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The Secret Heart

The Secret Heart(1946)

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teaser The Secret Heart (1946)

In the mid-1940's, psychotherapy had gained increased acceptance, and films dealing with psychological themes, such as Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound (1945) were popular at the box office. The British film The Seventh Veil (1946), a kitschy blend of romance, pop psychology, and overwrought classical music, was particularly successful on both sides of the Atlantic. So the following year, MGM offered its own combination of those elements in The Secret Heart (1946).

Claudette Colbert plays a widow trying to help her emotionally troubled stepdaughter, played by June Allyson. The girl is a talented pianist (hence the classical music) who has an Oedipal fixation on her late father. To make matters worse, she's fallen for her stepmother's suitor, played by Walter Pidgeon. Lionel Barrymore has one scene as a psychiatrist who encourages Allyson's use of music as an outlet.

Colbert had been a star of romantic melodramas and sophisticated comedies for 15 years. She had only recently segued gracefully into playing mother roles, albeit youthful and glamorous mothers, in such films as Since You Went Away (1944). It wasn't that Colbert lacked vanity - her insistence on being photographed only on one side of her face was legendary - but she had an innate French practicality, and she knew that she would be able to extend her career by many years by playing mature roles.

June Allyson had made her feature film debut in Best Foot Forward in 1943, and had spent the war years playing sunny heroines of musicals and romantic comedies. The Secret Heart was Allyson's first purely dramatic role, and she was nervous about it. She was also nervous about acting opposite Colbert, who had been an idol of hers for years. Fortunately, Colbert proved to be as compassionate and helpful in real life as she was in the film. "I really felt I was over my head in this," Allyson later recalled, "and Claudette's utter authority, polish, and professionalism intimidated me. But she sensed my insecurities and gave me the moral support and acting tips that made a world of difference. I have never ceased to be grateful to her." Allyson was also grateful for the elegant Colbert's fashion advice. Famous for her Peter Pan collars and casually girlish skirts, Allyson absorbed Colbert's tips about how to adapt her own style for more formal occasions. The two women became so close that when Allyson adopted her first child two years later, she chose Colbert as the baby's godmother.

The story for The Secret Heart is credited to playwright Rose Franken and her husband, William Brown Meloney. Franken had written such plays and screenplays as Claudia (1943), Another Language (1933), and Made for Each Other (1939), keenly observed comedy-dramas focusing on family dynamics. The screenplay for The Secret Heart, by Franken, Anne Morrison Chapin and Whitfield Cook, veered more towards melodrama, and the critics were not kind, although some praised the performances. The New York Times called it "preposterously phony," but added, "Miss Colbert plays the stepmother with an ageless charm." Variety singled out Allyson: "In a role that's a far cry from her usual song-and-dance parts, she gives out with what's undoubtedly the best emoting of her career."

Director: Robert Z. Leonard
Producer: Edwin H. Knopf
Screenplay: Whitfield Cook, Anne Morrison Chapin, Rose Franken, based on the story by Franken and William Brown Meloney
Cinematography: George J. Folsey
Editor: Adrienne Fazan
Costume Design: Irene
Art Direction: Edward C. Carfagno, Cedric Gibbons
Music: Bronislau Kaper
Principal Cast: Claudette Colbert (Lee Addams), Walter Pidgeon (Chris Matthews), June Allyson (Penny Addams), Lionel Barrymore (Dr. Rossiger), Robert Sterling (Chase Addams), Marshall Thompson (Brandon Reynolds), Elizabeth Patterson (Mrs. Stover), Richard Derr (Larry Addams), Patricia Medina (Kay Burns).
BW-97m. Closed captioning.

by Margarita Landazuri

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