The Peppers - Mrs. Pepper and her five children Polly, Ben, Joey, Davie and Phronsie - are a poor family (the six of them sleep in a total of four beds in two rooms), but they love each ...
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The Peppers - Mrs. Pepper and her five children Polly, Ben, Joey, Davie and Phronsie - are a poor family (the six of them sleep in a total of four beds in two rooms), but they love each other and as a result are happy. Mrs. Pepper's husband, John Pepper, a mining engineer, died when the copper mine in which he had half ownership collapsed atop him. Mid-teen Polly was deeded his part of the mine, which her mother has told her her father wanted her to keep at least until she became of age, despite he never having found copper in it. Polly often acts as the family guardian to her siblings while Mrs. Pepper is at work. By chance, Polly and Joey meet well-off but lonely mid-teen Jasper King, who ends up befriending all the Pepper children. Jasper lives with his wealthy businessman grandfather, J.H. King, who pays his grandson no attention as he is all consumed with making money to the exclusion of all else. J.H. has no interest in Jasper befriending this poor family until he learns who ... Written by
FIVE LITTLE PEPPERS AND HOW THEY GREW (Columbia, 1939), directed by Charles Barton, based on the book and characters created by Margaret Sidney, became another one the studio's own contribution in family oriental films. Cashing in on the popularity to the "Blondie" comedies that initially began in 1938 featuring Penny Singleton (Blondie), Arthur Lake (Dagwood) and Larry Simms (Baby Dumpling) as the Bumstead family, Columbia attempt on a new series was far different from Chic Young's comic strip characters. The Peppers appear to be more towards the range of families depicted from either Alice Hegan Rice's "Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch" or Kate Douglas Wiggins' "Mother Carey's Chickens." While those aforementioned titles developed into a motion picture but not a series, "The Five Little Peppers" did, but to a short-lived degree.
Before the Peppers are introduced, the initial opening, set in the office of J.H. King Investments, finds John H. King (Clarence Kolb), a business tycoon, hoping to acquire the additional 50 percent investment of a copper mine owned by John Pepper, a mining engineer who was killed in a cave in, leaving a wife and five children in a shanty town of Gusty Corners. The scene immediately shifts over to the Pepper family consisting of John's widow (Dorothy Peterson), and children, Polly (Edith Fellows), Ben (Charles Peck), Joey (Tommy Bond), Davie (Jimmy Leake) and little Phronsie (Dorothy Ann Seese) as they prepare themselves for another day. Mother's job working in a factory leaves Polly, the eldest, to care for the younger siblings. Hoping to acquire enough money to produce a birthday cake for their mother, Polly goes out to collect enough money owed her for the pressing of dresses for her neighbors. Unable to collect $1.50 from a Mrs. Peters, who happens to work for Mr. King, Polly heads over to the King estate where she encounters the tycoon's grandson, Jasper (Ronald Sinclair). Although not allowed to leave the grounds, Jasper, quite bored and lonely, spends his entire day in the Pepper household helping them with the making of a birthday cake. At home with grandfather, Jasper tells him how he's had more fun with the Peppers than being home under the watch of the servants. Learning of Jasper's association with the Peppers, King, along with Jasper, come to the Gusty Corners where he intends on closing a business deal with them. However, things change dramatically when the younger children are diagnosed with the measles, causing both King and Jasper to be quarantined under doctor's orders in the Pepper household. Due to exhausting work caring for her siblings, Polly collapses and becomes blind due to her illness. After the family is taken to the King mansion for rest and recovery, Polly begins to see things differently after overhearing King's discussion with his associates the reason why he's been so kind to them.
Reportedly not an accurate reflection to the original story from which it was based, screenwriters Nathanie Bucknall and Jefferson Parker have taken the Pepper family out of the horse and buggy era to contemporary depression-era setting, devising a story of their own while keeping the concept of the main characters intact.
For a movie consisting of children as its focal point, one would have expected this to be close to the situations found in the Hal Roach's comedy shorts of "Our Gang," where Tommy Bond (Joey Pepper) appeared a semi-regular as a bully named Butch. Rather than concentrating on the antics of kids in a straightforward comedy, THE FIVE LITTLE PEPPERS has developed more towards dramatics. Granted there's some humor deftly blended into the story, with one noteworthy scene as old man King struggles to get a good night's sleep while resting in the same bed with the two other tossing and turning Pepper boys.
Edith Fellows, Columbia's contract child star since 1935, has really matured to a bright young teenager by this time. Of the five little Peppers, the one who garners the most attention is the youngest, the blonde moppet, Phronsie (Dorothy Ann Seese). Her character comes as a reflection of the female equivalent to Baby Dumplin (Larry Simms)from in the "Blondie" film series. Her cutesy performance can be either unbearably annoying or totally delightful, depending how an any individual viewer might accept this.
Virtually forgotten in both film and book form by today's standards, and never distributed to home video or DVD, THE FIVE LITTLE PEPPERS AND HOW THEY GREW finally surfaced on Turner Classic Movies in 2007. It's broadcast not only casts a reflection on old-fashioned family stories, but a rediscovery to both Margaret Sidney's created characters and Columbia's own Edith Fellows, whose strength and fine performance keeps this 58 minute programmer going. (** pepper shakers)
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