Plot: Hilda (Jean Simmons) has returned to the small town her family calls home, after two failed marriages and in need of a fresh start. She has lived quite a life, but her small town thrives on rumors and gossip, so talk of her past is certain to be a hot topic. No sooner does she arrive than she finds herself draw to new love, not just one either, but a pair of potential suitors. Russell (Guy Madison) is a local man with good intentions and a good reputation, though his mother is quite displeased with his interest in Hilda, given her past. Meanwhile she also engages with Jacques (Jean-Pierre Aumont), a successful and well educated French professor who knows what he wants and is quite aggressive in his pursuit. As the rumors swirl all over, will Hilda find love with one of these men or just yet another heartbreak?
Entertainment Value: The critical reactions to Hilda Crane have been mostly unkind over the years, but I found it to be a solid, quite interesting melodrama that felt like a throwback to the pre-code era. That puts the movie in a sweet spot for me, as I love melodrama, soap opera style narratives, and pre-code cinema, so while Hilda Crane is no genre classic, it is quite a fun watch. The story is dripping with soapy drama, as a worldly woman stirs up small town gossip and embarks on a love triangle, with herself torn between two men. This isn’t deep, social exploration by any means, but I did appreciate how the movie portrayed Hilda and wasn’t overly harsh. The pace is consistent and the run time clocks in at under 90 minutes, so the movie has little filler and pumps in ample melodrama. If you’re not a fan of soapy melodrama however, Hilda Crane likely won’t have immense appeal, as it sticks to those conventions for the most part. But I do think the film is better than the general critical response would suggest, provided you enjoy this kind of narrative melodrama.
I wouldn’t rank this as one of Jean Simmons’ better performances, but she delivers on the melodramatic potential of the material. This kind of role isn’t about subtle mannerisms or deep character work, but more broad, almost stage inspired efforts and Simmons rolls with that. I can easily see why some wouldn’t like her turn here and I’ve seen some complain she seems like she is in a stage play, but that makes sense, given that this is a broad melodrama. So no, Simmons isn’t giving a world class performance, but she does just what the role needs and to me, that is what matters. Jean-Pierre Aumont is good in a familiar role as a womanizer, while Guy Madison is a little harder to believe as the aw shucks local stand up man. But the three make for a drama soaked triangle of romance, so no complaints. The cast also includes Judith Evelyn, Peggy Knudsen, Evelyn Varden, and Gregg Palmer, among others. So the cast is an impressive one and most show up and embrace the melodramatic tone.
The Disc: This Twilight Time treatment is a pleasure to watch, with a clean print and beautiful colors, just a warm, wonderful visual experience. The accurate, stark contrast and remarkable print condition are great news, but it is those gorgeous colors that steal the show on this release. The extras include an isolated music track, the Biography episode about Jean Simmons, and the film’s theatrical trailer.