I love being from Indiana. That’s not necessarily a popular opinion, but the fact is I enjoy my Midwestern roots. I think that’s why I find it so exciting when TV shows like Parks and Recreation and The Middle and various films decide to set their stories in my home state. Two prime examples are the 2017 movies Columbus (set and filmed in the town of its title) and The Good Catholic (filmed in Bloomington and directed, written, and produced by IU alumni). The upcoming releases of Columbus and The Good Catholic have inspired me to reflect on my favorite Indiana-set films, all of which come from Hollywood’s Golden Age and none of which deal with sports (the sacrilege!).
Some Came Running (1958)
Set in fictional Parkman, Indiana, this Vincente Minnelli classic was filmed for three weeks in the state’s historic town of Madison. Frank Sinatra plays an ex-GI who winds up back in his hometown while Shirley MacLaine was nominated for an Oscar for her portrayal of the fragile woman who has fallen for Sinatra despite his love for schoolteacher Martha Hyer. The third lead is a gambler terrifically depicted by Dean Martin. Some Came Running focuses on the suppression that its characters experience, a suffocation that leads to hypocrisy, anger, unfulfilled potential, and ultimately tragedy.
Madison has become one of my family’s favorite places to visit. Because many of the buildings have remain unchanged since the shooting of Some Came Running, you can watch the film and pick out places you recognize. We’ve even stayed at the same hotel that the crew occupied, the Hillside Inn (which was unfortunately renovated after a fire in the 1960s). The town readily embraces its history, including its connections to Hollywood. Outside of the Ohio Theatre, you can find a star-shaped plaque commemorating the movie, as well as a sign for actress Irene Dunne, who lived in Madison for some years after her father’s death in 1913. Inside the Madison Comfort Station, you can also find a mural that celebrates Dunne, Some Came Running, and the 2005 film Madison.
Presenting Lily Mars (1943)
Judy Garland was at her most stunning when she made this cute musical comedy, which was based on the novel by Indiana author Booth Tarkington. Judy is a young woman desperate to become an actress. She thinks she has found her ticket to stardom when theatrical producer Van Heflin returns to the Indiana hometown they share. Unfortunately, Judy annoys Heflin more than she enchants him. With the touching support of her family, though, Judy follows Heflin back to New York and slowly wins him over. However, when she is presented with a big opportunity in his show, not everything goes the way you would think.
Not only does Judy sound incredible here, her acting is superb. She effortlessly goes from hamming it up as Lady Macbeth to tearfully accepting genuine heartbreak. She also has good chemistry with Heflin, who was a marvelous, underrated talent. There are better films than Presenting Lily Mars, but there isn’t any better entertainer than Ms. Judy Garland.
Three Guys Named Mike (1951)
Okay, I’m kind of cheating with this one. This underrated romantic comedy is only in Indiana for about five minutes, but it revolves around a young woman (Jane Wyman) leaving the state to become a stewardess and explore the world. Wyman infused her character with such warmth and intelligence. Watching her navigate her journey with wit and grace while juggling the attentions of three suitors named Mike was oddly inspiring when I first discovered this movie. Here was Wyman, doing what she wanted and having fun doing it — she had good friendships with other women, she excelled at her career, and she wasn’t out searching for a husband.
In addition to that, the guys of the title are splendidly played by Van Johnson, Barry Sullivan, and Howard Keel, and the direction is deftly handled by Charles Walters. It also provides a fascinating look at air travel in the 1950s. Three Guys Named Mike might be just a simple film, but it will always hold a special place in my heart.
June Bride (1948)
When foreign correspondent Robert Montgomery returns to New York, he becomes assigned to a women’s magazine run by ex-girlfriend Bette Davis. For the magazine’s June issue, Davis and her crew head to (fictional) Crestville, Indiana for the wedding of a seemingly perfect, all-American couple. As soon as they arrive, it is one obstacle after another as the magazine gives the bride’s family and their home makeovers. While Davis focuses on that, Montgomery realizes that the bride’s sister and the groom are a better match. He also believes that although they spar constantly, he and Davis belong together. A witty comedy with some admittedly dated gender politics, June Bride is a fine showcase for the comic talents of Queen Davis and the reliably great Montgomery.
Remember the Night (1940)
Written by comedy great Preston Sturges, directed by Mitchell Leisen, and starring Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck, Remember the Night is a bittersweet romantic comedy with a few dashes of heart-tugging drama. Sturges always came up with the most unique premises for his scripts and this film is no different: when assistant D.A. MacMurray postpones the trial of shoplifter Stanwyck until after the Christmas season, he feels guilty and has her bailed out. Upon discovering that she is a fellow Hoosier and has nowhere to go for the holidays, MacMurray offers to have her tag along on his trip to Indiana. Once there, he’ll drop her off at her mother’s and then he’ll pick her up on his way back to New York. When that doesn’t go according to plan, Stanwyck stays with MacMurray and his family instead. Their generosity and friendliness moves Stanwyck, and soon she and MacMurray find themselves looking at each other differently.
Playing MacMurray’s mother was the fantastic character actress and Valparaiso, Indiana native Beulah Bondi. You may know the teaming of Stanwyck and MacMurray from Double Indemnity, but Remember the Night was the pair’s first film together. (They ended up making four altogether.) This movie also confirmed to Preston Sturges that he wanted to direct his own scripts; within the year his debut The Great McGinty was released. Fun fact: while working with Stanwyck on Remember the Night, Sturges told the actress that he wanted to write a screenplay for her. The result? The Lady Eve, one of Sturges’s and Stanwyck’s best.
On Moonlight Bay (1951) and By the Light of the Silvery Moon (1953)
Although these two films are set in the Hoosier state, everything is just vague enough that it really could be located anywhere in the Midwest. Still, On Moonlight Bay and its sequel By the Light of the Silvery Moon are the definition of “feel-good movies.” They were also Warner Brothers’ version of MGM’s giant hit Meet Me in St. Louis. The similarities are hard to miss: an early 1900’s time period; the female star falling for the boy next door; a bratty younger sibling; songs that reflect the period; a bustling house with a sassy maid; Hoosier Leon Ames as the father…
However, On Moonlight Bay and By the Light… are different in their style and tone. Things feel lighter in these films, despite serious themes like possible infidelity and World War I. The casting of sunny Doris Day and handsome Gordon MacRae is impeccable; their scenes are the highlight of both films. With delightful musical numbers, a perfect cast, and sweet, humorous screenplays, these two films are quality entertainment.
There are many more movies I could discuss, but they aren’t exactly favorites, such as Raintree County (1957) with Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor, and Eva Marie Saint; Orson Welles’s wonderful 1942 adaptation of Booth Tarkington’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Magnificent Ambersons; Clark Gable and Barbara Stanwyck’s racing film To Please a Lady (1950), which was partly filmed at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway; and William Wyler’s Civil War drama Friendly Persuasion (1956) starring Gary Cooper, Dorothy McGuire, and Anthony Perkins. It is always a pleasure to discover Hollywood’s unexpected ties to my home state, and I can’t wait to explore the multitude of films, actors, directors, and more that are a part of that.
The Good Catholic will be screening at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater on September 17-22, with select cast members scheduled to be present at the premiere screening on the 17th. Special thanks to Pigasus Pictures, John Armstrong, and Zachary Spicer.
Michaela Owens is thrilled to be the editor of A Place for Film. An IU graduate with a BA in Communication and Culture, Michaela has also been a volunteer usher at IU Cinema since 2016. She never stops thinking about classic Hollywood, thanks to her mother’s introduction to it, and she likes to believe she is an expert on Katharine Hepburn.