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Widowed Old Man Matthews, who has lived his entire life as a farmer, has moved his family of himself and his four young adult to adolescent offspring - Deborah, Phineas, Abigail and Susan - to a just purchased farm in Millwood, following the ecological demise of their last farm on which he was able to collect insurance. He has a "my way or the high way" mentality about most things in life, most specifically about running a farm, he believing his experience trumping everything else. He, however, likes to portray himself as being fair and democratic, all important family matters which are decided on by a family vote. He has these votes as he and the other family members know that Abby and Phin will always vote with him, the former to retain his favor and the latter out of fear regardless of Phin's true thoughts as their father always convinces out of coercion. Such ideas against his include Debbie believing the farm too expensive for the many deficiencies it has, and Susie wanting a few...Written by
Charming little farm family drama, made more so by Wood's incandescent performance. Her emotions from joy to alarm are so infectious, it's hard not to be moved. That scene of acceptance into 4H is a little marvel of the kind of uninhibited joy that somehow gets lost on the way to adulthood. True, at times she's a little much, yet it's hard not to believe she's actually feeling what she's conveying, sort of an untutored version of the Stanislavski method, at least as I understand it. I also like Marguerite Chapman's unsmiling farm girl. She's certainly a long way from the expected eye-batting coquette when handsome David Barkley (Paige) comes calling. There's a feeling that the responsibilities of surrogate motherhood are making her old beyond her years. It's an unusually realistic, if rather dour, performance.
Despite the warm family overtones, the script is far from sappy. Catch how Dad (Brennan) manipulates the family's democratic process. He wants the image of democratic equality at the same time he works it for his own advantage. There's a larger lesson here that remains topical for our own time. Also, note how Dad opts for short-term financial advantage over longer-term conservation by cutting down the hillside trees. Those roots provide long-term flood protection, but don't provide the immediate cash he needs. Thus, his motives are understandable, yet when rain comes, calamity results. We continue to be confronted by the environmental issue of short-term advantage versus long-term security; at the same time, the screenplay raises this concern long before its like became a national issue.
The values here may be conservative, but they're hardly hidebound. Catch Rev. Benton's (Stone) Sunday morning sermon. It's really a recognition of the importance of science as both a source of knowledge and a potential benefit to our lives. The message is also a long way from the type of dogmatic conservatism that sees the Bible as the last word on either worldly wisdom or natural history. Then too, the values of 4H and the family farm are as relevant now as they were then, perhaps more so now that the hard lessons of industrial farming have entered our food supply. My general point is that the movie may be dated in some ways, but the screenplay remains an intelligent one even 60 years later.
Unfortunately, the version I last saw (on TMC) was edited and failed to include the now notorious bridge scene referred to by other reviewers. It also failed to include at least one other important scene I recall from an earlier version. So viewers should be alert to edited versions. Nonetheless, the movie is generally under-rated and combines both solid entertainment values with a well thought out message that makes for very worthwhile viewing.
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