Dedicated to the Study and Appreciation
of the Movies and Personalities of the Golden Age of Hollywood

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Shirley Temple Revisited, Part 5

The Little Colonel (released March 21, 1935)

Shirley's first picture of 1935 was a period piece, her first costume drama as a star. The source material was a children's book by Annie Fellows Johnston of McCutchanville, Indiana. Mrs. Johnston turned to writing at the age of 29 when her husband died in 1892, leaving her with three small stepchildren to raise on her own. The Little Colonel, published in 1895, was her third novel, and it proved so popular that she wrote a sequel a year until 1907. She wrote, in all, some four dozen books before she died in 1931 at age 68, but The Little Colonel was the only one that was ever filmed. It's a pity Mrs. Johnston couldn't have hung on for four more years and seen the apotheosis of her most famous creation.

Anyone who thinks that a movie is never as good as the book should try reading The Little Colonel. Mrs. Johnston's ever-so-precious style hasn't weathered the years well; I suspect it hadn't by 1935, either. (It's available online here if you want to check it out.) The story, as the saying goes, had "good bones", and writer William Conselman fleshed them out rather better than Mrs. Johnston had. (Conselman also wrote Bright Eyes and would write for Shirley again.)

In Conselman's script (unlike the original book), the story opens before the birth of its title character. A title tells us it's "Kentucky in the '70s", and we meet old Colonel Lloyd (Lionel Barrymore), an unreconstructed Confederate for whom the War isn't over. At a soiree at his plantation he offers a toast: "Gentlemen, I give you the South -- and confusion to her enemies!" But it's the Colonel who's due for confusion; one of those "enemies", a Northerner -- named Sherman, no less -- has won the heart of his beloved daughter Elizabeth (Evelyn Venable). The Colonel interrupts her and her intended (John Lodge) in the act of eloping, and he warns her: "Elizabeth, when that door closes, it'll never open for you again." Elizabeth leaves without another word, and she doesn't close the door -- she slams it.

Next scene, it's six years later and the Shermans -- Jack, Elizabeth and their daughter Lloyd (Shirley) -- are at a military outpost on the edge of the western frontier. Lloyd has become the darling of the post, and she receives a commission as honorary colonel -- an addition by Conselman that makes the girl a "little colonel" in fact, not just as the nickname the author gives her in the original story. The family has sold everything they own and left their Philadelphia home. Papa Jack is to continue west to make a new home for them; when he's well-established and it's safe, he'll send for his wife and daughter. Until then, Elizabeth and the Little Colonel will return to Kentucky and live in a small cottage on the family property that was left to her by her mother.

When the Old Colonel learns there are new tenants in the Cottage, he drops by to welcome them. But when the door is answered by his daughter Elizabeth, he storms off in a rage. "You're a bad man to make my mother cry," little Lloyd tells the old man's portrait in the Cottage parlor. Later, when the two Colonels -- Old and Little -- finally meet, he doesn't realize who the girl is, and he berates her for dirtying her dress making mudpies. Whoever your mother is, he tells her, she should teach you better. The Little Colonel stamps her foot -- "Don't you dare say anything about my mother!" -- and hurls a fistful of mud at his white suit.

Later, when the old man learns who she is, he is mollified, even apologetic. He may have disowned his daughter and her husband, but he sees no reason not to associate with his granddaughter -- especially since she reminds him so much of himself (and his outcast daughter, though he won't admit it).

When Lloyd's Papa Jack staggers home, sick with fever after having been swindled of the family's savings by two hucksters (Sidney Blackmer, Alden Chase), Lloyd is sent to live with her grandfather to avoid catching what has laid her papa low. In time, just as we expect, the Little Colonel will effect a family reconciliation. But in the meantime she and her grandfather will just about drive each other to distraction, they're both so willful, stubborn and short-tempered.

It's easy to imagine that the Old Colonel's consternation at the little girl's spunk in standing up to him was a reflection of Lionel Barrymore's own response to his little co-star; there's a befuddled mix of exasperation and amusement that seems to come from both character and actor. Like the people they play, Barrymore and Shirley's working relationship got off to a tetchy start: At their first rehearsal, when Barrymore stammered and groped for his lines, Shirley (who, being still too young to read, had memorized the whole script) prompted him. This sent the veteran actor storming off to his dressing room, where he sat sulking (and probably drinking) and threatening to walk off the picture.

