Morning Glory (1993)
Character Name: Will Parker
Reviewed by Judy Thomas
Heads turn as the tall stranger strides into the sleepy town of Whitney, Georgia. At a local cafe, Lulu Peaks looks interested as she hands him the local paper he wants to read. He turns down her offer of a cup of coffee. It's late summer in 1941 and 10 cents is a lot of money to a man just out of prison. But the newspaper's classified section has something of interest to a man looking for "a dry bed and a full plate" - "Wanted: A Husband". So begins the unlikely romance of Will Parker and Elinore Dinsmore (Crazy Elly to the townspeople), a reclusive widow with 2 sons and another child on the way.
Based on one of the most popular romance novels ever, Morning Glory by Lavyrle Spencer, actress Deborah Raffin so loved the story that she and her producer husband, Michael Viner, bought the movie rights to it. Oddly, given the popularity of the novel, Morning Glory began production under the working title, Change of Heart. Although the film was released in movie theaters in October, 1993, the distributor had neither the clout nor the funds for mass distribution. At any rate, this modest story seems best suited to the television medium. And once you get past the fact that Elly is willing to let an admitted murderer of a woman move onto her farm (maybe she really is crazy), Morning Glory has many simple pleasures.
Christopher Reeve gives a convincing performance here as the taciturn ex-con. The scenes between him and the children are charming and those with Raffin are appropriately awkward. He was directed in this film by Steven Hilliard Stern with whom he worked in the Black Fox trilogy of westerns. Stern's slow pacing works well for most of the film but is less effective for building suspense when Will is on trial for murder. Most critics were unimpressed with Morning Glory (Matthew Flamm in the New York Post said it "...gives simplicity a bad name"). But there were exceptions, as one reviewer compared it to Fried Green Tomatoes; and Reeve's performance got strong notices.
My favorite part of the film is when Will returns home after selling eggs in town. He breaks a stick of candy in half for the boys and then places a brown paper bag on the table in front of Elly. "I had a little money of my own too," he says, "so I got you something." In a beautifully acted scene, Elly removes a dime store statue of a bird from the sack, a look of wonder crossing her face. Camera close ups of Will and Elly reveal the uneasy stirrings of love between these two who do not readily reveal their emotions.
Christopher Reeve's youngest son, Will, was born around the time Morning Glory was filmed. Although it is not clear that the Will Parker character he played in this film influenced the choice of the child's name, the name Will must have many positive connotations for Reeve. It was also the name of his great-great grandfather who came to America in the 1860s and is reminiscent of Williamstown near where Will was born and where the theater festival that has been so important to the Reeve family is held.
Morning Glory was first shown on television in the fall of 1997 on the Lifetime channel. Two scenes were cut to include enough room for commercials. The first involved Elly and Will making his bed in the loft of the barn and the second showed them awakening after their wedding night. The film is available in some rental stores but is not currently for sale as a new video. Deborah Raffin also reads an audio book of Morning Glory that was released in 1993 on her Dove Audio label.
Newsday's Gene Seymour gave this rave review of Christopher Reeve's performance: Those who can't take Reeve seriously unless he's wearing a blue suit and a red cape will find themselves pleasantly surprised by the heft and subtlety he brings to his portrayal of Will. The strong-but-silent patina, harder to pull off than it looks, seems a perfect fit for Reeve, who hasn't had a break from the critics since the Superman features stopped coming. This movie isn't big enough to make Reeve a star again. But the impression he makes here is good enough to suggest that a reversal of perception--and fortune--won't be long in coming.
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