Secret Heart, The (1946): Family Melodrama, Starring Claudette Colbert, Walter Pidgeon and June Allyson

Despite a stellar ensemble, headed by Claudette Colbert, Walter Pidgeon, and the young June Allyson (before she became a star), Robert Z. Leonard’s The Secret Heart is a minor romantic melodrama for all the talent concerned, directors and actors.

Grade: B (*** out of *****)

In a mature phase of her career (no longer the ingenue or femme fatale, but still getting top billing), Claudette Colbert plays Lee, a sensitive femme engaged to be married Larry Adams (Richard Derr), a widower raising his son Chase (Robert Sterling) and daughter Penny (June Allyson).

The Secret Heart

Theatrical release poster

The story is told from the POV of Lee, who narrates it in voice-over.

Lee had been living in England with her aunt, who had never approved of Larry, a temperamental and abusive alcoholic. Returning to U.S. on an ocean liner, Lee meets and falls for Chris Matthews (the always reliable Walter Pidgeon), a friend of Larry’s, but she still goes ahead and marries Larry.

She moves to his Rhode Island farm, and observed him teaching Penny piano, his life passion which he sacrifices for a bank job to please his father. But his frustrated ambition has ruined his life, and he has become an alcoholic.

When Larry’s body is found, two years into the marriage, it turns out to be a suicide and reports indicate embezzlement from his bank clients. Lee then takes a job in New York to pay off Larry’s debts, withholding the truth from Penny, wishing to protect her from gossip and scandal. Penny makes a hero out of Larry, holding that he had died of heart attack.

Decade later, Penny has dropped out of school and plays the piano in memory of her father, while seeing a psychiatrist.  Lee goes to see Dr. Rossiger, concerned about Penny’s erratic behavior.

The doctor advises that they move back for the summer to the far, the site of the death occurred, hoping that confronting the past will help cure Penny. Chase returns from the navy after three years and seeks a job with Chris, who owns a shipyard.

He introduces Penny to his navy friend Brandon Reynolds, and they move to the farm, with Chase’s friend Kay Burns, where Chris reenters Lee’s life after a long absence. Lee realizes it was Chris she loved all along.

At the farm, Penny becomes disenchanted with her father when Chase tells her the truth in a long emotional mother-daughter confession. Despondent, she now feels that Chris is the only person she can confide in.

Melodrama continues when Penny, who’s in loves Chris, sees him in Lee’s arms. Penny then tries to kill herself by jumping off a cliff, as Larry had done, but Lee prevents her.

Lee tells Penny the complete true story of her father’s life, and the now mature Penny graduates from school, accepts Chris as her father, and resumes romance with the loyal and waiting Brandon,

The movie was moderately popular at the box-office.

End Note:

I am grateful to Robert Osborne and TCM for playing this little known and shown melodrama on July 23, 2015, Claudette Colbert’s birthday.


Claudette Colbert as Leola ‘Lee’ Addams

Walter Pidgeon as Chris Matthews

June Allyson as Penny Addams

Lionel Barrymore as Dr. Rossiger

Robert Sterling as Chase N. Addams

Marshall Thompson as Brandon Reynolds

Elizabeth Patterson as Mrs. Stove

Richard Derr as Larry Addams

Patricia Medina as Kay Burns

Eily Malyon as Miss Hunter


Directed by Robert Z. Leonard
Produced by Edwin H. Knopf
Written by Anne Morrison Chapin and Whitfield Cook, based on story by Rose Franken and William Brown Meloney
Music by Bronislau Kaper
Cinematography George J. Folsey
Edited by Adrienne Fazan

Production company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Release date: December 25, 1946

Running time: 97 minutes