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Danville, Connecticut at the turn of the century. Young Richard Miller lives in a middle-class neighborhood with his family. He is in love with the girl next-door, Muriel, but her father isn't too happy with their puppy-love, since Richard always share his revolutionary ideas with her. Written by
"Summer Holiday" is a summer treat that has become an annual ritual at our house. I never fail to slip the video tape into the VCR as May morphs into June and the last days of school are rolling into summer vacation.
Mickey Rooney is exuberant as Richard, and Gloria DeHaven is cute and charming as his timorous girlfriend Muriel. Walter Huston is at his reassuring best as Richard's wise and rock-steady father, while Frank Morgan plays the likable, avuncular family drunk who can never quite overcome his dependence on the bottle.
The scenery is gorgeous, particularly in the opening scene as protagonists Richard and Muriel sing "Afraid to Fall in Love" to one other then go dancing off into a summery green field together - and also in the celebratory Fourth of July number "Independence Day," shot at the lush Busch Gardens in Pasadena.
My one complaint is that the extended barroom scene in which Richard is lured into a night of drunkenness by the temptress bar-girl (Marilyn Maxwell) doesn't seen to match the wholesome tone of the rest of the movie.
But it is the Harry Warren/Ralph Bane music that compels me to return for more and more re-viewings. (I must have watched this movie over twenty times since I first spotted it - then taped it - on TNT in the late eighties.) Honestly, I cannot fathom what drives certain reviewers to term the score as "uninspired" or a "dud" except perhaps that they have not listened to the songs enough times or with sufficient earnestness.
A disappointing score? Quite the contrary. The Warren/Blane music is extraordinary - even those songs that meddling MGM executives chose to delete from the final version of the film. As it turned out, gorgeous numbers such as "Never Again," in which the rueful but determined Morgan character sadly recounts his battles with alcohol; the exquisitely haunting "Omar and the Princess"; Muriel's lovely confessional, "I Wish I Had a Braver Heart"; and Huston's wistful "Spring Isn't Everything" were inexplicably cut. (One needs to buy the CD soundtrack to hear those and other excised numbers.) Mere disappointment turned into artistic tragedy when a nitrate-vault fire in the mid-fifties destroyed the musical outtakes, rendering impossible any possible restoration of the film to the version envisioned by Warren and Blane. That huge chunks of the score were slashed from the film left Warren so embittered he refused to view the film for over thirty years.
Perhaps, the critics should listen to the score a second, third, or fourth time, for a few of the melodies may strike some ears as somewhat subtle and may require repeated hearings. I remember being unimpressed the first time I saw the film and heard the score but have since come to adore the music. I'd categorize the uniquely delightful "Afraid to Fall in Love" as one of the songs that needs to be heard more than once to be fully appreciated.
Despite the meat-cleaver cuts, what remains of the score makes for luscious listening. From the brief but tuneful overture while credits are rolling, to the winsome "Our Home Town" - extended opening-scene dialog set to music, to the rousing anthem "Dan-Dan Danville High," to the gloriously catchy "The Stanley Steamer," the music lilts. One of my personal favorites is "While the Men Are All Drinking," a brief number sung by the ladies as they organize their picnic food in the park while their men are off competing in an Independence Day beer-drinking contest and the children are off diving into a nearby pond.
To my ears, the music is stunning beautiful and the reason I place "Summer Holiday" in my top ten, all-time-favorite movie list and why I consider Warren one of the top seven or eight composers of popular music that ever lived. He considered this score his best, and I enthusiastically concur.
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