110 Years of Claire Trevor Blogathon: Breaking Home Ties (1987)

This post is part of the Claire Trevor Blogathon hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and The Wonderful World of Cinema. Claire Trevor was an actress I had seen but was nit conscious of before this blogathon, so I’m glad I joined up.

NOTES: 1. This film can be streamed on Hallmark Movies Now, which is available for a free seen-day trial 2. There were few photos of this film I was able to find online, none featured Claire Trevor unfortunately.

Breaking Homes Waves aired on ABC on November 27th, 1987 and is based on a Norman Rockwell painting by the same name, the film is written and directed by John Wilder. It stars Jason Robards as Lloyd, Eva Marie Saint as Emma, Doug McKeon (best known for On Golden Pond) as Lonnie; and, of course, Claire Trevor as Grace Porter was given the TV honorarium of “Special Guest Star.”

Despite being based on a work by the epitome of Americana, this film does go beneath the wholesome veneer to find the drama. It centers of Lonnie who is leaving home for the first time to attend college. While he’s adjusting academically and socially. At home, his mother, Emma, learns she has leukemia and decides not to tell her husband, Lloyd, or her son.

Claire Trevor comes in as Grace, a high school teacher, Lonnie being a former student of hers, and she is also a friend of the family. Her scenes in this film are few but significant. 

In her introductory scene she arrives at our protagonist’s home driving herself. Her first shot is a male gaze shot (While male gaze was an old-hat cinematic motif by the late-‘80s what makes this instance a little different is that both characters involved are senior citizens) that starts at her foot exiting the vehicle and pans up. This establishes the mutual attraction between Grace and Lloyd. That scene is the setup and we immediately sense the screen presence that earned her the special guest star credit, even if we were previously unfamiliar with her. During this very same year she also appeared on an episode of Murder She Wrote

When Grace speaks to Emma she asks how she’s doing especially considering Lonnie has just left for college. The bond Grace shares with Lonnie is revealed when she mentions that she never had kids but if she did he’d have been like Lonnie. Direction-wise this scene is a little off because the subtext that Grace carries a torch for Lloyd is clear but there’s never a reaction shot for Emma, so whether or not she’s any the wiser is unknown. We’re led to believe she’s not. 

Regardless of that Trevor carries much of the screen-time in this scene and emotes subtext through the surface of banal dialogue, which is a testament to her abilities.

Claire next appears when Lonnie comes home from school over Thanksgiving. This visit is at the beckoning of her mother because he and his success at college mean a lot to her. This is the part in the film where Trevor has her first significant involvement and is one of two storytelling scenes she has. Here she relates how this was her hometown and that she met a man, fell in love, and then traveled the road. What surprises Lonnie as a young man who has left the nest for the first time is that Grace’s returning home and teaching generations what she learned in the great big world gave her a renewed sense of purpose after losing her husband and brings her more joy than globetrotting did. Trevor in this scene effortlessly captures the energy of a sage who tells the tale quite naturally evidencing the progression of her acting style to a more modern sensibility, demonstrating that at this age she still had the chops. 

The next scene Claire Trevor has is her penultimate of the film, and finds Grace running into Lloyd in town near the pharmacist’s. At this point in the film the ailment that Emma has been hiding from her family is highly suspected by her husband. This adds a layer to the tension, this is on top of the sexual tension, as there is confirmation in this scene that there was a romantic past between the two. The restraint of emotion with clear communication between the scene partners here is most excellent. 

Spoiler Alert

Claire Trevor’s final scene in this film is one where Lonnie visits her at school after the death of his mother. This is another storytelling scene where she relates to Lonnie that she and Lloyd had a relationship after he was a student of hers. Due to this fact they broke it off in order to spare her reputation. She then met her eventual husband and Lloyd met Emma. This sequence consists of longer takes and Clair Trevor and Doug McKeon play off each other well. Moreover, the naturalistic style of delivery is still present. This scene paves the way for Lonnie to talk to Lloyd get his side of the story and bury the hatchet with him as he had been angry with his father when he didn’t understand his actions and now needed to vent and to understand his mother’s decision.

Claire Trevor plays a small but significant role in this film. There are times when the “special guest star” connotation is given due to an actor’s reputation and is not merited by the role and/or the material. Here it is deserved and Trevor shows to those who may not have known why her reputation preceded her into this film.