Shirley describes in Child Star how both director David Butler and her own mother gently but firmly prodded her to make peace: you brought this on, they said, you have to make it right. And she did. She says she managed it by going to his dressing room, addressing him as "Uncle Lionel", and asking for his autograph ("To my favorite little niece," he wrote, "Your Uncle Lionel.") It's hard to believe it was a simple as that, for the seasoned old trouper to be coaxed out of his pout by the toddler who caused it, but that's what Shirley says (oh to have been a fly on that wall!). Anyhow, Barrymore didn't walk, and The Little Colonel crackles when he and Shirley are on screen together.

There's another teaming in The Little Colonel that also makes it crackle. Playing the Old Colonel's butler Walker was Bill "Bojangles" Robinson. Robinson began in vaudeville in 1900, and by 1934, when The Little Colonel was made, he was universally recognized (and for that matter, still is) as one of the greatest tapdancers who ever lived. Shirley was always proud that she and Robinson were the first interracial dance team in movie history. More than that, because of the age difference between six-year-old Shirley and the 56-year-old Robinson (and at the time, let's face it, because of the difference in the color of their skin), they were one male-and-female team whose dances carried no hint of courtship or romance -- nothing but the sheer joy of dancing together. ("The smile on my face wasn't acting," Shirley said in Child Star; "I was ecstatic.") The teaming was Winfield Sheehan's idea, and he hesitated only because he was unsure if Robinson could act; his three previous screen appearances had been dance-only. Robinson passed a screen test, and that was that. In all, he and Shirley would make five pictures together (I'll get to the others in their time), and it all started here.

Their first dance together was the famous staircase dance. It was Robinson's signature act, and he modified it to accomodate Shirley's abilities; she couldn't have come up to his level in the rehearsal time they had -- but then, probably nobody could, no matter how long they rehearsed. Shirley remembered her "Uncle Billy" as "a superlative teacher, imperturbable and kind, but demanding...Every one of my taps had to ring crisp and clear in the best cadence. Otherwise I had to do it over."

It's been a while since I posted a YouTube clip of Shirley, and this is a good time to resume. Not the staircase dance, though. As good as it is, you don't see as much of their body language, especially their faces beaming in the pleasure of each other's company, as you do in this one, which comes later, with Walker and little Lloyd cavorting in the stables, to the accompaniment of "Oh! Susanna" on the harmonica:

It must be said that racial attitudes of the 1930s make The Little Colonel (and The Littlest Rebel, later in '35) an awkward experience for some people today. It's hard not to view these movies through the hindsight of how far African Americans have come (on screen and in real life) in the last 80 years. It's worth remembering, though, the progress they had made by 1935 -- what little there was, and only on screen at that -- in the 40 years since The Little Colonel was written (or even the 20 years since The Birth of a Nation). We rightly cringe now when Colonel Lloyd calls to his granddaughter's black playmates, "Come on, you pickaninnies!" But in Annie Fellows Johnston's novel he uses an even uglier word -- and for that matter, so does the Little Colonel herself. And to be fair to The Little Colonel (the movie), there's a scene where Lloyd attends a black church's baptism ceremony in a stream that runs through her grandfather's property; the scene is presented unpatronizingly and without condescension. Also, the two most prominent black characters are played by Robinson as Walker and, as the Little Colonel's cook and housekeeper "Mom Beck", Hattie McDaniel (five years before she became the first African American to win an Academy Award). Both of them imbue their characters with a warmth and dignity that rises above the racism of the time.

Plus, of course and always, there's the sheer pleasure of Shirley and Bojangles dancing.

