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Summer Magic

Summer Magic
1963 / Color / 1:85 anamorphic 16:9 / 109 min. / Street Date May 3, 2005 / 19.99
Starring Hayley Mills, Burl Ives, Dorothy McGuire, Deborah Walley, Michael J. Pollard, Wendy Turner, Una Merkel, Peter Brown, James Stacy, Eddie Hodges, Jimmy Mathers
Cinematography William Snyder
Art Direction Carroll Clark, Robert Clatworthy
Film Editor Robert Stafford
Original Music Buddy Baker, Richard M. Sherman, Robert B. Sherman
Written by Sally Benson from the novel Mother Carey's Chickens by Kate Douglas Wiggin
Produced by Walt Disney, Ron Miller
Directed by James Neilson

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Summer Magic appears to have been produced by Ron Miller while Walt Disney's ever-expanding list of concerns occupied him elsewhere. The under-written family show has less going on than a television sitcom. It lacks defining qualities, especially magic, unless watching Burl Ives sing about bugs is one's height of inspiration. The tired plot does almost nothing with the 'poor family copes and prevails' formula, and pales next to other examples in this genre like The Railway Children.


Widowed Margaret Carey (Dorothy McGuire) prepares to move her family into a depressing apartment, but her eldest daughter Nancy (Hayley Mills) writes to Osh Popham (Burl Ives), the caretaker of a millionaire's country home they saw while on vacation. Ives lets the Careys have the house for a pittance and contributes major labor and materials to make it liveable, much to the consternation of his wife Mariah (Una Merkel). Nancy is grieved when her snooty cousin Julia (Deborah Walley) shows up, especially when the self-styled debutante steals the attention of the handsome new parson Charles Bryant (James Stacy). Nancy gets unexpected compensation in the form of the even more desirable Tom Hamilton (Peter Brown), not realizing he's the owner of the house that his factor Popham has basically given away.

Disney's feature output expanded in the late 50s, creating a lot of memorable entertainment but inaugurating a decidedly lower echelon of product that has mostly been ignored for forty years. Savant remembers seeing Moon Pilot first-run and liking it, but he was ten years old at the time. A year later, Summer Magic created no impression whatsoever. I'd been permanently charmed by The Parent Trap at age eight and still remember almost every scene; Summer Magic had Hayley Mills but faded to a blur by the time I'd gotten home from the theater. What's for dinner?

Nothing in the story seems to go anywhere or have any real importance. The Carey's bankruptcy is just a momentary glitch and no attitude is expressed toward Nancy's dishonesty in tricking the odd Osh Popham into letting them have the house. We're eager to find out the reason for Popham's generosity (with another person's property) but there really isn't any. It's just assumed that when Hayley Mills' family has problems, it's the rest of the world's business to help them out. Nobody's saying that Summer Magic needs to be realistic, but I should think it would make particularly depressing viewing for some kid living in, or moving to a depressed neighborhood. How come we just don't go to the country, move into a perfect house and give parties all summer?

Summer Magic generates light interest in some low-key characters. Nancy's carrot-topped brother Gilly (Eddie Hodges) isn't that interesting, and his potential girlfriend, shy Lallie Joy Popham (Wendy Turner) is treated like a potted plant. Nancy gives her a final-reel glamour makeover out of good-hearted condescenscion. Dorothy McGuire has almost nothing to do; she's been playing similar roles in serious films since the late 40s and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. The script builds up an interesting yokel character played by Michael J. Pollard, who badly wants to go to the city. The pitiful payoff comes when he says how lonely he was away from home (we were barely aware that he left) and we're to assume he never leaves town ever again. Maybe he ends up at a filling station, there to meet Bonnie and Clyde.

The main non-tension pits Nancy against Deborah Walley's Julia character, the name-dropping pain-in-the-neck cousin who, for no memorable reason, naturally becomes a good egg. Hayley rolls her eyes and pulls some sneaky tricks on Julia (the dog jumps on her bed! Ha ha!) but there's no real conflict and no comment made about affluence, having money, being in reduced circumstances, etc. There's just Things Being Nice, and Things Being Yucchy. If one chooses nice, all becomes, uh, nice.

As if on cue, the story trots out two handsome, worldly, bland young males as parent-approved romantic mates for the two girls. Walley poaches the to-die-for young minister, much to Hayley's ire.  1 But in a fatally under-emphasized final mix-up, Hayley is paired with a dreamboat eligible bachelor who just happens to be her unpaid landlord. This non-crisis is the "big ending" for the film, which just seems to stop without coming to a real conclusion.

Hayley Mills is always watchable but the best thing in Summer Magic is Burl Ives. His voice shines in the forgettable Sherman songs, and that "Ugly Bug" ditty is surely a perennial in Disney Sing-Along collections. We know that Summer Magic is one really lame script when Ives silences his nagging wife Una Merkel, who just wants to know why he's giving the Careys his own and other people's property. He serves her some spiked punch and she turns into a jolly lush. Problem solved, kids. It works with LSD too - try it and see!

Disney's DVD of Summer Magic is a good enhanced transfer that presents the colorful show in an okay presentation. The color transfer does the same thing Savant noticed on the (much worse) DVD of The Happiest Millionaire: faces seem to have little gray patches, as if the actors' makeup weren't applied properly. And the effect shows up on many scenes and shots, not just here or there.

The audio is clear and crisp. There are no extras; the disc launches on a promo that can at least be skipped by hitting the menu button ... fast.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Summer Magic rates:
Movie: Fair
Video: Good -
Sound: Very Good
Supplements: None
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: May 8, 2005


1. James Stacy is a handsome stunt-man actor who lost a leg in a motorcycle accident early in October, 1970. I'll never forget that because it was the first news story I read at my first semester at college.

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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