Cast & Crew
Efrem Zimbalist Jr.
After a year's seclusion in Maraneck State Hospital in New England, twenty-six-year-old Charlotte Bronn is ready to return home. Her husband Arnold is warned by Dr. Collins that many patients come back within a year, because they return to the same situation that precipitated the breakdown. Collins worries that Charlotte holds a deep resentment towards her stepsister, Joan Carlisle, who lives with them, but Arnold assures him that they got along well before Charlotte's hospitalization. When the childlike Charlotte greets Arnold, he acts reserved, and on the drive home to Cape Marble, Massachusetts, he mentions they have a boarder, Jack Diamond, the first Jew on the faculty of the college where Arnold teaches. Arnold, who says he has always been against anti-Semitism, relates that some of the faculty members have been critical of Jake, as they do not want an influx of Jews. He also reveals that he hopes to be promoted to head of the philosophy department by ingratiating himself with Jake's sponsor. The next day, when Charlotte questions the reason Arnold did not spend the previous night in their bedroom, he lies that Dr. Collins suggested she should sleep alone for awhile. At dawn one morning, Charlotte goes to the shore, where she finds Jake, who is doing a lobster run for an older man. He invites her for coffee, and they find that they both feel like outsiders in the town. As they walk, the wife of one of Arnold's colleagues notices them together. Later, at a clothing store, Charlotte is humiliated when the proprietor makes her call Arnold to get his approval before she purchases a dress. When she asks Arnold to take a day off and spend it with her, he refuses. Jake decides not to go to a faculty gathering, and Arnold, offended and afraid that Jake's behavior will bode ill for his chance at the promotion, characterizes him to Charlotte as the type of person who likes to sneer at others. That evening, Jake finds Charlotte, who also has refused to go to the gathering, asleep in Arnold's study. As he covers her, she touches his hand, then embraces and kisses him. Awakening, she pushes him away, and he apologizes for accepting the kiss. When Arnold arrives home with Joan, Charlotte tries to kiss him, but he coldly pulls away. The next day, with a burst of energy, Charlotte announces she is joining Joan and her stepmother, Inez Winthrop, on a shopping trip to Boston. Charlotte runs into Hamilton Gregory, a former classmate, whom she rejected in favor of Arnold, who was then her professor. Hamilton, who has become an alcoholic, invites her to his apartment, where he indelicately implies that Arnold is having an affair with Joan. Some time later, when her friend Cathy Bergner, who is going through marital difficulties, asks Charlotte for advice concerning what she did when she learned about Arnold's affair with Joan, Charlotte is shocked, as Joan assured her recently that there had never been anything between her and Arnold. She walks five miles through the snow to Arnold's college, then interrupts a meeting to question him. Charlotte protests to the uncomfortable Arnold that if he wants her to get well the two of them should go away together. He finally agrees to take her to Boston over the Christmas holidays, as he needs to see people at Harvard regarding the promotion. In their Boston hotel room, Arnold loses his temper with Charlotte. She then meets Hamilton, and when she tells him that she suspects Arnold is drugging her, he realizes something is wrong. He tries to set up an appointment for her with a psychiatrist, but she leaves him and instead goes to a beauty salon, where she has the owner dye her hair blonde and braid it in the back, like Joan. She next sees a gown that looks like one of Joan's, and though it is much too large, she buys it. Later, meeting Arnold and his guests in the hotel dining room, she introduces herself as Joan, then trips and loses a shoe, creating a scene. Arnold carries her to their room, then cries when he is alone. Later that evening, Charlotte begs her husband to admit he does not love her, saying she can only save herself if she knows she is not deluded in that belief. When he calls her love an obsession, she bites his hand, after which he acknowledges that he no longer loves her. Charlotte agrees to wait a month before seeking a divorce so there will be no scandal that could jeopardize his promotion. After returning home, she finds Jake by the shore, and he relates that Arnold killed the last chance he had to stay at the college when he learned it was not to his advantage to support him. He says he has found a job in New York at a magazine and asks her to join him. Saying she is the last thing he or anybody needs, Charlotte refuses, but asks him to come to the New Year's dance to be her moral support. At the dance, people stare at the two of them together, and when Arnold insults her and looks longingly at Joan, Charlotte tells him to "go to hell." She then leaves with Jake, who kisses her and tells her that he will be at a hotel if she needs him. When Arnold and Joan return home, Charlotte confronts Joan for lying. Resolving not to blame Arnold, Joan or herself for her breakdown, she nonetheless tells Arnold she does not love him and Joan that she hates her. Charlotte packs and calls Jake to ask him to drive her to Boston. She then calls Hamilton to have him find her a place to stay and make an appointment with a doctor. Finally, she tells Arnold that she will file for divorce in Boston after the semester break, and that she expects him to move out of her house, which she is closing down. Outside she cries, but after Jake arrives and hugs her, they drive off together.
Efrem Zimbalist Jr.
Mary Alan Hokanson
Fred Blau Jr.
Barbara Bell Wright
Philip W. Anderson
Joseph F. Biroc
John G. Kissel
Home Before Dark
Also present is Jake Diamond, a young man who's renting a room in the house and teaching at the local university, where he hopes to become a professor with Arnold's help. He needs whatever assistance he can get, because he's Jewish, and the university is reluctant to hire Jews because it's afraid an "influx" might happen once the door is opened. Arnold says he's backing Jake because he opposes anti-Semitism, but his support gets wobbly when he realizes it might cost him a long-awaited promotion. Recognizing each other as fellow outsiders, Jake and Charlotte become friends. Charlotte increasingly distrusts everyone else, though - especially Arnold and Joan, who keep pushing her into the background whenever possible. Friends add to her mistrust by dropping inadvertent hints about the close relationship between those two, and when Charlotte starts suspecting that her food is being doped or poisoned, we realize that they could be gaslighting her, hoping she'll be institutionalized again so they can pair off permanently. Sure enough, it isn't long before her mind begins to slip into paranoid patterns again.