Apropos of nothing, and apparently just because the
powers that be at Fox felt like it, The Little Colonel
 ends -- after Papa Jack has gotten well, his fortunes
have been restored, the swindlers brought to
justice, and Colonel Lloyd reconciled to his daughter
and son-in-law -- in Technicolor. The rationale is
young Lloyd's penchant for casting her stories in colors:
"Tell me a blue story"; "This is a yellow story".
Evidently, she asks her grandfather for "a pink party"
(the surviving version isn't clear; something seems
missing), and he replies, "Yes, just as pink as those
flowers," as a vase of black-and-white roses change
to pink-and-green. I leave The Little Colonel with a
shot from this party scene because it's Shirley's first
appearance in the newly-perfected Technicolor
process -- and her last for several years.

To be continued...

Thursday, May 22, 2014

CMBA Blogathon: Come Next Spring (1956)

I interrupt my look back at Shirley Temple's career to offer Cinedrome's contribution to the Classic Movie Blog Association's blogathon Fabulous Films of the 1950s. Go here for a complete list of entries; you'll find my colleagues holding forth on an impressive array of movies legendary and obscure, long-remembered and half-forgotten. 

The '50s, like the '40s before (subject of another CMBA blogathon here), were an embarrassment-of-riches period. The Hollywood studio system was dying, it's true, but that wasn't so clear at the time; in the second half of the decade especially, the studios seemed to be recovering from the sucker punch of television. There were plenty of terrific movies, three of which are illustrated on the banner here. For Cinedrome's entry, I've decided to follow my customary practice and choose a lesser-known title -- one that deserves to be remembered and rediscovered:

*               *               *

In the mid-1950s Republic Pictures was on its last legs as a movie-producing entity. Formed in 1935, it was the brainchild of Herbert J. Yates, founder and president of Consolidated Film Industries, a film processing lab based in New York. Yates saw his big chance when six of Hollywood's Poverty Row studios -- the largest (relatively speaking) being Monogram and Mascot -- became deeply indebted to Consolidated for processing fees. Yates called all their debts, then offered an alternative: merge into one production facility, with Yates as head of the studio. The others went for it, and Republic Pictures was born. (In 1937, unable to get along with Yates, Monogram's officers backed out of the deal and reorganized under their old corporate name, which morphed in 1947 into Allied Artists.)

Strictly speaking, Republic was a notch or two above Poverty Row, but it was never a major operation. Its bread and butter was chapter serials and westerns, its biggest stars John Wayne, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and Rex Allen (in just about that order). There was the occasional prestige picture (again, relatively speaking), like Sands of Iwo Jima and The Red Pony (both 1949), or, a few more notches up the scale, John Ford's Rio Grande ('50) and The Quiet Man ('52), but for the most part it was cliffhangers, horse operas and hillbilly comedies for the small-town venues. In the summer of 1955, taking one last shot at prestige, Yates dispatched a unit headlined by Ann Sheridan and Steve Cochran up north to the California Gold Country town of Ione (pronounced "eye-own") in the hills of Amador County 35 miles southeast of Sacramento. There they made what is surely (with the arguable exception of Orson Welles's 1948 Macbeth) the best movie ever to come out of Republic Pictures that didn't involve John Ford or John Wayne. (And no, I'm not forgetting Johnny Guitar.)

Come Next Spring was directed by R.G. ("Bud") Springsteen.
Springsteen was the epitome of the reliable but unexceptional
studio workhorse. Actually, "plowhorse" would be more like
it; his first directing credit came in 1945, and by the time of
Come Next Spring ten years later he had already directed over
50 features -- mostly Republic program westerns running about
an hour, with a smattering of crime dramas and shoestring musical
comedies. At the very least, Springsteen was a man who didn't
waste time, film or money -- a triple virtue guaranteed to endear
him to the penny-pinching Herbert Yates. It would also earn him
a secure niche in television; by the time he retired in 1970 he
had a hefty resume consisting of multiple episodes of Gunsmoke,
Rawhide, Wanted: Dead or Alive, Wagon Train, Bonanza,
Gentle Ben and others.

The secret ingredient of Come Next Spring was its writer, Montgomery Pittman (shown here in a small role on TV's Cheyenne, in an episode he also wrote). Pittman was the kind of talent who might almost be described as "unjustly forgotten today" -- except that the sorry truth is he died before even being noticed, succumbing to throat cancer at 45 in 1962. He was prolific, resourceful and original, and what he did accomplish in his brief 11-year career gives a frustrating hint of what might have been if even another ten or 15 years had been granted to him.

