Wednesday, April 05, 2017
Directed by Hal Ashby and written by Charles Eastman, Second-Hand Hearts is the story of a widow who marries a loner as they try to recover the former’s children for an unusual road trip to California. The film is a love story of sorts with a road movie where two very troubled individuals try to form a new family in an offbeat journey. Starring Barbara Harris, Robert Blake, and Bert Remsen. Second-Hand Hearts is a quirky but very messy film from Hal Ashby.
The film follows a couple who recently got married as they embark on a road trip from Texas and all the way to California where they stop to retrieve the woman’s three kids while her husband copes with the new role of being their stepfather. It’s a film with a simple story as this lonely drifter who has never had a lot of luck in his life marries this widow who is also down on her luck as her husband had died some time ago with her children living at her in-laws. Though the two got married during a drunken bender, they’re eager to make it work despite their own flaws and fears where they hope to go to California in a beaten-up station wagon and create a new life. Charles Eastman’s screenplay has a lot invested in the story but it has no center in what it wants to be. While it’s mainly a road movie, it tries to cram a lot where it’s a family film of sorts but also a romantic-comedy as it never has a center. Plus, the character of Loyal Muke (Robert Blake) is a total loser that is often afraid of things or reluctant to do something though his development is well-written. It’s just that he is played as a comedic figure rather than someone totally sympathetic.
Despite the beauty of the many locations in and around Texas and the American Southwest, Hal Ashby’s direction definitely suffers from the film’s screenplay due to its lack of a central identity. While Ashby’s wide shots for many of the scenes set on the road are very beautiful as it is expected in a road movie. Ashby is more concerned with the dynamic between Loyal and his new wife Dinette Dusty (Barbara Harris) where they had just gotten married and aren’t sure if this marriage will be successful. Ashby’s usage of close-ups and medium shots in and around some of the locations including the station wagon are unique but there are moments when the attempts at comedy feel very forced. Even in moments where it tries to be serious but ends up being very silly where Ashby’s attempt in offbeat humor also doesn’t work despite some of the earnest moments involving Loyal, Dinette, and Dinette’s children late in the film. Overall, Ashby creates a compelling but very uneven film about a newlywed couple taking their rag-tag family on a road trip to California for a new life.
Cinematographer Haskell Wexler does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography from the gorgeous scenery of the sprawling American Southwest locations to some of the shots at night including a scene where the car runs out of gas as well as the early scenes at a club where Dinette is singing at. Editor Amy Holden Jones does nice work with the editing as it is mostly straightforward with few jump cuts as it relies more on something simple and to the point. Production designer Peter Wooley, with set decorator Robert R. Benton and art director Rick Carter, does fantastic work with the look of the station wagon as well as the bar where Dinette sings at and the pool hall where her father-in-law manages.
Costume designer Ann Roth does terrific work with the costumes from the lavish and colorful clothing that Dinette wears to the more ragged look of Loyal. Sound mixer Art Rochester does superb work with the sound to play into the atmosphere of some of the locations as well as some of the funny sounds in the station wagon. The film’s music by Willis Alan Ramsey is alright as it mainly a country-based music soundtrack with some contributions from Willie Nelson, Freddy Fender, and other country artists.
The casting by Lyn Stalmaster is brilliant despite the substandard material the actors had to work with as it include some notable small roles from Joe Wilson as a one-armed snake rustler, James Steven Beverly as a young man who would help Dinette and her children when they’re stranded on the road, Woody Chambliss as a deaf gas attendant, Bert Remsen and Sondra Blake as Dinette’s in-laws, and Shirley Stoler in a wonderful small role as Maxy as a woman who would give Dinette and her children shelter while Loyal tries to find them. In the role of Dinette’s children, there’s the duo of Jessica and Erica Stansbury as the toddler Sandra Dee, Amber Rose Gold as the talkative middle child Iota, and Collin Boone as the eldest but mute kid Human.
Robert Blake is alright as Loyal Muke as a bum who is able to do a lot of things but doesn’t have a lot of confidence where Blake feels misdirected whenever he tries to be funny in his breakdowns or to try and con someone. Barbara Harris is amazing as Dinette Dusty as this woman that has endured a lot of bad luck but is eager to start a new life with Loyal despite his shortcomings as it’s a performance filled with charisma and humility where Harris does also bring in the best of Blake when he is restrained.
Second-Hand Hearts is an OK but very uneven film from Hal Ashby despite a winning performance from Barbara Harris and the great cinematography from Haskell Wexler. It’s a film that fans of Ashby would want to seek out although it doesn’t bear a lot of the elements that he is known for as it’s just a very lackluster film that is rarely shown on television and is considered to be very hard to find. In the end, Second-Hand Hearts is just a messy and disappointing film from Hal Ashby.
Hal Ashby Films: The Landlord - Harold and Maude - The Last Detail - Shampoo - Bound for Glory - Coming Home - Being There - (Lookin’ to Get Out) - (Let’s Spend the Night Together) - (Solo Trans) - (The Slugger’s Wife) - 8 Million Ways to Die
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