I dived into Dear Heart with absolutely no knowledge about it. The title is what caught my eye, reminding me of Robert Redford’s “nicknames” in Inside Daisy Clover. Well, Bob Redford pushed me in the right direction because Dear Heart is a sensitive tale about outsiders seeking connection with a tender-hearted performance by Geraldine Page. Sweet, delicate, and, at times, downright trippy, Dear Heart is a hidden gem from the Warner Archive.
Evie Jackson (Page) is a lonely woman in New York for a convention. Desperate to make friends she meets Harry Mork (Glenn Ford), a Lothario set to marry a widowed “tomato from Altoona” but can’t shake his soon-to-be wife’s teenage son (Michael Anderson, Jr.). Evie and Harry connect over their mutual woes and discover they might be what the other’s been looking for.
Dear Heart is a weird movie, and yet it conforms to the basic tenets of the romance film we’ve come to know; two characters, total opposites, find each other and transcend their mutual problems while attempting to make a go of a relationship which frightens them, and simultaneously makes sense. With Dear Heart, the characters are remarkably human in a way unseen in movies before the 1990s. Evie Jackson isn’t a glamorous woman with “pretty” problems. She’s social awkward and is well aware of it. At the same time, the world doesn’t give her the time of day; she’s ignored by everyone, including a porter who refuses to take her bag. The first meeting of Evie and Harry isn’t even anything special. He walks right by her, ignoring her as everyone else. There’s no thunderclap or lightening strike in either character’s heart at the beginning.
It was shocking to realize Geraldine Page lent her voice to my favorite Disney villain: Madame Medusa of The Rescuers. You wouldn’t realize it to hear her even-tempered voice, a less abrasive cross between Lina Lamont and Judy Holliday. Her pain is acutely felt throughout the movie as she leaves welcome messages for herself upon arriving. A recurring gag is the name “Bimbo Jones,” an invented friend brought up time and again to aid in both Evie and Harry’s loneliness. Evie dreams of fitting in, of finding a crowd of friends. When she reunites with an old friend whose moved to New York Evie takes note of the woman’s new personality which has seemingly come from being married. Later on, Evie looks for a hairdresser to change her hair in the hopes that a new town will turn her into someone new. In a sense, Dear Heart isn’t really a romance. When the two characters do inevitably make it back to each other, it isn’t a grand romance for the ages but two people refusing to enable their loneliness anymore.
All of this could leave you thinking Dear Heart is a somber event, but there’s several moments of subtle humor, particularly from Michael Anderson, Jr. as Patrick, Harry’s soon-to-be stepson. Harry is a womanizer intent on settling down with widow, Phyllis (Angela Lansbury) but realizes Phyllis might have a few flaws when he discovers the photo of a 13-year-old Patrick is the only one Phyllis keeps while Patrick is really 18. According to Patrick, “She liked me when I was 13.” Anderson is hilarious as the continually exasperated Patrick, a performance which reminded me of George Peppard in I Love Lucy. Patrick, much like Evie and Harry, seeks companionship and a new identity. He dreams of escaping “the tomato from Altoona,” aka his mother and this coincides with the changing mores of dating and relationships within the 1960s. Harry and Evie are old-school in their dating approaches despite Patrick reminding them how their “Americana” is changing. Similarly, there are a few naughty one-liners to remind the audience this movie isn’t Code approved. Glenn Ford asks a woman “Do you know I have a psychic thing?” to which she replies “I don’t want to see it!”
Angela Lansbury arrives at the hour mark and is simply the final nail in the coffin to break Patrick and Harry away from her. Phyllis wants to change her identity, but in a way which regresses her independence. She dreams of living life in hotels with Harry where everything is done for her. For all her years of controlling everyone else, she wants to cast off all responsibility to live in a life of ignorant bliss. She goes so far as to tell Harry never to let her know about his dalliances “because if you tell me I’ll have to do something!” Phyllis is a character nowhere as malevolent as Mrs. Iselin from The Manchurian Candidate, but still tempered by shallowness and materialism while remaining endearing because she’s Angela Lansbury.
Dear Heart surprised me in its candid depiction of the human condition. There’s a thin humor running throughout but this is a movie about the performances. Check it out if you’re in the mood for something different.