Born in Louisiana in 1917 and raised in Oklahoma, Pittman left home while still a teenager and found work with a traveling carnival as (no joke!) a snake-oil salesman. After military service during World War II he landed first in New York, then Los Angeles, with hopes of becoming an actor. Among the odd jobs he took during this time was housecleaning for fellow actor Steve Cochran, then under contract to Sam Goldwyn and beginning to make a name for himself; their friendship would bear fruit with Come Next Spring.

After a few minor movie roles (including one in Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison with his friend and sometimes employer Cochran), Pittman transitioned into writing and eventually, like other writers before him, into directing as a means of protecting his scripts. Along the way, in 1952, he met and married Maurita Gilbert Jackson, a widow whose ten-year-old daughter Sherry was already launched on a career as a child actress. Pittman's relationship with his new stepdaughter would also bear fruit in Come Next Spring.

In the mid-to-late-'50s Pittman was a contract writer for Warner Bros. Television, where he contributed scripts to the studio's westerns Cheyenne, Sugarfoot and Maverick, and the private-eye series 77 Sunset Strip (for the latter three he usually directed his scripts as well). 

In the early '60s (and, in fact, just as his time among us was running out) Pittman wrote and directed three episodes for Rod Serling's original The Twilight Zone on CBS. These jobs are worth mentioning here for several reasons. For one thing, Pittman was the only person during the entire five-year run of the show who both wrote and directed an episode, and he did it three times. For another, those three are among the very best episodes that weren't written by The Twilight Zone's "Big Three" (Serling, Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson). Finally, and most pertinent to the subject at hand, two of those three contain clear echoes of Come Next Spring: (1) "The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank" -- about a young man who springs to life out of the coffin at his own funeral, causing his backwoods neighbors to suspect he ain't exactly human -- takes place in the same time and region as Come Next Spring, and it even features several of the same actors (James Best, Edgar Buchanan, and Pittman's stepdaughter Sherry Jackson); and (2) "The Grave", in which bounty hunter Lee Marvin accepts a dare to visit the grave of the outlaw he's been chasing, not only features James Best again, but it has a female character named Ione -- an unmistakeable hat-tip to the town where Come Next Spring was filmed.

Come Next Spring takes place in 1927 in
the hills of Arkansas. We first meet Matt
Ballot (Steve Cochran) walking along a
country road on a hot summer day. He
strikes up a conversation with a little boy
he meets (Richard Eyer), and offers to
walk along with him a spell, since they
both seem to be headed the same way.

It turns out that they're not only headed
the same way, they're headed to the same
place. For the boy, Abraham, it's the
farm where he lives. For Matt it's where
he used to live, before he ran out on his
wife Bess and daughter Annie nine years
ago. Abraham is the son Matt never
knew he had.

Bess (Ann Sheridan) is astonished to see Matt again after all these years, and she makes it plain that the surprise is not a pleasant one. "Why are you here, Matt?" she asks coldly.

Matt tells her he's been all over the country, and found that whisky tastes pretty much the same everywhere. The last three years he's been wondering what his wife and daughter were doing, "and I guess I just talked myself into" coming to find out. You never answered my letters, he says; didn't you get them?

She may have gotten them, but clearly she didn't read them. I never wanted to see you again, she says; I see no reason to change my mind now. Chastened, Matt is turning to leave when Bess suddenly relents. "I still think you done wrong in comin' back," she says, "but the damage is done now. Bein' as you're here, I reckon it's only fair for you to see Annie. So you can stay to supper. If you stay sober."

Matt assures her that he's been sober for three years, then he asks about Annie. "Is she...Did she ever get over...?" "Nope," says Bess, "still mute. Cain't utter a sound."

When Abraham returns from washing up, ready to do the milking, Bess hesitates barely a second before telling him who Matt is. "Gee," says Abraham, "I didn't even know I had a papa." Later, when Annie (Sherry Jackson) comes home and warily eyes the stranger in their barn pulling a tick from the cat's tail, Abraham shares the information, with the pride of a little brother who knows something his big sister doesn't: "Annie, this here's our papa!"

