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Disney musical about Mother Carey, a Bostonian widow and her three children who move to Maine. Postmaster Osh Popham helps them move into a run-down old house and fixes it up for them. It's not entirely uninhabited, though; the owner, a Mr. Hamilton, is a mysterious character away in Europe, but Osh assures them he won't mind their living there, since he won't be coming home for a long time yet. The children and a cousin who comes to live with them have various adventures before an unexpected visitor shows up. Written by
Good or bad, happy or sad, come what may this will always be the most magical of the movies I saw in a theater as a child. Already charmed by its Disney-Norman Rockwell-Hallmark look at the Ragtime Age; this 12 year old boy was simply bowled over 30 minutes into the film by his first glimpse of Deborah Walley. Walley was already a teen queen from her "Gidget" film but had escaped my too-young-to-notice teen actresses consciousness until that day at the theater.
In her period costume this vision was the original "Pretty in Pink" and the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. And might explain my lifelong preference for redheads.
At its core "Summer Magic" is a Disney fairy tale cloaked in a "too-good-to-be-true" production design. If the term expressionist nostalgia ever applied to a film it is this one. Disney simply took basic plot elements form the novel and film "Mother Carey's Chickens" (1938), threw in a bunch of "Cinderella" elements, and had Dorothy McGuire softly reprise her performance in "A Tree Grows In Brooklyn".
If you can't find something here with which to connect, whether it is wistful identification or distanced examination of the film language elements, then you are probably already pretty much used up. Liking this film now is just having the willingness to exercise a little self-knowing whimsy.
Cinderella-wise you have a fairy prince, a glass slipper, a wicked step-sister, a wardrobe transformation scene, cute animals, a coach, songs, and a ball.
The songs are along the lines of those seen recently in "Enchanted" but without the elaborate special effects. A couple of these, "Pink of Perfection" and "Femininity", have been popping in and out of my head ever since 1963. Those two and "Ugly Bug Ball" have held up surprisingly well. "Flitterin" and "Beautiful Beulah" are decent if not especially memorable.
"On the Front Porch" was weak then and hasn't improved with age; it should have been trimmed from the film as that is the film's weakest (insert "boring" here) scene. The sequence should be of interest to film students as it is the only time the director has real difficulty keeping the cast focused; definitely a post-production challenge for the editor who did some damage control but could not salvage anything worth keeping.
Viewing the film today I found Wendy Turner (as Lallie Joy Popham-Virginia Weidler's role in the 1938 film) a revelation. Turner's is the most authentic performance; which is interesting because she was originally cast as the youngest of the three girls simply because she was slightly shorter than the 5' 2" Walley, not much was expected of this novice. Her ability to take acting for the camera direction must have been a pleasant surprise for James Neilson. She gets to do an ugly duckling wardrobe transformation sequence worthy of "Cinderella".
As often happened with Disney, elements were included to insure that it appealed to the widest demographic. So you have a shaggy sheep dog (where have I seen that before?), you have a couple of handsome young television actors (Peter Brown and James Stacy), you have a Moochie Corcoran hammy kid, you have the comedy relief of acting veterans Una Merkel and Burl Ives to appeal to parents, and you have liberal use of Disney's stock nature footage.
Although I was too dazzled by Walley to pay much attention to Hayley Mills this was probably her best performance for Disney, it was certainly the most difficult part she was given. Her acting was more polished than it had been in "Pollyanna" and the out-of-place English accent taught us young Disney viewers all about the concept of suspension of disbelief.
Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.
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