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Home from the Hill

Robert Mitchum: The Signature Collection

It may be part of Warner's "Robert Mitchum Signature Collection," but Home from the Hill (1960) is a premier example of the art and craft of its director, Vincente Minnelli. On the surface, Minnelli was one of those second-tier directors like George Cukor, whose work had a high studio gloss and offered writerly and actorial pleasures that are the very definition of classic Hollywood cinema, but which can also feel impersonal, particularly in comparison with the feverishly confessional, visually stylized and consistent work of first-tier directors such as Hitchcock and Welles. And yet, upon closer examination, Minnelli's films have a subtle approach in which set design and costume take the place of lavish camera movements or editing flourishes as indices of the director's attitude towards his material and his characters. Home From the Hill marked the pinnacle of Minnelli's second phase as a director. Born in Chicago in 1903, he was recruited from the stage by MGM's Arthur Freed, whereupon he directed musicals and light comedies. But by the 1950s he began to make a transition to glossy dramas, usually adapted from popular novels. Theses films include Madame Bovary, The Cobweb, Some Came Running, and The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Based on William Humphrey's novel (the title comes from a Kipling poem), Home from the Hill tells the coming-of-age tale of callow 17-year-old Texas youth Theron Hunnicutt (George Hamilton). He's the scion of Wade Hunnicutt (Mitchum), the wealthy patriarch of the county, who conducts himself in the hedonistic manner of a Hud, around whom no man's wife is safe. Up until the time the movie starts, Theron has been under the sway of his mother Hannah (Eleanor Parker), who lays claim to the son and locks her own door against her philandering husband. But after the town layabouts lure Theron out on a snipe hunt, Wade deems it time to make a man out of his son. Under the tutelage of Rafe (a thoroughly charming George Peppard), Theron learns to shoot and hunt, and in one of the film's set pieces, he kills a wild boar that has been terrorizing Wade's tenants. But ultimately it's a small town, and when Theron sets about to court Libby (Luana Patten), he shatters the locks of secrecy and sets into motion the inexorable machinery of tragedy.

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Released in 1960, Home from the Hill is one of the many big, sweeping tales that were popular at the time, but sadly not for much longer thereafter — the New Hollywood, with its ability to make all predecessors appear square, was already beginning to plant roots. In more traditional films, it was imperative that the story be clear and the imagery unencumbered, and these films generally employed Hollywood's classical approach to narrative clarity. Today, such pictures tend to be laughed at and their directors assessed as shallow studio hacks. But narrative has its own pleasures, and in any case Minnelli transcended this approach by finding ways to impose his stamp on the material and provide clues to the characters' motivations through decor and texture, mirrors and music cues. To see the blood-red leather chair in Wade's study or the red lining of his brown corduroy jacket is to learn all we need to know about his masculinist world-view. And typically, but without herald, Minnelli extracts brilliant performances from big stars often considered non-actors, such as Mitchum, whose physical authority in the role is seemingly effortless (on the other hand, it's difficult to tell if Hamilton's callowness is the actor's or the character's or both). Though of a piece with Minnelli's total output, the Minnelli film that Home from the Hill most resembles in spirit is Tea and Sympathy (1956), a companion tale of a youth's battle for his masculine identity.

Warner Home Video's new-to-disc transfer of Home from the Hill, one of six films in "The Robert Mitchum Signature Collection," is impeccable. The anamorphic image (2.35:1) is beautiful and rich, while the monaural Dolby Digital audio is clear and includes optional English subtitles. Extras are minimal and consist solely of the film's rather scratchy full-frame trailer, with some of its shots compressed down from widescreen. Keep-case, or slimcase in the box-set.
—D.K. Holm



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