The image sn't sepia-tinted, but the production design is so overwhelmingly brown that it might as well be; the faces are pearly with memory. And you are in the midst of "On Valentine's Day," another Horton Foote sudser about his boyhood in East Texas. How sudsy, you say?
Wash: It is Christmas of 1917, and Horace (William Converse-Roberts) and Elizabeth (Hallie Foote), newlyweds earnestly in love with each other, celebrate in the parlor of their rented room. There are no presents from Elizabeth's parents. The previous Valentine's Day, Horace and Elizabeth had eloped, which so irked her Daddy Warbucks of a father, Mr. Vaughn (Michael Higgins), that he wrote her out of the Book of Life.
Rinse: George Tyler (Steven Hill), Horace's cousin by marriage, wanders around town with an abstracted air, distributing envelopes full of $100 bills to the local sharecroppers. He's crazy as a loon, and what's driven him crazy is a big what-might-have-been, specifically, his derailed love for Horace's aunt (now deceased).
Spin Dry: As Tyler's pain waxes, Mr. Vaughn, who is also tormented (by his wastrel son, played by Matthew Broderick), is reconciled to his daughter and her husband. "They don't have much," he says sagely, "but they're contented. Things like that can't be bought."
Foote has a Hallmark Card soul; he packs his movie with the kind of pasteurized good feeling you get from a bouquet the concierge sends to your hotel room. How blessed we are by the soupc,on of domestic happiness left us in a chill world! That credo is the basis for nearly all Foote's work, that and a spill of yearning for the past. ("I want everything to stay just as it is," Elizabeth says.) That's why the movie doesn't have to be sepia-tinted; if you cut Foote, he'd bleed sepia.
The flashback sequences are shot in a striking focus and brilliant, golden light -- the movie's not just nostalgic, it's nostalgic about nostalgia. Foote romanticizes the characters from his past precisely because they romanticize their own pasts.
Foote's dramaturgy is old-fashioned, full of clumsy exposition and monologues to the audience, and it tends to cramp the actors (who, with the exception of Hallie Foote, busily show off); what Foote's really misty about, of course, is not East Texas but the good old days of Playhouse 90. There hasn't been a screenwriter like this since Rip Van Winkle.
On Valentine's Day, opening today at the K-B Janus, is rated PG.