Clark Gable plays a successful surgeon named Ulysses Lee Johnson, but you’ll immediately know him as Ulysses S. Hunk. Anne Baxter plays his wife, Penny and together they lead an existence that is so shallow that not only would Ulysses rather go dancing at his country club than helping out his doctor friend Robert Sunday fight malaria in the bad part of town, he actually tells this to Sunday’s face without a smidgen of guilt!
In Lee’s defense, it was his birthday and while you and I might have to hang out with white trash afflicted with malaria, hookworm, and chronic unemployment syndrome due to an accident of birth, why should a rich, hunky doctor do the same?
I think it goes without saying that as war rages in Europe, Lee takes an isolationist point of view, at least until it becomes the hip thing to do to go and fight for your country. Of course, that was merely an excuse for Penny to throw a really swanky party and have Lee parade around in his tight army uniform.
What I loved most about Lee was that he got in Sunday’s face at the party and called him out because Sunday wasn’t going off to fight Nazis, but was staying at home to fight malaria. “Damn it, Sunday! Don’t you know that if these Axis powers succeed, there won’t even be any white trash with malaria left for you to save? I hope you enjoy treating Himmler’s bunions you sauerkraut-eating cur!”
Lee goes off to war and meets up with a mouthy blonde nurse named McCall (Lana Turner), thus kicking in the annoyingly uncharismatic bickering relationship part of the movie.
Since Lee’s real name is Ulysses, this is purportedly a re-telling of the Ulysses myth and we all know what that means. War and blonde nurses can transform a man from a soulless jerk into a sensitive guy who smiles warmly and decides that the welfare of his brother man (and blonde nurses) is really his concern after all. Didn’t the real Ulysses fight cyclops and minotaurs and stuff?
McCall is in Lee’s face about his isolationist views and starts going on and on about how she’s a widow and that her husband was a pilot who died six years before while fighting in China.
Lee and I had no idea what the devil this guy was doing getting shot down in China back in the thirties, but both of us did know that McCall should have been home taking care of her six year old son instead of being on a transport ship playing G.I. Jane.
Little did Lee or I know that McCall was the worldly type who liked to take baths in ancient Roman ruins during a lull in the hostilities. McCall even came with a brassy nickname, Snapshot! Don’t know what it meant, but it sure was brassy!
A script riddled with painfully obvious moments (the poor kid from Lee’s hometown dies in front of Lee – not from a battlefield wound, but from malaria and hookworm and just so you don’t miss the point, someone says to Lee that if only someone from his hometown had treated the malaria he wouldn’t have died!) as well as the completely listless romance between Lee and McCall, combine to form a simplistic and dull tale that never explored Lee’s change from ass to saint with any depth.
Oddly enough, the movie is told in flashback and the framing device is the most effective part of the movie. The way Lee talks to a reporter and the look in his eyes at the beginning of the film when he’s on his way back home from the war really make you think you’re about to see something special or at the very least, something entertaining, instead of the cold lump of a story that is to come.
Likewise, the movie picks up again and has some believable emotion at the end after Lee returns to the States and has to come to terms with his life in the war, what happened there, and his life back home with his wife.
This is all wrapped up a bit too perfunctorily and his wife seems to be way too understanding of things, but this is what a movie called Homecoming should be focusing on all along, namely Lee’s efforts to reconcile the things he felt while at war, with the people in his life back home who didn’t have any of those experiences.
The movie took baby steps in that direction at the end with the wife talking about how the worst part was not being able to be there with him and that all she could do was follow his progress on a map.
With the cast and the subject matter though, the movie ranks as a sizable disappointment due to chiefly to the total absence of chemistry between Gable and Turner and a script that is as shallow as the character it seeks to transform and redeem. Gable’s real-life heartache and war experiences would surely make a more compelling yarn than this.
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