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Mother Carey's Chickens (1938)

Approved | | Drama , Romance | 29 July 1938 (USA)
An 1890s widow has two daughters and two sons. The daughters fall in love with the same gentleman.


Rowland V. Lee


Kate Douglas Wiggin (novel), Kate Douglas Wiggin (play) | 3 more credits »
1 nomination. See more awards »


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Cast overview, first billed only:
Anne Shirley ... Nancy Carey
Ruby Keeler ... Katherine 'Kitty' Carey
James Ellison ... Ralph Thurston
Fay Bainter ... Mrs. Margaret Carey
Walter Brennan ... Mr. Ossian Popham
Donnie Dunagan Donnie Dunagan ... Peter Carey
Frank Albertson ... Tom Hamilton Jr.
Alma Kruger ... Aunt Bertha
Jackie Moran ... Gilbert Carey
Margaret Hamilton ... Mrs. Pauline Fuller
Virginia Weidler ... Lally Joy Popham
Ralph Morgan ... Captain John Carey
Phyllis Kennedy ... Annabelle, the Careys' maid
Harvey Clark Harvey Clark ... Mr. Clarence Fuller
Lucille Ward Lucille Ward ... Mrs. Martha Popham


An 1890s widow has two daughters and two sons. The daughters fall in love with the same gentleman.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Kate Douglas Wiggin's Memorable Novel


Drama | Romance








Release Date:

29 July 1938 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Aves Sem Rumo See more »


Box Office


$358,000 (estimated)
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

RKO Radio Pictures See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Mono (RCA Victor System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Toward the end of the movie, Margaret Hamilton and Harvey Clark spend significant screen time together in the same bed, despite the Hays Code's specific prohibition against such behavior. See more »


Version of Summer Magic (1963) See more »


Reuben, Reuben, I've Been Thinking
Music traditional
Sung a cappella by Walter Brennan with modified lyrics
See more »

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User Reviews

Chickens Come Home To Roost
7 December 2006 | by bkoganbingSee all my reviews

My guess is that the Walt Disney studio did not want this version of Mother Carey's Chickens competing with it's remake entitled Summer Magic so this film is rarely seen. Both versions are nice entertainment.

Maybe because it's a little closer to the 1898 setting that this version is a bit more realistic. In the Disney version the character of the father played by Ralph Morgan is eliminated, in that one Mother Carey is already a widow. Here with Morgan's death in the Spanish American War we see just what kind of genteel poverty the Careys have been driven into.

Katherine Hepburn reportedly bought out her contract so that she wouldn't have to do this film. Watching it I kind of understand the thinking at RKO. Probably the studio thought this would be a return to one of Kate's most beloved roles from Little Women. There sure is a lot of similarity. I can also understand Hepburn's thinking that this would be a step back not forward for her career. In any event Ruby Keeler who had just been let go at Warner Brothers did her part.

Fay Bainter in the year she won the Best Supporting Actress Award for Jezebel plays Mother Carey who holds her brood together through all kinds of financial and romantic strife. It's a nice role for her and she does well by it. Walter Brennan who hailed from the rural New England area in real life that Mother Carey's Chickens is set in has one of his patented folksy rustics as the local storekeeper.

Though Margaret Hamilton's most famous role was a year away as the Wicked Witch of the West aka Miss Gulch in The Wizard of Oz, here she has a part that makes the witch look like Mother Teresa. She and her milquetoast husband want the old house the Careys have been forced to move in and are willing to do just about anything to get them out. Of course they don't reckon with Carey resourcefulness.

James Ellison and Frank Albertson play a nice pair of suitors for the Carey girls Anne Shirley and Ruby Keeler. Younger Carey brother Jackie Moran has some young romantic problems of his own with Virginia Weidler. But coming close to stealing the film is little Donnie Dunnigan playing Peter Carey. His scene where he tries to 'help' with the hanging of the wallpaper is priceless. In fact watching this I think I know where Leo McCarey got the idea in The Bells of St. Mary's to just turn the camera loose on a gang of little children doing a nativity play as a kind of improvisation. I don't think you could have scripted little Donnie's scenes for this.

Hopefully I'll get to see Summer Magic soon and compare. Hopefully you will all get to see both versions.

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