Valley of the Heart Fails to Delight

Valley of the Heart’s Delight

  • Historical Drama
  • Writer: John Miles Murphy
  • Director: Tim Boxell

There’s nothing worse than panning a locally-made independent film about a fascinating but little remembered piece of Bay Area history–especially when that film is struggling to get national distribution. And it doesn’t make it any easier when the film looks beautiful, which is not an easy task for a low-budget period piece.

Valley of the Heart’s Delight has all that going for it. But flat characters keep it from taking off. It holds your interest, but you’re left wanting more.

And the story should have delivered more. Based very loosely on historical events, it details the circumstances that led to the lynching of two kidnapping/murder suspects in San Jose in 1933. The lynching occurred with the active or passive endorsement of just about everyone who should have stopped it, from the local sheriff to the news media to the Governor of California. Writer/Producer John Miles Murphy, who’s something of an expert on the event, believes the suspects were innocent, and has turned his theories into a work of fiction with completely original characters. Even the victims–of both the kidnapping and the lynching–get new names.

But despite an excellent cast that includes Pete Postlethwaite and Tom Bower, Murphy and director Tim Boxell can’t bring these newly fictitious characters to life. Almost everyone, from the crusading journalist hero (Gabriel Mann) to many a one-scene bit player, rings hollow. They come off as types we’ve seen in a dozen other movies, not flesh-and-blood people.

There are exceptions. Veteran actor Bruce McGill turns the kidnap victim’s father into a real, complex character, which is quite a feat since he really doesn’t have much to do. And even when playing a cardboard reactionary newspaper editor villain, Postlethwaite’s face is always fascinating. But for the most part, Valley of the Heart’s Delight offers big blank spots where the characters’ hearts should be.

There are other mistakes. Richard Gibbs’ music score is bombastic and melodramatic, hitting us over the head with the way we should feel. And the picture suffers from a slight case of Little Children disease: unnecessary narration giving us too much information.

Cinematographer Hiro Narita, Production Designer Douglas Freeman, and Costume Designer Cathleen Edwards all do a remarkable job creating 1933 San Jose out of modern day Bay Area locations and very little money. Too bad Murphy and Boxell couldn’t fill that world with real people.