Summer Under the Stars: My Foolish Heart (1949)

TCM’s star of the day is Susan Hayward, and my film pick for the actress is My Foolish Heart, which airs today at 6:00 P.M. (EST).

The film follows Eloise Winters (Susan Hayward) as she recounts what led up to her current situation after her old friend Mary Jane (Lois Wheeler) pays her a visit. Several years have passed since Eloise saw her friend, and since then she’s become an alcoholic who has an unhappy marriage with Lew Wengler (Kent Smith) and has a poor relationship with her daughter, Ramona (Gigi Perreau). As she contemplates whether or not to grant her husband a divorce, Eloise reminisces about her true love, Walt Dreiser (Dana Andrews), and their fleeting romance before the start of World War II.

My Foolish Heart was adapted from the short story “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut” by J.D. Salinger, which was published in an issue of The New Yorker in 1948, a year before the film was released. The author sold the film rights to producer Samuel Goldwyn for some financial security, especially after a film adaptation of one of his other short stories didn’t pan out in the early 1940s. Unfortunately, critics didn’t think too fondly of the film, and Salinger was not happy with the result, so much so that he never again permitted film adaptations to be made from his work. His short story was instead used as a framing device, with the screenwriters fleshing out the romance between Eloise and Walt, and additional plot elements revolving around Ramona. Despite its criticisms, the film did earn two Oscar nominations; one for Best Original Song for the heart-wrenching title tune “My Foolish Heart”, and another for Best Actress for Susan Hayward’s exceptional performance.

Susan Hayward’s star was quickly rising by the time she made My Foolish Heart. She had recently come off her first Oscar nomination for the 1947 film Smash-Up, the Story of a Woman, proving how dynamic of an actress she was in more dramatic roles. It would be nearly ten years later until Hayward did finally win an Academy Award of her own for the 1958 film I Want to Live!, which followed two more nominations that decade for With a Song in My Heart and I’ll Cry Tomorrow. Just as can be found in her other acclaimed performances, Hayward’s work in My Foolish Heart features all the qualities that make her such a magnetic actress on screen, from some scene-stealing, emotional outbursts to quieter, tender moments that show what her character is feeling without using words. What she does onscreen doesn’t look like an act and instead looks natural; Eloise feels like a role Hayward was born to play.

While My Foolish Heart wasn’t quite beloved upon its initial release, I personally enjoy it for what it is, and it’s the development of the short-lived relationship between Eloise and Walt that really elevates it for me. Susan Hayward and Dana Andrews previously worked together in the 1946 film Canyon Passage, and that prior experience surely helped them form a deeper connection for this film, as their chemistry can really be felt through their shared scenes. For what it’s worth, My Foolish Heart is a perfectly fine wartime melodrama highlighting how wonderful and devasting that first love can be.

I wrote this as a part of the 2019 TCM Summer Under the Stars Blogathon, where bloggers are celebrating the channel’s honorees and movies playing throughout the month. Click the image below to read more posts!

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