The second of four films Maureen O'Hara and John Payne made together, Sentimental Journey is a little-heard-of gem. It features William Bendix and Sir Cedric Hardwicke in supporting roles and introduces child star Connie Marshall. (While Miss Marshall had appeared in Sunday Dinner for a Soldier two years earlier, it is in Sentimental Journey that she is billed as being presented.) Directed by Walter Lang, this lovely drama runs 94 minutes.
When stage actress Julie Beck (Maureen O'Hara) learns she is dying, her first thought is about her producer husband, Bill (John Payne). Julie knows she is Bill's whole world, and she fears he will have no desire to go on without her. Wanting a child for Bill to cling to after she's gone, yet knowing she is unable to bear a child herself, Julie wonders if adoption might be the answer.
While walking on the beach shortly after recovering from a bad spell, Julie comes upon a group of children from a Brooklyn orphanage; she is immediately drawn to the one little girl sitting all alone. A dreamy, fanciful child, Hitty (Connie Marshall) reminds Julie of herself at that age, and she approaches Bill about adopting her. A somewhat selfish, possessive man, Bill---who has no idea Julie is dying---doesn't see the need for a child; in fact, he says, Julie is the only family he needs. However, to please Julie, he agrees, and the two of them make a trip to the Martha Stone Orphanage.
Hitty is thrilled to see Julie again, and she happily accompanies the couple to their New York home. Sweet and loving, and with a desire to please, Hitty quickly learns how to take care of Bill and make his home life comfortable. But Bill is not comfortable---he's tense and agitated...and completely annoyed by Hitty's fanciful nature. And when Julie chooses to stay home with a sick Hitty rather than attend an event with him, Bill is angry. He doesn't like having to share his wife.
Knowing Bill can't change who he is, nor can Hitty change who she is, Julie finds herself in the position of having to choose between them. Should she send Hitty back to the orphanage? The stress of the situation brings about a fatal attack, and just before she dies, Julie begs Hitty to stay with Bill no matter what..to watch over him...to continue doing for him all the things they had done for him together.
Completely devastated by his wife's death, Bill can barely function. He gets through her funeral and the days afterward as though in a trance. He certainly wants no part of Hitty and her attempts to fill the void left by Julie's death. And for Hitty, who is also grieving the loss of Julie, Bill's rejection is heartbreaking. How these two hurting souls find peace and love will play out in the balance of this lovely, sob-inducing film.
Sentimental Journey is a wonderful, 4-star film for me. Maureen O'Hara is the most beautiful I have ever seen her. She's simply stunning here, and her character is a joy---kind, caring, gentle, accepting. John Payne's character is---as is necessary for the story---self-centered and unlikable. Still, though, I couldn't help rooting for him to come to his senses and realize what he was throwing away. Though perhaps not on the same plain as Natalie Wood, Connie Marshall is, nevertheless, completely charming as little Hitty. She will easily capture your heart! Just like Miss O'Hara and Miss Wood had super chemistry together in Miracle On 34th Street, so, too, do mother and daughter have a beautiful connection in this film. As Julie's doctor, Cedric Hardwicke has a fairly small part, but he plays it well. And William Bendix---as Bill and Julie's friend and Hitty's adopted "Uncle Donnelly"---adds a bit of lightheartedness. Given the film's title, it will come as no surprise that the lovely 1945 song "Sentimental Journey" is liberally interspersed throughout. As Julie and Bill's song, that beautiful melody is heard over and over again.
Although Sentimental Journey touched me deeply and had the potential to be another Penny Serenade in my estimation, I have to admit that it fell just a trifle short, a result, I think, of it's 94-minute running time. With Penny Serenade coming in at 119 minutes, there was a full 25 minutes more to develop the characters and situations. As it was, I felt things were rushed and, therefore, a little less deep than they could have been. Had the film been longer, I have no doubt it would have merited 5 stars, instead of the 4 I have given it.
Sadly, Sentimental Journey is a film that is not easy to track down---it's not out on DVD, and TCM never seems to air it (at least in the three to four years I've been looking for it, I've not noticed it on their schedule). Finally, earlier this year, I found it in its entirety on YouTube; however, as of the day of this writing, it appears to be there no longer. All that to say, finding a way to view Sentimental Journey may be rather difficult, but if you do get the opportunity, go for it. It's a sweet and---as its name suggests---sentimental journey.