Home Before Dark (1958) is a hidden gem. It’s a film I discovered while going through Dan O'Herlihy’s filmography, and after I watched this for the first time, I was shocked to see how this film isn’t as well known. Why is that? I think it deserves to be categorized with the classics. It’s perfect in every way. It’s the best drama I’ve ever seen. It’s also one of the most disturbing films I’ve ever seen, and it’s all dialogue and there’s no violence. I’ll get more into that later. This is a film I will recommend to everyone and champion until I die. It’s so fucking good that I named it my third favorite film of all time.
The plot is about a woman being released from a mental institution and is reintroduced to society. We see how she’s treated by her family and the outside world. Was she committed because she was crazy or for other reasons? That is up to you to decide. Before I go on, I need to spoil this film so please watch it. I cannot give enough praise to this underrated masterpiece.
The film begins with Arnold Brown, played by the wonderful Dan O’Herlihy, picking up his wife Charlotte Brown, played by Jean Simmons, from a mental institution. Right off the bat, Arnold is asking the doctor if Charlotte needs to sleep alone due to being sick and the doctor says the opposite, that she needs comfort and love. The expression on Arnold’s face says it all. He clearly doesn’t love her and wants nothing to do with her. When Charlotte comes into frame, she immediately cries tears of joy when she sees her husband. The film explores their relationship and it’s fascinating.
This is one of the most disturbing films I’ve ever seen, but there’s no violence and it’s nothing but dialogue. The way Charlotte is treated is beyond fucked up. When she returns home from the hospital, her stepsister, stepmother, and husband control her every move. They tell her when she needs to sleep, what to eat and when, and how and when she should socialize. They use her illness as an excuse to tell her what is best for her. The thing is, they aren’t cruel and mean to her, in fact, the family comes off as good people. I believe that they believe they know what’s best for her but clearly it’s still wrong. The whole film, they casually control what she needs to do and it’s so hard to watch. As the film goes on, the controlling gets gradually more disturbing, especially with Arnold.
Charlotte is the protagonist and she’s played by Jean Simmons and it’s one of the greatest female performances I’ve ever seen. The way she molds into this character feels believable. She gives so much depth to this broken character. We understand her struggles and it helps with sympathizing with her. The way she’s treated is so fucked up but her reactions to it feels so real. The scenes when she is really struggling with her mental health is so hard to watch. It’s absolutely brilliant and the fact that she wasn’t nominated for an Oscar is blasphemy.
Arnold is the antagonist of this film but he’s a unique character. He’s a calm and quiet man who only cares about what others think of him. The way he treats Charlotte is beyond fucked up. They are married, but he acts like she is a pet or a trophy to showcase. All Charlotte wants is love and support but he doesn’t give any to her. It’s sad to watch but it’s brilliantly told. I love the relationship between the protagonist and antagonist. Arnold is the perfect foil for Charlotte. The scene where Arnold tells Charlotte he doesn’t love her is heartbreaking but relieving. It’s obvious from the beginning but it’s a relief to finally hear that from him. Why he didn’t tell her from the start is a mystery but it’s interesting. He’s by far one of the greatest villains in cinematic history. Dan O'Herlihy is phenomenal as Arnold Brown. It’s one of the best performances I’ve seen and he deserved an Oscar for his performance.
I love the relationship between Charlotte and Arnold. It’s the main focus of the film and it’s beautifully told. Charlotte wants love and affection yet Arnold needs time and space to get used to her being home. Obviously, Charlotte is easier to side with but the film does a good job developing Arnold’s character and feelings as well. Yes, Arnold is a piece of shit but it feels believable. I understand why he believes what he believes. It’s my favorite hero vs villain storyline in any film.
Joan is played by Rhonda Fleming. She is Charlotte’s stepsister and a main focus of the film. The reason why Charlotte is committed to the insane asylum in the first place is because Charlotte believes Arnold and Joan are having an affair. She is so convinced that she goes “mad” and ends up at the hospital. The film does a wonderful job with keeping that ambiguous enough to let the audience decide for themselves whether or not Charlotte is right or wrong. Personally, I think that they were having some sort of affair, due to the way they interact with each other. The thing is, Joan is not a mean person. I like her, but I understand why Charlotte is jealous of her. The film even states how Charlotte has had beef with her ever since they were kids. Joan is an attractive woman with a lot going for her. Charlotte does her best to become her so Arnold will notice her. In fact, the most disturbing scene in the film is when Charlotte imitates Joan just to get Arnold’s attention. It’s disturbing yet brilliantly told.
Efrem Zimbalist Jr. plays Jake Diamond and I love his performance. Diamond is the most “normal” character in the film. He treats Charlotte like an actual person and it’s refreshing to see. Charlotte herself even notices how he treats her. I love the scene where Diamond defends Charlotte in front of Joan for what she said. It’s so nice to see her finally get someone on her side. Diamond’s role in the story is important because it shows how Charlotte should be treated and I’m glad she decides to go with him in the end. Zimbalist is also known for portraying the voice of Alfred in Batman the Animated Series.
The other characters are also well portrayed; such as Mabel Albertson as Inez, Charlotte’s annoying stepmother, and Steve Dunne as Hamilton Gregory, Charlotte’s exflame. They serve their roles well and add a lot to the film.
This film was released in 1958 and I love how it discusses mental illness. It is so heartbreaking knowing that some women were committed to mental institutions for having mental breakdowns. Charlotte didn’t need to be committed for how she was feeling. The fact that she was, showcases how mental illness was treated back then. The film was honestly ahead of its time.
This film was adapted from the book Home Before Dark. The screenplay was written by Eileen and Robert Bassing, based on the novel by Eileen Bassing. I love that aspect because I read the book and it’s brilliant, yet a little different from the film. The book showcases the worst side of the characters when it comes to how they treat Charlotte. Arnold is a bigger asshole and less subtle. I prefer the film because it is more subtle and the acting is top notch. I love how the author, Eileen Bassing, adapted the screenplay from her own book and made it a tad different. It’s one of my favorite books and screenplays.
This film is also technically well made. It’s directed by Mervyn LeRoy and it’s one of the best directed films I’ve ever seen. The music is also a highlight. I love the theme when Charlotte is starting to feel “sick”. It adds a lot to the film and brings it into a whole other level. The title song is also a highlight and establishes the tone perfectly.
The toughest scene to watch is when Charlotte dresses and acts like Joan to get Arnold’s attention. She wears a dress too big for her and embarrasses herself in front of Arnold, his friends, and a lot of people at a fancy restaurant. The scene that follows is Arnold finally admitting that he never loved Charlotte. It’s hard to see her finally get the answer she wanted but it’s a sigh of relief because she can finally move on. It’s a brilliant pay off and ending to this beautifully told story.
My favorite scene is near the end of the film when Charlotte finally tells everyone how she feels. The whole film, she takes a lot from everyone telling her what to do and how to live her life. At the end, she tells everyone how it is and I love her finally sticking up for herself. It’s a wonderful resolution and I’m glad Charlotte gets a happy ending because she deserves it.
I’m still shocked that this film isn’t as well known. It’s pure cinema in every way and it deserves way more recognition. I will try my best to spread this film around because it’s so fucking good. I love this film and it will always be one of my favorite films of all time.