1940's "Laddie" was the third and last screen version of the 1913 story by Gene Stratton-Porter, the sixth of her 12 novels, already filmed in 1926 and 1935, an autobiographical work that no doubt resembles that of Laura Ingalls, very close in age with similar backgrounds. With the lead character the youngest daughter, referred to only as 'Little Sister' (Joan Carroll), "Laddie" really does look like an Indiana version of "Little House on the Prairie," particularly as our heroine sports the same pigtails worn by Melissa Gilbert on the Michael Landon TV series. Laddie Stanton (Tim Holt) lives on the farm run by his father John (Robert H. Barrat), with a mother and four younger siblings, while on the neighboring farm lives Charles Pryor (Miles Mander), with wife Anna (Mary Forbes) and daughter Pamela (Virginia Gilmore), recently immigrated from England. Laddie develops feelings for Pamela, whose demanding father makes no secret of his disapproval. 'Little Sister' seems to know everyone's secrets, and even speaks for Laddie with Pamela when he's right there (her tendency to blurt out confidences never seems to get her into trouble). Charles is a very strict military man, whose son Robert (Peter Cushing) has performed an undisclosed indiscretion back in England that led to their relocating to this tiny Indiana community. He looks down on the Stantons because they are farmers, taking pride in the soil which gives back so much, producing the goods that end up on everyone's dinner table. It's definitely an old fashioned story with universal appeal, played with believable warmth by a non star cast, though Joan Carroll won't make anybody forget Melissa Gilbert. Equally adept at good guys or bad, Miles Mander deserves mention for avoiding the clichés that might turn his stern character into an ogre, with a surprise appearance by Hollywood newcomer Peter Cushing, in only his fourth film, popping in for two brief scenes toward the end. Favorite Wheeler and Woolsey girl Dorothy Lee can be spotted among the bridesmaids, one line of dialogue as Louise, with only three more films prior to permanent retirement (still only 29).
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