When discussing talented or famous film actresses of the classic film era, Jean Simmons is not a name that comes up as often as it should. Often those with larger screen personas get all the attention. I myself have been guilty of overlooking her work. And yet, she appeared in some very successful films, was twice nominated for an Oscar and continued working until she died in 2010 racking up almost one hundred film credits. So I’m absolutely thrilled that she is receiving some well deserved attention with the Jean Simmons Blogathon.
In choosing one of Jean’s films to write about, I discovered that I have seen more of her movies than I realized. Despite being a beautiful woman, she has the talent of disappearing into her roles. What’s amazing is that she accomplishes this without any drastic changes to her appearance. Instead she actually BECOMES her character.
I have a few personal favorites among her pictures, and she has several famous film titles to her credit. But I wanted to choose one that I had not seen and also which I felt is a bit more obscure among her fans. That is how I found myself watching the 1963 film, All the Way Home.
All the Way Home is a simple story of the young Follett family living in turn of the century Tennessee. In spite of differences in temperament and religion, Jay and Mary’s marriage is a happy one. Young Rufus adores his father and it is clear the feeling is mutual. Their days are filled with the mundane contentment of their daily tasks and interactions with each other. This is occasionally interrupted by visits with both Jay and Mary’s family members who live in the area. But their lives are disrupted by tragedy when Jay is killed in an auto accident. Mary and Rufus are left behind to process their grief and to find a new normal.
This story is simultaneously a portrait of the bonds of family meshed with a picture of grief. As is appropriate for this type of story, the film moves at an unhurried pace, giving the audience time to soak in the everyday simplicity of the Follett’s lives and the depth of their love for each other. Just as the viewer settles in to appreciating this slow pace of life, we are wrenched away into a maelstrom of emotion, along with Mary and Rufus.
What really surprised me about All the Way Home was learning that it was based on a true story. Written by James Agee, this is the tale of his own childhood in Tennessee and loss of his father. His book, A Death in the Family, was published after his own death in an effort to help provide funds for his widow and children. It won a Pulitzer Prize and was adapted for the stage, before making its’ way to the screen.
The opening scenes of the movie run much like a silent film, showing Jay and young Rufus as they take in a Charlie Chaplin film at the theater. There is only music, no dialogue, as they make their way home in the moonlit dark, but the depiction of their bond with each other is more than clear. After reading a bit about Agee, I learned that he was big fan of Chaplin’s work and even wrote a screenplay for Chaplin which was never used. I love how the film subtly pays tribute to him by beginning All the Way Home in this way.
I’ve never been a fan of Robert Preston, but his portrayal of Jay Follett as a dedicated family man is touching. Jay’s interactions with his young son are tender and playful. His love for Rufus is betrayed every time he calls Rufus, Honey. For that matter his interactions with his wife are much the same. Theirs is not a perfect relationship, but it is one with great affection and patience with each other’s differences.
Michael Kearney plays young Rufus Follett and does it rather well. He is the picture of innocent childhood whose life is secure in the love of his family. After his father’s death, we see the grieving of the adults through his uncomprehending eyes. He cannot understand the mercurial emotions which are constantly shifting around him. That innocent ignorance is perhaps the most heartbreaking thing about the whole film. Because the adults in his life and the viewer knows what he does not. That his life has changed irrevocably and that his beloved father is never coming back.
But this is Jean Simmons’ film, although it’s not obvious until a third of the way into the running time. Prior to that, the focus remains on the larger than life Jay Follett. Mary remains somewhat in the background as the only woman in her household and the quiet glue that holds them together. As soon as Jay drives off to visit his ailing father, the focus shifts to her.
That intensity increases as soon as she learns her husband has been in an accident. Simmons starts displaying a range of emotions as Mary waits for further news on her husband’s fate. She busies herself in conversation with her Aunt Hannah (played by the under rated Aline MacMahon), alternating between impatience, worry, laughter as she tells a joke, frustration with the silence. The unknown fate of her husband prods her to the edge of an emotional breakdown.
Upon receiving news of Jay’s death, she goes into calm shock as her brother breaks down and is comforted by the rest of Mary’s family. As the evening and the days pass, she experiences the full range of grief, her emotions on full display. Simmons is magnificent, never overplaying it and giving a realistic portrayal of the a grieving wife and mother. I completely forgot I was watching Jean Simmons on screen. It just may be one of her best performances.
All the Way Home is a film which remains under the radar. I understand why. There is nothing showy about it. The entertainment value is blunted by the subject matter. It isn’t a picture which leaves you feeling good at the end. Instead, the viewer feels emotionally wrung out and exhausted. It’s much less like your typical movie experience and more like watching in horror as disaster falls on people you feel you know personally. Still, it deserves to be seen. Because, it’s not the kind of story dreamed up in a Hollywood studio. It is real life portrayed brilliantly. It draws out our humanity and seeks out our quietest joys and deepest fear. And if that isn’t reason enough, it is worth watching for Jean Simmons, one very underrated but talented actress.
