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I’ve already reviewed five of the six films that Hayley Mills made for Disney, so it was inevitable that I would eventually complete the set.
Directed by James Neilson, Summer Magic is a Sherman Brothers musical set in early 20th Century Maine. I hadn’t seen it before, but heard good things from many of my Disney friends. Did I agree with them? Read on for my review of Summer Magic.
And remember, SPOILERS AHEAD!
The film opens in Boston in the early 20th century wherein we’re introduced to the Carey family. Mrs. Carey, played by Dorothy McGuire, is a widow and has three children, Nancy, Gilly, and Peter, played by Hayley Mills, Eddie Hodges, and Jimmy Mathers, respectively.
Their finances are not in great shape so they’re currently packing their bags in order to move to a new house. Unfortunately, they can’t even afford the new house they were planning to move into, much to Nancy’s delight. You see, when her father was still alive, he took the entire family to Beulah, Maine once on a trip wherein they admired a beautiful yellow house. Now Nancy has gone behind her mother’s back and written to the owner of the yellow house seeking to live there. She falsified a few things in her letter including that her youngest brother is sick with rickets to gain sympathy and apparently it’s paid off. The caretaker of the house has written back saying that the Carey family is welcome to move into the yellow house.
Mrs. Carey isn’t proud of Nancy lying in her letter, but this house offer is more affordable, so they decide to go to Beulah to close the deal. When they arrive in Beulah, they’re picked up by the caretaker’s son, Digby, played by Michael J. Pollard and taken to the yellow house. There they meet the caretaker himself, Ossian Popham, played by Burl Ives.
He quickly realizes that much of what Nancy told him was a bunch of lies, but he finds it amusing enough and allows the family to live there. He even offers to help renovate the house, but Mrs. Carey declines as they don’t have the money for that at the moment. Nevertheless, he insists and says they can worry about the money later.
The small town life of Beulah is different than the city life of Boston, but the Careys fall in love with it and get used to the relaxed pace.
We’re soon introduced to Mrs. Popham, played by Una Merkel, and discover that Mr. Popham hasn’t been entirely truthful himself. You see, he never got permission from the owner of the house to rent it to the Careys. He’s not worried about it though as the owner has been overseas for a long time and what he and the Careys don’t know won’t hurt them.
Not long after, the Careys get word that their cousin, Julia, played by Deborah Walley, will be staying with them for a bit. She’s an orphan and her adoptive parents are in a bit of financial strife so they’ve sent her to stay with the Careys for a while. Nancy and Gilly don’t really like Julia as they demonstrate via the hilariously full-of-shade song, Pink of Perfection.
When we see Julia, we see that she’s been raised a bit more high class with an affinity for more exquisite things in life and less desire for what a town like Beulah can off her. This annoys Nancy and Gilly who try to scare her into thinking that there are critters about. And totally by accident, Julia is frightened to death when the family dog enters her bedroom one night via the window.
The poor girl is totally fear-stricken and needs Mrs. Carey to comfort her and calm her down. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Disney character display such a level of fright like her! Even Nancy feels a level of sorrow for Julia and apologizes for trying to scare her. This doesn’t lead anywhere though as the next day, the kids are all back to how they were before.
It’s not long before Mrs. Carey realizes that they’re simply out of money and tells Mr. Popham so as they won’t be able to pay him for his work and must face facts.
Mr. Popham says not to worry because the owner of the house has decided not to charge the Careys rent. Wow, what a guy! Mrs. Carey can’t accept this, but Mr. Popham says it’s in exchange of finding a place to hang a picture of the owner’s dearly departed mother. Mrs. Carey accepts this and it’s now up to Mr. Popham to find a random picture of an old lady to deem the owner’s dead mother.
Meanwhile, Nancy and Julia meet the new handsome, young schoolteacher named Charles Bryant, played by James Stacy. They both immediately develop a crush on him and invite him over to the house for a housewarming party. This means Mrs. Carey has to now have a housewarming party and invite others too. Both the girls vie for Charles’ affections at the party, but in the end it seems that he likes Julia more.
That night, Nancy and Julia get into an argument over Charles and each others’ ways. During the argument, Nancy reveals that Julia’s adoptive parents dumped her with them and that they only raised Julia because they felt guilty due to Julia’s father losing a lot of money because of them. Julia never knew this, so this fact hurts her. Mrs. Carey comforts her saying that her adoptive parents are doing better financially and are willing to take Julia back if she wants or she could stay with the Careys. Nancy realizes that she actually loves Julia and asks her to stay with them. Julia enthusiastically accepts saying she has been truly happy in Beulah and she and Nancy embrace like sisters with all their bickering behind them.
