Jean Simmons stars in the title role in this 1950s CinemaScope melodrama, which is technically proficient but often dramatically inert. Still, the quality performances, aided by David Raksin’s lush score, result in a film that is surprisingly watchable.
The Production: 2.5/5
Hilda Crane stars the luminous Jean Simmons in the title role, as a twice-divorced woman returning to her hometown after a failed attempt to live in the big city. Upon returning to the suburbs, she’s immediately greeted by her overbearing mother (Judith Evelyn), who wants Hilda to pick a suitable husband and settle into a respectable life of a 1950s housewife, rather than the independent career woman that Hilda wishes to be. Competing for Hilda’s affections are Russell Burns (played by Guy Madison), a well-to-do local builder whose kindness is only matched by his blandness, and Jacques DeLisle (played by Jean-Pierre Aumont), a professor that Hilda has an illicit history with. Though Hilda’s mother would prefer that she marry Russell, she is more drawn to Jacques’ aggressive style of courtship. Essentially, Hilda finds herself having to choose between a respectable man whom she feels nothing for but who will love her dearly, or an adventurous man who will show her an exciting time but has little consideration for her. When Hilda makes the safe choice of Russell, his own mother (played magnificently by Evelyn Varden) does everything in her power to sabotage the couple’s happiness.
Director Philip Dunne (who was also responsible for Twilight Time’s Blue Denim) is adept at this kind of character-driven storytelling. Though the scenarios and conflicts faced here are very distinctly of a time and a place that no longer exists, at the time of filming, Hilda’s trials and tribulations would have been current. As embodied by Jean Simmons, Hilda is a woman who wants to experience more from life than what would be allowed for a woman of that time. She was once taught by her father to “live like a man and still be a woman,” but having built her identity around that philosophy, is finding that there is little room in the world she inhabits for someone that fits that description.
Perhaps the most dynamic relationship in the film is not the one between Hilda and any of her male suitors, but that of Hilda and her future mother-in-law. Evelyn Varden as Russell’s mother is the film’s most repulsive (and possibly most interesting) character because of her abject dislike for Hilda. She is convinced that her son can do better, and has a long history of crying wolf in the direction of anyone Russell has ever shown interest in. Though her histrionics had been enough to drive away previous women, in Hilda she’s met her match; if anything, her desire to push Hilda away only makes Hilda more determined to pick Russell as her suitor.
Unfortunately, the film veers too heavily into melodrama too often, and pulls some of its punches. The production code of its time would only allow for certain topics to be danced around rather than explicitly covered, which often robs Hilda of the characterization necessary for her to be a fully sympathetic character. She is never allowed to be as shocking or as controversial as everyone treats her, which can lead to the negative treatment she often receives as seeming unmotivated by the story. At the same time, the choices being offered to Hilda are never as restrictive as she treats them, which make some of her choices and reactions seem more like the tantrums of a spoiled brat, rather than coming across as well-earned resentments from a person too long denied agency. It’s a tight line to walk, but too often, the film is content to go with the most melodramatic reading possible.
3D Rating: NA
Hilda Crane is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.55:1. (The packaging mistakenly lists the aspect ratio as 2.35:1.) The transfer is very clean and clear, with a very minimal but natural looking grain. As with other CinemaScope productions of this time period, the image is not quite as sharp as modern productions, but is nonetheless beautiful to look at. Color appears rich and unfaded, with natural looking flesh tones and good contrast.
There are two different audio options available on this disc, both presented in lossless DTS-HD MA: a 5.1 option and a 2.0 option. Though the disc unfortunately does not provide any information as to the provenance of these tracks, both are very pleasing, with well-recorded dialogue easy to understand, and David Raksin’s lush score elevating the entire production. The 5.1 version provides a slightly wider soundstage, but both sound very good, with no hiss or other age-related artifacts present.
Optional English SDH subtitles are available on the disc.
Special Features: 2.5/5
Isolated Score Track – David Raksin’s score is presented in lossless DTS-HD MA 3.0.
Jean Simmons: Picture Perfect (44:24, SD) – This installment of the A&E Biography series presents an overview of the life and career of Jean Simmons. Though she battled insecurities during periods of her real life, her story ultimately has a happy ending as she grew more comfortable in her own skin after her most prominent years wound down.
Original Theatrical Trailer (02:14, SD) – The trailer asks audiences to determine for themselves if Hilda’s story is shocking or shameful. It’s in rough shape, which only serves to highlight how good the presentation of the main feature is.
Booklet – Julie Kirgo contributes an insightful essay which gives credit to the film for being more subversive than might be readily apparent on first look. Her essay is complemented by a series of production stills and original poster art.
Hilda Crane is a melodramatic soap-opera type of picture which could only have been made during the 1950s. Though it may seem dated by today’s standards, the solid performances and shorter running time make the film more easily watchable than might be expected. Though the disc is somewhat light on extras, the presentation of the main feature is top-notch.
There are only 3,000 copies of this Blu-ray available. Those interested in purchasing it should go to either www.twilighttimemovies.com or www.screenarchives.com to see if product is still in stock. Information about the movie can also be found via Facebook at www.facebook.com/twilighttimemovies.