That night, Abraham surprises Bess by showing up for supper in his Sunday best: suit, bowtie. Later, as Matt prepares to leave, Bess unbends a little more. It's a long walk in the dark, she says; Matt can spend the night in Abraham's room. Even Annie, still shy of this stranger in the house, nods that it's all right with her.

The next morning Abraham comes to breakfast having for the first time slept through the night without suffering from his "problem" -- bedwetting. Even Annie is sorry to see Matt leave. So Bess softens an inch or two more. "I forgot how important a man is to children," she says -- and besides, she could use a hand around the farm. So she offers Matt the job. But that's all he'll be -- a hired hand, at a dollar a day plus his keep, bunking with Abraham. "All right, Bess," Matt says, "you hired yourself a hand."

Matt's return is greeted by others in the community with little enthusiasm; most of them will offer him no more than a frosty hello -- and that only after he's greeted them first, with their own "hello" signaling an end to the conversation. One of the few who greets him kindly is old Jeff Storys (Walter Brennan), a sharecropper on Bess's farm who knows nothing of her and Matt's history. Another, who does know but likes Matt anyway, is the Ballots' friend and neighbor Mr. Canary (Edgar Buchanan), who urges Matt to have patience: "Look at it like you was one o' them, Matt, put yourself in their place. What would you a-been thinkin' the night Abraham was born?" Matt wonders if Canary feels the way they do. "I've always felt," Canary tells him, "that you was a lot more of a man than they gave you credit for. If you're still around here come next spring, you'll prove I'm right."

(This isn't the first time the movie's title pops up in the dialogue; the phrase seems part of the local idiom. At one point Abraham asks his mother, "How come people are always sayin' 'come next spring' somethin's gonna happen?" "Oh, it's just a saying," she tells him, "meaning 'in the springtime' or 'not too far away'." Abraham shrugs. "Seems to me it means it ain't never gonna get done.")

One who has particular and personal reasons for disgust at Matt's return is Leroy Hightower (Sonny Tufts), Canary's hired hand, who has been futilely trying to court Bess almost since the day Matt walked out on her. Leroy's not a bad sort at heart, but there's more than a little of the bully about him, and he talks to (and about) Matt with the snide sarcasm of a frustrated suitor. Leroy believes it's only a matter of time before Matt falls off the wagon and becomes the same good-for-nothing drunk he was nine years ago -- and Leroy's not above doing his bit to make sure it happens.

Bowen Charles Tufts III is one of Hollywood's sad cases. He was not without talent, but not talented enough to overcome some unfortunate life and career choices. Born of a prominent Boston family (his great-uncle founded Tufts University), he shunned the family banking business to study opera at Yale. Thanks to his good looks and a college football injury that made him 4-F during World War II, he found stardom in Hollywood when handsome leading men were relatively scarce. Alcohol was his undoing, and his off-screen behavior became notorious. He gave probably his best performance in Come Next Spring, and a few years later he reportedly sobered up in hopes of landing the role of Jim Bowie in John Wayne's The Alamo. Whether that's true or not, by that time his name was already a Hollywood punchline, and the idea was probably a non-starter. He died of pneumonia in 1970, age 58.

How Matt Ballot, heeding Mr. Canary's advice about patience, slowly wins his way back into the love of his family and the respect of his neighbors forms the spine of Come Next Spring. The movie's emotional centerpiece comes almost exactly halfway through its 93 minutes, when Matt, prompted by a question from Abraham, and knowing the question will never go away, finally explains to Annie why she is unable to talk. "It wasn't no Act of God like you always been told," he says to her. "God give you a voice just like everybody else." Bess tries to stop Matt -- by this time even she doesn't want to see him torn down in the children's eyes -- but Matt forges on. What happened, he tells Annie, was that one night, too drunk to drive and too belligerent to let Bess take the wheel, he drove their car off the road and wrecked it. Bess and Matt walked away unhurt, but the traumatic shock left Annie unable to speak -- or to make any sound at all -- from that day to this.

