• Hilda Crane (Twilight Time Releasing) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Twilight Time
    Release date: May 22, 2018
    Directed by: Philip Dunne
    Cast: Jean Simmons, Guy Madison, Judith Evelyn, Evelyn Varden, Gregg Palmer, Richard Garrick, Jim Hayward, Don Shelton, Helen Mayon, Jay Jostyn, Peggy Knudsen, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Marie Blake
    Year: 1956
    Purchase From Screen Archives

    The Movie:

    Some years back, Hilda Crane (Jean Simmons) ran off to New York City to be her own woman but instead experienced no less than two marriage fails. Does that make her a tramp? The film encourages you to be the judge (meaning, you absolutely should think she’s a tramp) as Hilda returns to her hometown of Winona and, after sparring with her po-faced mother (Judith Evelyn), agrees that her third marriage will be for security—though one wonders if her mother is thinking of her daughter’s security or her own. Sure enough, there’s an eligible bachelor in dashing construction-company owner Russell Burns (Guy Madison), but Hilda is more interested in teasing her former college professor (Jean-Pierre Aumont), with whom she had an affair while his student. And no, we aren’t expected to find him creepy at all because she’s the bad one. He’s still crazy about her, despite the fact that she betrayed him by running off with an athlete her own age and with whom she believed she was in love.

    A letter from Russell arrives in the mail asking Hilda to marry him. She finally decides to say yes, though she claims she isn’t in love with him, because it will make her mother happy and her own life easier. It doesn’t hurt that Russell has lots of money, something Hilda claims to care nothing about. Others warn her about Russell’s borderline incestuous mother (Evelyn Varden); and in fact, the old woman does show up at Hilda’s house one day to berate her for being a tramp and unworthy of her son. Just for the record, Mother Brand—or, rather, Mommie Dearest as we shall call her from here on out—has done this to every girl Russell’s ever gotten close to. After all, what wholesome V.C. Andrews-inspiring mother wants their son to marry and have a family when he can stay home and worship her instead? This only hardens Hilda’s desire to marry Russell. But Mommie Dearest is so desperate that she apprehends Hilda just before the wedding and offers her $50,000 in bonds plus lots of other cool stuff if she’ll only go back to NYC. Hilda refuses to take her up on her offer, and Mommie Dearest feigns a heart attack, just as Hilda’s friends had said she would. Only, unknown to Hilda, this time the old hag isn’t really feigning. The thought of her son copulating with another woman really does do her in.

    Unfortunately, Russell feels guilty about his mom dying and refuses to consummate his marriage. He’s also decided that they should remain in mommy’s house rather than move into the new one he was building just for them… and that Mommie Dearest’s portrait should remain over the fireplace, staring down on them as they engage in… nothing, since there’s no sex going on in this house. But a sexless marriage really isn’t a marriage, so Hilda runs off and consummates her passion with her former professor, who then asks her to be his mistress because she isn’t worthy of anything more. Talk about adding insult to injury!

    The problem with Hilda Crane—or, at least, one of its many problems—is that we’re expected to believe Hilda’s behavior is what’s gotten her into her messes. On the one hand, the film would have us believe that Hilda’s a strong, modern woman deserving of the same treatment that men reserve for similar behaviors; on the other, her behavior makes her a tramp who should be treated like shit and doesn’t deserve to live, at least not unless she can mend her ways and become a traditional housewife. Puke, gag, vomit!

    But please don’t think we’re telling you not to watch Hilda Crane. It’s presented in such an exaggerated and melodramatic fashion that it’s impossible not to be entertained. You’ll laugh as Hilda repeatedly tells off her mother; you’ll cry (with laughter) as Mommie Dearest does everything in her power to destroy her son’s marital prospects.

    It’s one thing to recognize Hilda’s poor life choices as getting her into difficult situations. Yet, the film’s desperate need to portray poor life choices as the expected outcome of modern feminism is ludicrous. And the notion that Hilda’s only options are to reform or die will (and should) offend modern sensibilities. Yet, movies such as Hilda Crane are important for socio-historic reasons. They show us just how hard women had it in the 1950s. They were damned if they did, damned if they didn’t. Women were expected to be strong, but only so far as their husbands allowed; and in the end, they must always to defer to their husbands’ sound judgment.

    Hilda Crane was based on a stage play by Samson Raphaelson, a man in case you couldn’t have guessed from searing condemnation of independent women. The script by Philip Dunne, who also directed, does a good job of mixing up the settings for a more theatrical experience, except that his direction is pretty flat and uninspired. Still, Hilda Crane really is a hoot, and the performances are actually pretty good, particularly Jean Simmons and Evelyn Varden.