Home Before Dark primes us to sympathize with Charlotte from the outset. Yet the picture is artfully ambiguous about what's really going on, keeping us tantalizingly off balance as to whether Charlotte is the victim of an awful scheme or is falling back into old delusions. A harrowing climax reveals the full extent of her psychological travails, including multiple shock treatments in the hospital, of which she has no memory; and the ending is more quietly hopeful than openly optimistic. Enemies or no enemies, it's clear that Charlotte's sanity is hanging by a slender thread at best. Viewers rooting for her can't take any comfort from the fact that her name is Charlotte Bronn, recalling the 19-century English novelist Charlotte Brontë, and that her bedroom is on the top floor of the house, which is where Edward Rochester stashed his insane wife in Brontë's most famous book, the 1847 masterpiece Jane Eyre.
Simmons is an ideal choice for the heroine, inducing us to cheer Charlotte on while recognizing that her year of psychiatry may not have made her as stable as she thinks she is. Simmons also makes brilliant use of the movie's most important prop: a lavish evening gown that's way too large for her, making her look a bit like the Statue of Liberty during the climactic scene. Rhonda Fleming gives Joan the right degree of offhand cheeriness, and looks a lot better in that gown, which is just her size. Dan O'Herlihy is convincingly aloof as Arnold, and Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. - just beginning his long run on the TV series 77 Sunset Strip when the film premiered in 1958 - brings understated charm to Jake, whose problems as a Jew in a xenophobic community are left mostly undeveloped by the screenplay. Steve Dunne makes a solid impression as a family friend who fends off loneliness with alcohol.
The weaker elements of Home Before Dark come from director Mervyn LeRoy and cinematographer Joseph F. Biroc, who employ a generally bland style that prevents the story from fulfilling all of its promise. To his credit, LeRoy creates effective deep-focus compositions at important moments in the plot, and makes interesting use of statuary to punctuate settings that might otherwise seem ordinary. The lighting is plain and dull, though - layers of noir-style duskiness would have boosted the atmospherics a great deal - and there's little visual nuance apart from an effectively weird shadow on Charlotte's face near the beginning. Biroc was fresh from a couple of Samuel Fuller assignments, so I would have expected him to capitalize on the story's offbeat possibilities; and LeRoy had made The Bad Seed (1956) with Patty McCormack two years earlier, giving him recent experience in exploring a demented household. But neither of them quite rose to this picture's challenge.
Reflecting on Home Before Dark in his autobiography, Mervyn LeRoy: Take One, the main things LeRoy commented on were extremes of temperature. On the steamy end of the spectrum, the lights were so hot during a shoot in the Crystal Room at the Beverly Hills Hotel that the sprinkler system went off, drenching the cast and crew. Cold weather also caused a problem. Most of the picture was filmed in and near the Massachusetts town of Marblehead in wintertime - the frigid ambience is crucial to the story's downbeat emotional tone - and it got so cold one night that the cameras froze. Even worse, Fleming's tongue froze, rendering her unable to speak. "She would have to go inside one of the houses on the street where we were filming," LeRoy wrote, "and thaw out her tongue with a cup of coffee or hot chocolate before each scene." As the stepsister, Fleming had one of the picture's key roles, and the rest of the cast must have heaved frosty sighs of relief each time her tongue regained mobility.
LeRoy doesn't have much else to say about the making of Home Before Dark, except to note that some of this film about insanity was shot in a real mental hospital, which Simmons visited to research her role. Leroy tried and failed to do the same. "I just could not stand to see those poor unfortunates," he recalled in his memoir. It's hard to tell whether the reason was compassion or cowardice, but if LeRoy had investigated the story's subject more deeply he might have brought more atmosphere to a movie that doesn't quite live up to its highly dramatic subject.
Director: Mervyn LeRoy
Producer: Mervyn LeRoy
Screenplay: Eileen and Robert Bassing; based on the novel by Eileen Bassing
Cinematographer: Joseph F. Biroc
Film Editing: Philip W. Anderson
Art Direction: John Beckman
Music: Ray Heindorf
With: Jean Simmons (Charlotte Bronn), Dan O'Herlihy (Arnold Bronn), Rhonda Fleming (Joan Carlisle), Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. (Jacob "Jake" Diamond), Mabel Albertson (Inez Winthrop), Steve Dunne (Hamilton Gregory), Joan Weldon (Frances Barrett), Joanna Barnes (Cathy Bergner), Kathryn Card (Mattie), Marjorie Bennett (Hazel Evans), Johnstone White (Malcolm Southey), Eleanor Audley (Mrs. Hathaway)
by David Sterritt
Home Before Dark
Exteriors for the film were shot in Boston, Marblehead, Wakefield and Salem, MA, according to publicity for the film. The author of the best-selling novel, Eileen Bassing, formerly lived in Marblehead, MA, the basis for the fictional "Cape Marble" of the book and film. Additional filming took place in the Crystal Room of the Beverly Hills Hotel, which was used for the hotel in Boston, and at Point Sequit on the coast at Malibu for the scenes by the lobster traps. Although her appearance in the film has not been confirmed, a February 1958 Hollywood Reporter news item adds Gladys Roach to the cast.
Released in United States Fall November 1958
Released in United States Fall November 1958