There are still crises to come for Matt, Bess and the children -- a cyclone that devastates their farm, a long-simmering showdown with Leroy, a frightening disappearance by one of the kids -- but how it all plays out is something best discovered by seeing the movie itself.

When she made Come Next Spring, Ann Sheridan was 40, several years past her glamour days as Warner Bros.' "Oomph Girl" (a nickname she loathed). Even at the height of her career at Warners, her talent never got the respect it deserved -- not surprising for a studio dominated by its male stars that already had Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland. But she was an actress of considerable -- even remarkable -- depth and range. She demonstrated this to anyone who cared to notice during the fall of 1941, when she was shooting two pictures simultaneously: She worked mornings on the raucous farce The Man Who Came to Dinner (and was one of the funniest things in it), then after lunch she reported to the set of the brooding, dark melodrama Kings Row. All through World War II she was well-liked by co-workers, popular with audiences, and underrated by critics. That combination held all the way through her untimely death at 51 in 1967 (and the "underrated" part has stayed with her ever since).

Sheridan's Bess Ballot is a woman who has had self-sufficiency thrust upon her by the only man she's ever loved, and the experience has made her stern almost to the point of harshness. When Matt's wandering brings him back into her life, her defenses instantly fly up -- because the sight of him, in spite of everything, still makes her weak in the knees. We can see it, even if she can't, in the way she softens every time Matt is on the verge of leaving again: First she says he can stay for supper, then till morning, then till "come next spring" as a hired hand. This always-underrated actress was never better than she was as the resolute, wounded Bess.

Steve Cochran, unlike Sheridan, was never underrated -- exactly. But ever since his sudden death from a lung infection at 48 in 1965, the question has haunted movie buffs: Why didn't this guy ever become a bigger star? Part of it may have been his tabloid lifestyle of womanizing, carousing and boozing, flying in the face of his fragile health (he had a heart murmur that kept him out of the service during World War II). Or it may have been because he never managed to break the mold of gangsters, thugs and unsavories into which he had been typecast, certainly not the way other actors -- Robert Mitchum and Dana Andrews, for instance -- had been able to do. Still, he never really gave a bad performance even in the most ill-chosen of his 39 pictures; he was clearly an actor of substance (on stage he had played Orsino in Twelfth Night, Horatio in Hamlet, even Richard III). In Matt Ballot, Cochran gives us a good man who has been beaten down by an ill-spent life and the consequences of his own bad decisions, and who now hopes only to pull himself together before it's too late. It was the role, and the performance, of Cochran's life, and he knew it. When Monty Pittman brought him the script, Cochran bought it for his own company, Robert Alexander Productions (named for his real first and middle names), then sold it to Republic on the condition that he and Sherry Jackson play the roles that had been written for them. If Cochran had given this performance for any studio but Republic it might have made all the difference in the arc of his career. But the truth is that probably no other studio would have cast him as anything but a ne'er-do-well or a hood -- Matt Ballot, if you will, unrepentant and unreformed. It may even be that no other studio would have touched Come Next Spring at all. That, sad to say, was just Steve Cochran's luck.

As if Ann Sheridan, and Steve Cochran, and Montgomery Pittman's intelligent and perceptive script were not enough, there's another excellent reason to see Come Next Spring, one that all by itself would be more than enough: the extraordinary performance of 13-year-old Sherry Jackson. If Pittman's script was intended as a showcase for his friend Cochran, it seems to have been equally intended to give Pittman's own stepdaughter the role of a lifetime. Even by the time Pittman married her mother in 1952, Sherry was already a veteran of more than 15 feature films. Mostly uncredited bits, but more substantial roles were ahead: one of the visionary Portuguese children in The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima ('52), John Wayne's daughter in Trouble Along the Way ('53). When shooting started on Come Next Spring, Sherry was coming off her second season as Danny Thomas's oldest daughter on Make Room for Daddy.