    Twilight Time offers Hilda Crane on a single BD50 in 1080p high definition in its original Cinemascope ratio of 2.35:1, utilizing an MPEG-4 AVC encode. As with most Technicolor films of the 1950s that have been remastered, it has a bluish hue. Some viewers have complained that this is intentional to make these films look more modern, but a comparison with other Technicolor and Eastman Color transfers casts doubt on such a claim. Regardless, one of the most pleasing aspects of Twilight Time’s presentation is the glorious color and the way it pops off the screen. Skin tones look natural and properly ‘fleshy,’ while reds are vibrant despite the prevalence of blues, greens, and grays. But color isn’t the only reason to check this film out on Blu-ray. The level of detail is stunning. This is clearly a new transfer, quite probably from a 2k or 4k restoration provided by Fox. There are zero issues with transitional fades, and the opening credit scene, despite the presence of opticals, looks fantastic. In fact, there isn’t a moment when sharpness and clarity are at less than their maximum in the format. Internal shots, external shots… They’re all extremely detailed, from the greenery and buildings of the University of Nevada-Reno campus (beautifully doubling for the fictional Northeastern town of Winona) to the furnishings on display in the constructed Hollywood sets. There is a very fine layer of natural grain that supports the image, and Fox’s team have painstakingly removed any and every instance of dirt and debris possible, making the film cleaner and more pristine than it would have looked at the time of its premiere! In short, there’s not a singe complaint to be had about how the film looks on Blu.

    The film’s primary track is provided in beautifully remastered English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. The balance between David Raksin’s lush score and Philip Dunne’s dialogue (as recited by the actors) is perfect; there’s no war between the two, with conversation front and center and music and sound effects providing the proper level of support. For purists, the track is also provided in English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. It, too, is free of competition between convos and score. Speaking of the score, it’s provided in a lush music-only track presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 3.0. There are no commentary tracks, but Twilight Time does provide optional English subtitles for the deaf or hearing impaired, and as usual, these are up to the company’s usually exacting standards.

    Extras include the A&E Biography episode “Jean Simmons: Picture Perfect” (44:24) from 2001. Shot while Simmons was still alive, it feels a little neutered when compared to other Biography episodes, though it’s still a terrific extra and is well worth a watch. Interviews include actors Joss Ackland, George Baker, Kirk Douglas, Glynis Johns, and Shirley Jones, producer Tim Wallace, and an assortment of friends and family members, including Simmons’s stepdaughter (who takes her side of her father’s), as well as Simmons herself. There are innumerable clips from films and the media, as well as publicity stills, behind-the-scenes photos, and images of Simmons at home. The program covers Simmons’ life from birth to her appearance in How to Make an American Quilt in 1995. It also covers aspects of her personal life, from her relationship with her parents, to her two failed marriages (one to actor Stuart Granger, the other to director Richard Brooks), to her struggles with alcohol addiction, to her motherhood.

    Twilight Time has also seen fit to include the original theatrical trailer (2:14), which was once in color but has since faded to pink. It looks terrible, is terribly soft, and shakes considerably, but it’s such a hoot (“You Will Be Asked to Judge Hilda Crane! Was Hilda Crane Really A Tramp? You be the Judge of Hilda Crane! … Shocking? Shameful? Judge for Yourself… See the Story of the Unconventional “Hilda Crane”) that the problems are easy to forgive.

    Finally, liner notes are provided in an 8-page booklet written by Julie Kirgo, a film historian who can also be found on many TT commentaries with fellow historian Nick Redman. Kirgo is an excellent writer, and her style is so unique and carefree that one can’t help but become engrossed in her notes. Take, for example, these opening sentences from her notes for Hilda Crane: “There are certain works of art that perfectly epitomize the virtues/attributes/gifts of an era. There’s the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, of course, which demonstrates the rare talents of both its creator, Michelangelo; his patron, Pope Julius II; and the equally valuable techniques and staff then available to the fresco artist. Similarly—and we’re quite serious about this—there is a film like Hilda Crane (1956), a seductive and juicy melodrama that is the product of the Fifties-era Twentieth Century Fox studio and its craftspeople.” With such an engaging opening, you can see how difficult it is to quit Kirgo’s writing. From there, Kirgo offers not only a look at the film’s production but also her own take on its meaning and place in socio-cinematic history. The booklet is also full color and contains a reproduction of the original U.S. one-sheet.

    Hilda Crane is limited to 3,000 units and is region free. It contains the usual on-screen catalog of Twilight Time titles, clarifying which have gone into moratorium at the time of this disc’s release and which are still available.

    The Final Word:

    Hilda Crane is entertaining for all the wrong reasons, and that’s exactly what makes it worth watching. Hilda’s a modern woman, and that makes her a death-deserving tramp; thankfully, there’s a studly construction worker ready to teach her how to be a real woman (aka housewife)… if only he can get over his desperate need for mommy’s approval and presence. Twilight Time’s presentation is picture perfect: The transfer is as sharp as nails, the sound is as clean as a whistle, and the extras (Biography episode, trailer, booklet) are to die for.

    Christopher Workman is a freelance writer, film critic, and co-author (with Troy Howarth) of the Tome of Terror horror film review series. Horror Films of the Silent Era and Horror Films of the 1930s are currently available, with Horror Films of the 1940s due out in 2019.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!