In the Catbird Seat/Joe Kirkish

How does she do it? Put her on stage or in a movie scene with other actors and you focus immediately on her.

According to critics, it’s called Star Power, and when you’ve got it -as with actors like Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, James Cagney and a handful of others – you know it and you work it.

That’s what happened when Geraldine Page literally took over Horton Foote’s modest little play about an elderly woman who decides to escape from a dependent living situation and return to the happy home of her childhood. She works it.

The movie is “A Trip to Bountiful.” Adapted from award-winning stage and TV productions, it can be seen at the Calumet Theatre for the May Club Indigo.

The time in the story is 1947. Carrie Watts (Page) is a well-meaning, loving old woman, but living with her sedentary son Ludie (John Heard) and his domineering wife Jessie Mae (Carlin Glynn) in their tiny Houston apartment is no picnic for any of them.

Carrie spends her time at home, staring out the window. Occasionally she has “spells” – her heart is unreliable, though he doctor tells her she’ll outlive most people her age. She dreams of returning to Bountiful, a small Texas town where she was born, married, and raised her children, of whom only Ludie survives.

One afternoon, while Ludie is at work and Jessie Mae is out sipping Coke at her favorite air-conditioned counter, Carrie makes her getaway. She sneaks her pension check, takes an overnight bag, and slips off to a bus headed for Bountiful.

We discover a different Carrie Watts in her flight crafty and hilarious, sentimental and unexpectedly tough. She settles into her overnight trip, planning to take a taxi for the last step of her journey into the past, where reality takes hold.

As Mrs. Watts, Geraldine Page has never been better nor in more firm control of that complex, delicate mechanism that for decades made her one of our finest actresses and in this case won her an Oscar as Best Actress for 1958.

From the start, this is her movie. You grow to love her as she downplays her emotions while allowing a variety of feelings to flow. Her Mrs. Watts is no quaint old lady, no Texas-style Apple Mary, but a strong, shrewdly willful woman who sometimes also happens to be amusing and impetuously impulsive. It’s a wonderful role, and the performance ranks among her finest.

And the entire cast rises to the occasion: Heard, wearing the beginning of a paunch, as Ludie; Carlin Glynn as Jessie Mae, whose patience is always nearing the breaking point; Richard Bradford as the country sheriff who becomes Carrie’s unexpected ally; and, especially, Rebecca De Mornay (first seen as the tireless hooker in Tom Cruise’s “Risky Business”), here is a sympathetic, self-possessed, young Army bride who befriends Mrs. Watts during the trip. The feel of their interactions comes in little, sequential moments; we get to know them all and find it impossible to forget them long after the film is over.

The feel of Texas country at the end of WWII is strong the drab interior of the Watts’ modest home, the atmosphere of lonely bus stops at night, and the wide open spaces of Texas farmlands bring the ambiance of the time and place vividly to life.

“A Trip to Bountiful” reveals people who must make compromises and continue with their lives. These are characters who, under other conditions, might become dysfunctional losers. Thankfully, Mr. Foote’s script and Peter Masterson’s directing are more concerned with people who find solutions, who hang on, and with all their problems, are unforgettable survivors. We get to appreciate them, all.

The date for Club Indigo is Friday the 10that 7:15pm, preceded at 6pm by a Southwestern banquet from Carmelita’s Southwestern grill and restaurant, Calumet. Cost for food and film, $19. Film alone, $5. Children ten and under receive a discount. A call to the theatre before 5pm, Thursday the 9th, is needed for the buffet: 337-2610.

The Bluffs Assisted Living and Duplex Apartments, Houghton, sponsor the film.

Rotten Tomatoes averages: “Pain & Gain,” C-; “42,” B.