The next big event the Careys are planning is a party to celebrate the hanging of the owner’s mother’s portrait. While preparing for it, Nancy bumps into a man at the house who’s a little surprised to see the Careys there. Nancy explains everything to the man and invites him over for the party later that night.
The man is actually Tom Hamilton, played by Peter Brown, aka the owner of the house! So of course, he’s confused and shocked to find tenants in his house and renovations going on. He doesn’t say anything to Nancy, but heads to Mr. Popham who is just as shocked to see him. Mr. Popham explains the whole situation.
Mr. Hamilton isn’t sure what he’s gonna do to Mr. Popham, but he does attend the party later on. He’s doubly shocked to find a portrait of his supposed dead mother even though she’s very much alive! Mr. Hamilton later introduces himself to Nancy, who is of course embarrassed to find out who he is. Again he isn’t sure what exactly he’s gonna do, but he’ll deal with that later and dances with Nancy. Mr. Popham is relieved by this and everyone seems to be having a good time.
And that was Summer Magic! My first reaction and main takeaway from this film was, “THAT’S IT?! THAT’S HOW IT ENDS???!”. I was expecting a whole firing scene of Mr. Popham and eviction of the Careys with both sides defending the other. And then Mr. Hamilton would show some graciousness and rehire Mr. Popham and allow the Careys to stay and everyone lives happily ever after! But nope, this movie just decided to end before wrapping up those loose ends!
To me, this is like ending Mary Poppins right after the Step in Time sequence with the chimney sweeps dancing in the street! Like, it’s a happy scene, but what was the consequence of the bank run? What will happen to Mr. Banks or Mary Poppins? There’s just GOTTA be more to the story; there’s just gotta!
Anyway besides that, did I think of the film? I think the first half of the film is okay focusing on city folk in a country town. But, the second half of the film just doesn’t seem focused or strong enough. I feel Julia needed to be the main character in this film and it focus more about her getting used to life in Beulah and with the Careys. Even the book that this film is based on (Mother Carey’s Chickens), if I’m not mistaken, showcases Julia as more of the main character than this film does.
The Sherman Brothers’ songs aren’t an example of their best work here, even though ironically this has what was apparently Robert B. Sherman’s favorite song of theirs, On the Front Porch.
The songs I enjoyed were Pink of Perfection, Femininity, and The Ugly Bug Ball.
The acting was overall good. Burl Ives gave the best performance and Deborah Walley was impressive. Hayley Mills was Hayley Mills which isn’t necessarily a bad thing and Michael J. Pollard was Michael J. Pollard, which also isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I wasn’t particularly fond of Eddie Hodges’ performance.
All in all, I was disappointed by this movie. I expected a lot more based on everyone’s recommendation for it, but I think that frustrating ending just ruined everything for me! I’m sorry to say that I didn’t find the summer magic in this film.
So, my final score for this film is 21/35 = 60% (D-) !
The next review will be posted on April 14, 2023.
6 thoughts on “Summer Magic (1963)”
To be honest, I think the songs save this one more than the thin plot. The end is weird, but I love On the Front Porch, Ugly Bug Ball, and Flitterin!
I love one of those three songs you mentioned, lol!
I enjoyed the lightness of this film when I first saw it on the Disney Channel in the 1980s. Leonard Maltin called this movie Hayley Mills’ least-challenging Disney movie role, and I’d have to agree there, but I still thought it was fun. My favorite song from this movie is “Ugly Bug Ball”.
That’s probably my favorite too; either that or Pink of Perfection.
I watched this about 10 years ago when I was trying to stay up for 24 hours to fix my sleep schedule, so my perception may be a bit skewed/biased, especially as I ended up ruining that plan by falling asleep right afterwards – in the afternoon.
I don’t think this is a movie where you’re supposed to give even one shit about the plot, though – it’s just a thin excuse to waste time with these characters. And as that is, it’s perfectly pleasant, and well acted with people like Hayley Mills and Burl Ives.
I had actually been interested in watching this for years, just because of the very unique and funny Ugly Bug Ball song that would be shown on the Sing-Along Songs. But as you say, the songs are better than the movie itself, which all it is is a perfectly nice way to waste some time on a perfectly nice summer day with some perfectly nice people. I suppose the title tells you what to expect.
Yeah, I guess I wanted too much out of the story, lol! I also was familiar with the Ugly Bug Ball song from the Sing-Along Songs collection.