Home from the Hill Movie Review

The trailer for Home from the Hill blares, "The story of the Hunnicutt Family and The Secret they hid too long! The town that talked too much and the love they tried to destroy!" In 1960, Home from the Hill, based on the bestselling book by William Humphrey, was the latest in the smoldering big-screen genre Hollywood was cooking up featuring big stars and Cinemascope vistas: Upscale Southern Decrepitude. Influenced by William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams, the genre showcased the likes of the blown-all-out-of-proportion The Long Hot Summer, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and Douglas Sirk's simmering Written on the Wind. The films contained the same ingredients -- expansive manor homes, horny patriarchs, family secrets, and neurotic children ready to blow the lid off of everything. Home from the Hill has all that but it also has a bit more -- terrific acting by Robert Mitchum, George Hamilton, and George Peppard (forget Eleanor Parker, who plays her role like Blanche Dubois on the range), plus Vincente Minnelli as director.

Mitchum is a Texas landowner, Capt. Wade Hunnicutt, who owns the town, lives in a big house, and spends his time bedding down most of the women in the town (Wade comments at one point, "I'll tell you something -- I can't even remember which one she was"). Holding his face to the mirror is his wife Hannah (Parker), who for the past 17 years has locked her bedroom door to Wade, forcing Wade to take his biological urges elsewhere. Wade wants Hannah to forgive him and unlock the door. Hannah just gives him an icy stare. As their son Theron (Hamilton) remarks, "They live in the same house and kill each other a little at a time." Theron is their only son. He is 17 and now Wade wants to take him under his wing and show him how to be a man. Wade teaches Theron to hunt and has his hired hand Rafe (Peppard) show him the ropes as far as women are concerned. But then all hell breaks loose when Hannah reveals to Theron that Rafe is, in fact, Wade's illegitimate son. With the gloves off, Wade is forced into the realization that "We're rotten parents and we live in a rotten house." But by then it is too late for the Hunnicutts.

Minnelli pulls back the stinky underbelly of this Texan-hell family in all his scope splendor. As with Minnelli's non-musical melodramas, he once again reveals in his compositions how trapped Wade, Hannah, and Theron are within this family's vise -- Hannah is framed trapped in a narrow doorway amid the expansive mansion, Wade is positioned as a speck in a frame but walks self-assured to the foreground claiming his territory (Wade's tombstone at the end of the film even lords it over the retreating characters), Wade's study shot to reflect the power relations between Wade and the characters that enter his space.

But as the director of some of the great Hollywood musicals, Minnelli also has a sense of the set and he utilizes this knowledge to the fullest in Home from the Hill. Minnelli turns Wade's den (where he takes Theron to show him "how a man lives") into the ultimate manly retreat that overspills the frame -- mounted heads of animals, stacks of guns, blazing fire, leather chairs, a well-used bar, and three hunting dogs to keep Wade company on his bearskin rug (Wade sits back with a beer on his leather chair with the comfort of sitting on a toilet).

Holding down the film's center is Mitchum in one of his finest performances. His easygoing insouciance and I-don't-care attitude belies a man trying to make amends for the past while still attempting to maintain his dignity. And he does maintain his dignity, but at the price of destroying his family and himself. When Theron confronts Wade about Rafe and screams at him, "I don't want any part of you!" before Wade replies "You'd better have a good reason for talking to me like that," Mitchum's expression says it all -- the emptiness, the loss, the love, the doom.

Now fix my breakfast.

Cast & Crew

Producer : Edmond Grainger, Sol C. Siegel

Comments

Home from the Hill Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: NR, 1960

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