The Peppers - widowed Mrs. Pepper and her five children Polly, Ben, Joey, Davie and Phronsie - have returned to live in their small house in Gusty Corners with J.H. King, who they call "... See full summary »
The Peppers - widowed Mrs. Pepper and her five children Polly, Ben, Joey, Davie and Phronsie - have returned to live in their small house in Gusty Corners with J.H. King, who they call "Grandpa King", J.H.'s grandson Jasper King, and their faithful butler Martin, while J.H. proceeds to have another mansion in Gusty Corners built in which they all can live more comfortably. But Jasper's aunt, Martha Wilcox, is still wanting custody of Jasper, and will go to court to get that custody. Jasper, who knows nothing about his aunt's legal manoeuvrings, would prefer to live with his grandfather and the Peppers. J.H. believes she may have a case especially as they live in the Pepper's cramped house. So, J.H., with Mrs. Pepper's approval, decides to send Jasper and all the Pepper children to boarding school so that Martha can't get a hold of Jasper. Of the children, Polly is the only one who J.H. and Mrs. Pepper tell the reason of being sent away to boarding school. At this new school, all the ... Written by
FIVE LITTLE PEPPERS IN TROUBLE (Columbia, 1940), directed by Charles Barton, whether intentionally or not, became the fourth and final motion picture installment to the Margaret Sidney based characters. It would also be the last time viewers would get a glimpse of the five Pepper children introducing themselves individually by name as they pop from behind pepper shakers prior to the opening credits. Gee-wilikers.
The narrative starts off with the Pepper kids, Polly (Edith Fellows), Ben (Charles Peck), Joey (Tommy Bond) and David (Bobby Larson), along with friend of the family, Jasper King (Ronald Sinclair), coming out of school. As Jasper gets his invitation to attend Cynthia's (Ann Barlow) 14th birthday party,little Phronsie (Dorothy Ann Seese), stays after school not for being bad or asking so many questions ("My goo'ness"), but to recite poetry for an upcoming school play for her teacher. Before returning home, Jasper's grandfather, J.H. King (Pierre Watkin), former millionaire now residing with his butler, Martin (Rex Evans) at the Pepper home (with both "Pepper" and "King" names printed on the mailbox), is confronted by his sister-in-law, Martha Wilcox (Kathleen Howard) once again (as in OUT WEST WITH THE PEPPERS in a role originally enacted by Laura Treadwell), insisting on taking her nephew away from such living conditions. Even though King already has a bigger home being built for them all to live in doesn't impress her one bit. To prevent Aunt Martha from coming back with a court order to take Jasper away, King, with the help of Mrs. Pepper (Dorothy Peterson), secretly arranges to have Jasper finish his term at Lansdowne, an exclusive private school somewhere out in the country, with the Pepper kids going along as well. While pretending to like this new arrangement, Jasper and the Peppers don't, especially when feeling like outcasts by the society ridden Mrs. Lansdowne (Mary Currier) and the snobbish students. The only ones taking a liking to them are school secretary, Miss Roland (Helen Brown) and blonde English girl, Pam (Antonia Oland). Things take a turn for the worse as Polly is faced with being expelled when accused of draining the water from the swimming pool that caused serious injury to one of the girls taking a dive on the deep side at night.
While the unoriginal premise placing the poor with rich children in an exclusive school might appear predictable and time worn, it's actually a fitting story for the Pepper kids and how the situations are handled. With much of the attention focused on the youngsters, the characters of Mr. King and Mrs. Pepper are once again downplayed, though not as limited as in OUT WEST WITH THE PEPPERS. Kathleen Howard, who specializes in playing shrewish characters, does more of the same as Aunt Martha. Aside from Rex Evans resuming his natural role of a gentleman's gentleman, working and residing at the Pepper home, he gets to take part in several amusing scenes, one being the traditional attempt of trying to get a good night's sleep while resting between the two younger Pepper boys in bed. This time it's not due to their tossing and turning. As Edith Fellows shows off her musical talent singing "Tales of the Vienna Woods" by Johann Strauss, Dorothy Ann Seese continues her scene stealing antics of cuteness and of course, trouble.
Just as the series was showing signs of improvement, it all ended here, or did it? Having the FIVE LITTLE PEPPERS IN TROUBLE listed fourth in the series is somewhat debatable. As the story comes to a close, Mr. King talks about taking Jasper with him to Paris, and invites the Peppers to come along with them. As he goes into detail about the forthcoming trip, Phronsie repeatedly asks, "Where's Paris?" In what might have been something being left open for another sequel, FIVE LITTLE PEPPERS IN Paris, one question remains? Didn't the Kings and the Peppers already have their trip to Paris as depicted in the prologue of OUT WEST WITH THE PEPPERS (1940)? Could the central characters (or writers) be going through a memory loss or was this actually a third installment released fourth?
It's uncertain whether this series concluded due to lack of interest from its viewers, writers or production staff. If this series were actually canceled, then the title did live up to its expectations, the Five Little Peppers were in trouble. Had the series resumed, no doubt there would have been some casting changes. My guess being the business tycoon J.H. King and/ or Mother Pepper would be phased out completely, leaving Polly to fill in the void acting as both older sister and mother to the kids living in the new home built by Mr. King. Possibly, quite possibly, Polly might become romantically linked with Jasper; Ben or Jasper getting drafted into the Army during World War II; and Phronsie growing from moppet to charming little girl, if the writers would permit her to do so.
As much as television has brought an end to the theatrical film series by the end of the 1940s, it would be the same medium that revived these theatrical family films years later, especially Turner Classic Movies, where this 63 minute programmer and other "Pepper" adventures were shown starting in 2007. While "The Peppers" formula could be classified as a forerunner of future TV shows, "Father Knows Best" or "Family Affair", as prime examples that combine sentimental charm and humor, and having children as its main source, this comes off as a true reminder of innocent times of family togetherness, something taken for granted today. (**1/2)
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