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My guess is that the Walt Disney studio did not want this version of Mother Carey's Chickens competing with it's remake entitled Summer Magic so this film is rarely seen. Both versions are nice entertainment.
Maybe because it's a little closer to the 1898 setting that this version is a bit more realistic. In the Disney version the character of the father played by Ralph Morgan is eliminated, in that one Mother Carey is already a widow. Here with Morgan's death in the Spanish American War we see just what kind of genteel poverty the Careys have been driven into.
Katherine Hepburn reportedly bought out her contract so that she wouldn't have to do this film. Watching it I kind of understand the thinking at RKO. Probably the studio thought this would be a return to one of Kate's most beloved roles from Little Women. There sure is a lot of similarity. I can also understand Hepburn's thinking that this would be a step back not forward for her career. In any event Ruby Keeler who had just been let go at Warner Brothers did her part.
Fay Bainter in the year she won the Best Supporting Actress Award for Jezebel plays Mother Carey who holds her brood together through all kinds of financial and romantic strife. It's a nice role for her and she does well by it. Walter Brennan who hailed from the rural New England area in real life that Mother Carey's Chickens is set in has one of his patented folksy rustics as the local storekeeper.
Though Margaret Hamilton's most famous role was a year away as the Wicked Witch of the West aka Miss Gulch in The Wizard of Oz, here she has a part that makes the witch look like Mother Teresa. She and her milquetoast husband want the old house the Careys have been forced to move in and are willing to do just about anything to get them out. Of course they don't reckon with Carey resourcefulness.
James Ellison and Frank Albertson play a nice pair of suitors for the Carey girls Anne Shirley and Ruby Keeler. Younger Carey brother Jackie Moran has some young romantic problems of his own with Virginia Weidler. But coming close to stealing the film is little Donnie Dunnigan playing Peter Carey. His scene where he tries to 'help' with the hanging of the wallpaper is priceless. In fact watching this I think I know where Leo McCarey got the idea in The Bells of St. Mary's to just turn the camera loose on a gang of little children doing a nativity play as a kind of improvisation. I don't think you could have scripted little Donnie's scenes for this.
Hopefully I'll get to see Summer Magic soon and compare. Hopefully you will all get to see both versions.
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