Thanks to Phyl of Phyllis Loves Classic Movies and Virginie of The Wonderful World of Cinema for giving Jean Simmons the attention she deserves. I highly encourage you to stop by their websites to read more about this magnificent actress.
(All photos are my own screen shots except for the publicity photo of Simmons which is in the public domain.)
18 Replies to “Jean Simmons Blogathon – All the Way Home (1963)”
Sounds like I’ll need kleenex for this one! I’ve seen a great deal of her films but even I haven’t heard of this one! I definitely agree that Simmons disappears in her roles. She’s so brilliant! Her quiet performance’s always blow me away. Thanks so so much for participating in this celebration of her career and bringing this film to mine and everyone else’s attention!
Definitely, keep the kleenex near. Even though it is emotional it is worth watching.
One viewing during my teen years left an indelible impression yet I have been unable to connect with this film since that time. Thank you for putting a spotlight on All the Way Home.
I am not the least bit surprised that you are one of the few people who have seen this one, Pat. I wonder what your impressions of the film would be now as an adult? I’m thankful I ran across it on Amazon Prime.
Wonderful article Brittaney! I loved your introduction to it as I think you understand perfectly Jean’s essence. I agreed so much when you said that she BECOMES her characters. I haven’t seen this film yet, but I almost did many times. Now I’m convinced and I think it would be my movie of the night on January 31. I like the fact that it seems to be close to reality. Thanks so much for participating to our blogathon!
Thanks Virginie. I’m so glad you and Phyl are hosting this blogathon. I don’t know if I would have watched this film without it. If you do watch All the Way Home, I would love to hear your thoughts on it.
I’m glad our blogathon made you discover another Jean’s film! 😀 I will make sure to let you know what I thought of it!
Hey, I watched the film last Thursday! Loved it, but it was saaaad D:
On, I’m glad you got a chance to watch it. It is such a bittersweet little film, but Simmons gives a stunning performance. Thanks for letting me know what you thought of it.
I have never come across this film, but I noticed in an earlier comment that you saw it on Amazon Prime. I will look for it there.
It sounds like you have to be in the mood for this, due to the sad story, but I bet it’s more than worth it.
With the air of quiet desperation that permeates much of the film’s later scenes, though that is mingled with great strength, I can see why this would be a film that’s not for everyone. But for the patience and for fans of great acting there is a wonderful payoff in quality by the film’s conclusion.
To me this is where Jean Simmons should have scored both a nomination and win at Oscar time but the less than stellar box office and the darkness of much of its story worked against her. Be that as it may she’s phenomenal.
Yes, you are exactly right. About everything.
Such a lovely review. I haven’t seen this film, but I can just imagine Jean being brilliant in it. She was such a natural actress. Thank you for bringing it my attention.
You’re welcome. It’s one of those that is difficult but worth watching.
Brittaney, what a wonderful blog, indeed honoring a most marvelous (and, as you noted, oft overlooked) actress! ALLTHE WAY HOME is definitely a “sleeper,” but an amazing story of true life, and a phenomenal example of Ms Simmons’ artistic mastery, supported by an outstanding cast—and certainly young Michael Kearney, who portrays Rufus so honestly and marvelously understated! One has the feeling of being present in this family’s experiences as they are truly living them. This movie has been a favorite for many years, and I still re-watch it, every so often.
(If I may note a slight correction for the “performances” section of the blog. Pat Hingle played the part of Jay’s undertaker brother, Ralph.)
Oops, thanks for pointing out that error. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting. I’m so glad you appreciated this film and my post on it.
My pleasure. I greatly enjoyed your review, and everyone else’s comments.
I think what strikes me most about Ms Simmons’ acting is her ability to “wear” the role she portrays. She does not appear to be acting! As I hinted, above, you feel she (and, really, everyone else in THIS particular film) ARE the actual souls who are living these events.
When you view it again, pay attention to how “natural” everyone is. Look at little gestures, glances, asides, hesitations, motions, etc. None of them seem “forced” or “scripted …but simply natural. Two of my favorites are these:
1) Rufus on the stairs, jus after his mother has rushed out of her bedroom, panicked, asking Aunt Hannah where Jay is (where have they taken his body). The two women return to Mary’s room, leaving Rufus pondering the scene he just witnessed. His hesitancy and wonderment, then, finally, his physical start and stop before slowly making his way downstairs is BRILLIANT, and I am amazed at how the director could get a child to capture that (and this youngster captured many OTHER such moments!)!
And 2) is when Mary is speaking to Jay’s spirit, while rocking, gently, in the chair in Rufus’ room. She senses his spirit leaving, and calls out to him not to do so. At that moment, Rufus “awakes,” dreamily asking, “Papa, is that you?” Mary stops, and is slowly brought back to reality. She gives the slightest little, “Oh,” before she gets up and goes to Rufus to quiet him and help him return to sleep. That “Oh” is such a minute, but masterful, touch—and there’s a treasure trove of such moments sprinkled throughout this kind, sentimental and heartfelt feature!