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An actress, Julie Beck, finds out that she is ill and has only a short time to live. She becomes taken with Hitty, a young orphan prone to dreaming. Julie soon decides to adopt the child so that her husband Bill will not be alone when she dies. After Julie dies, Bill is so grief stricken, he shuts out everyone in his life, even Hitty. Hitty believes she's receiving visits from Julie who offers Hitty advice on how to make Bill happy. Unfortunately, Bill is not charmed by Hitty's efforts to care for him; he does not believe she's seen Julie and wants to send her to boarding school. Rather than leaving Bill, Hitty runs away to find Julie. After Bill hears a record Julie recorded before she died, he finally realizes he must move on with his life and with Hitty.Written by
Daniel Bubbeo <email@example.com>
SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY (20th Century-Fox, 1946), directed by Walter Lang, based on the story by Nella Gardner White, became the studio's answer to Columbia's earlier hit, PENNY SERENADE (1941), starring Irene Dunne and Cary Grant, which borrows a similar theme about a young couple adopting a child, only to lose it in death. In this presentation with a mild twist, the mother is the one who dies, leaving the child to not only cope with the loss, but to help her adoptive father overcome his bereavement. As with the Irene Dunne character in PENNY SERENADE, the mother in this production, wonderfully played by Maureen O'Hara, enjoys listening to records, particularly her personal favorite hit tune of the day, "Sentimental Journey." Besides the occurring underscoring to "Sentimental Journey," the movie also includes a haunting instrumental score, used during the emotional scenes, lifted from THE BLUE BIRD (20th Century-Fox, 1940) starring Shirley Temple.
As for the story, Maureen O'Hara plays Julie Beck, a stage actress, married to her producer, Bill Weatherly (John Payne) for five years. After going through rehearsals for the upcoming play, HAPPINESS, Julie starts feeling strange and weak. Doctor Miller (Sir Cedric Hardwicke), her physician, informs her that she must take things a little easier now mainly because she is suffering from a heart ailment. Not only does she intend on continuing on with her career, she keeps her condition a secret from Bill. During an out-of-town tryout, Julie decides to take time away from the theater and stroll on the beach where she encounters numerous children at play, little girls from the Fresh Air Fund Campers gathered together playing in the sand. She then comes across one particular child named Hittie (Connie Marshall), who's part of the group of children but happens to be sitting a lonely child sitting all by herself on the rocks overlooking the ocean. Almost immediately Julie bonds with this precocious child who looks up to Julie as the lovely "Lady of the Shiloh." Later that night, Julie, discusses with Bill about the possibility of adopting a child. Overriding Bill's objections, the couple come to an agreement and stop by at the Martha Stone Orphanage where arrangements are made to adopt young Hitty. All goes well with this union until Julie is stricken with a heart attack and dies. In the final half of the story, it is Hitty who tries to keep her final promise to Julie in watching over Bill, who by then, is so depressed by his wife's sudden death that he plans on sending the child away, especially after she admits to him that she sees and communicates with Julie's spirit.
Sentiment, tragedy and a touch of comedy (thanks to William Bendix as Donnelly, the family friend) combine beautifully in this tearjerker. What really holds the movie together is the natural presence of little Connie Marshall, who is given special introduction presentation in the opening cast credits. Sad eyed and sincere in appearance, Marshall almost resembles that of future child actor Haley Joel Osmond, famous for his role in THE SIXTH SENSE (1999). What's even more ironic that both characters in which they play communicate with the dead, in this case, Marshall with her adoptive mother. While Marshall's film career was limited, it is with this movie she would be best remembered.
Adding a touch of humor in between these touching scenes is William Bendix, who shows a rough exterior but under that rough and tough face is a kind-hearted man who loves children. At times Bendix physical appearance comes to mind of an actor of the past named Louis Wolheim (1881-1931), who had played similar likable character-types in the silent screen and early talkies. Also seen in the supporting cast in smaller roles are Glenn Langan as Judson; Mischa Auer as Lawrence Ayers; Kurt Kruegar as Wilson; Ruth Nelson as Mrs. McMasters; with Dorothy Adams, Trudy Marshall and Mary Gordon. Look for George E. Stone in a small role as a toy hawker who sells a miniature horse to the Weatherly couple as a gift for Hitty in Central Park.
In 1947, Maureen O'Hara and John Payne would reunite together again in MIRACLE ON 34th STREET, their the best known of their four screen collaborations. While MIRACLE has its share of frequent television showings and the presence of another little girl and future star, played by Natalie Wood (1938-1981), SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY, while popular during its initial release, has today become an almost obscure film. I seem to recall reading an article in Reader's Digest some time back about Maureen O'Hara and her career. In the article, she lists SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY as one of her personal favorites, and the one most sadly neglected. Fox Movie Channel occasionally plays SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY, and some years later, Turner Classic Movies (TCM premiere: July 1, 2014).
SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY, released at the time when tough film noir mysteries, dramatic realism and war time propaganda were common place in neighborhood movie theaters, this screen treatment, which consists some contrived plot twists (especially with its opening scene), and clichés, it remains a winning and charming story that would leave even the most unmoved individual in holding back some tears. SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY was remade twice, first as THE GIFT OF LOVE (20th-Fox, 1958) with Robert Stack and Lauren Bacall; and as a 1984 television movie under its original title featuring Jaclyn Smith and David Dukes. Of the three carnations, the first one, which runs at 94 minutes, seems to hold up quite well. (***1/2)
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