t do much in Stars.
But Dehart leaves and Duvall ends up with Aidan Quinn and his family, where most of the story and most of the problems lie. Quinn starts the film grumbling and for the first act, it seems like the grumble is his interpretation of the character. Once the grumbling goes away, Quinn is good. Frances Fisher plays his wife and she’s good, but her character’s hardly in it after a point, which is too bad because her performance is probably the best and her character had the most potential for drama. The film’s narrated from the present day–in some ways, not that narration, but in lots of others, it reminds of a really depressing Field of Dreams, especially since the film starts out with the narrator telling the audience everything is going to be bad in the end. For the first eighty minutes, it does too. One bad thing after another happens, so much so I was suspicious of every scene.
The Stars Fell on Henrietta is a pretty picture. It’s a Malpaso production, Clint Eastwood producing it (and I kept wondering how it would have been if he’d taken Duvall’s role), and there’s the wonderful Joel Cox editing and the perfect Henry Bumstead production design (startling, in fact). The non-Eastwood regulars are good too–David Benoit’s music is nice and Bruce Surtees does a good job with the cinematography, though he’s obviously not Jack N. Green… Director James Keach uses the prettiness–especially the music–to make up for what the screenplay doesn’t provide: good character relationships, an ending, humanity. Everything is nice and tidy and the film constantly ignores potential for rich drama, or just fast-forwards through it.
It’s an empty experience. The end credits rolled and I appreciated the fine score and couldn’t think of one thing the film showed me.