As the shy and withdrawn Annie -- "around the animals so much," her mother says, "she's beginning to act like one" -- Sherry Jackson is thoughtful, watchful and wary. With her enormous -- and enormously expressive -- eyes, and with every tiny movement of the corners of her mouth, she makes Annie's every fleeting thought as plain as if she spoke them out loud. And she does it without making a sound. Jane Wyman in Johnny Belinda won an Oscar (and rightly so) for doing not much more than Sherry Jackson does in Come Next Spring.

Ann Sheridan, Steve Cochran, Sonny Tufts, Sherry Jackson. All of them were never better -- maybe even never as good -- as they were in Come Next Spring. Hmmm. Maybe this Bud Springsteen was a better director than he ever got credit for.

*               *               *

When it played host to the Come Next Spring company in 1955, Ione, Calif. was a small foothill community of perhaps 1,500 people. It's grown somewhat in the 59 years since then, but not as much as you might think. The population now hovers around 4,200 (not counting the nearby Mule Creek State Prison, whose 3,000 inmates are technically "residents" of Ione). The town itself has changed even less than the population. Even allowing for its being dressed to resemble Arkansas 30 years earlier -- with its fleet of Model A and Model T Fords, the vehicles of choice for small farmers in the 1920s -- the Ione of Come Next Spring is still visible in the Ione of 2014. (NOTE: I am indebted to City Clerk Janice Traverso and her co-workers in the Ione City Hall, and to local resident Doug Hawkins, who played a small role in the picture at the age of 11, for their assistance in finding and photographing locations for Come Next Spring.)

This is Main Street of (the fictitious)
Cushin, Arkansas as the Ballot family
drives into town on Saturday to do
their weekly shopping. That's them
on the right in their Model T -- Matt
driving, with Annie (holding her hat)
and Bess in the back seat. That
imposing-looking two-story building
is actually the meeting hall of Ione
Parlor 33 of the Native Sons of the
Golden West...

...and it's still there today, not much
changed except for the removal of
that out-of-control ivy on the eastern

One block west and on the other side
of Main Street, this building...

...has had a facelift since 1955 --
probably more than one, as a matter
of fact -- but it's still recognizable.
Pretty much.

On the other hand, this stretch of
sidewalk where a group of boys
(including Doug Hawkins's
classmate Guy Campbell, a local
boy who still lives in Ione) are
taunting Annie as the town "dummy"...

...well, that's hardly changed at all.

Here are Jeff Storys and Matt standing
outside the town's picture show chewing
the fat (presumably the Ione Theatre's display
cases have been changed to reflect what might
have been "now showing" and "coming next
week" in 1927). Doug Hawkins remembers seeing
Come Next Spring in this theater. That was no doubt
a sneak preview for citizens of the host town; the
picture's world premiere was held at the Amador
Theatre in nearby Jackson, the Amador County
seat (and mighty big news that was in Jackson,
believe you me). The Amador is gone now; where
it stood is now the parking lot of the Jackson
branch of El Dorado Savings...

...and the Ione Theatre is also gone,
gutted by fire decades ago. The space
is now a mini-mall housing a hair
salon, a massage-and-tanning parlor,
and other local businesses.

This locomotive is "Iron Ivan". In
1955 it was the last steam engine
operating on the Amador Central
Railroad, a short (approx. 12 miles)
line that operated entirely within the
borders of Amador County. Ivan
made this cameo appearance in a
brief scene showing the area's
farmers arriving with their milk and
eggs to ship them off to market. Iron
Ivan was retired in 1956, not long
after this scene was filmed...

...and rests now on permanent display
in the Ione City Park.

This is the little country church where the Ballots
and their neighbors worship. It is from these windows,
during a Sunday morning sermon on the evils of drink,
that the congregation first notices the approach of
cyclone weather. And it's here that Matt literally seizes
the reins and stems a rising panic in the parking lot as
worshipers dash madly out to their wagons and
autos to try to save what they can of their homes.

In 1955 this church was in the tiny community of
Camanche, about five miles south of Ione. Today,
Camanche is at the bottom of Camanche Reservoir,
created when an earthfill dam was completed
across the Mokelumne River in 1963. (For you
non-Californians out there, the river's name is
pronounced "McCullumy".)

The church, however, was moved to higher ground,
where it stands today overlooking the north shore
of the reservoir -- with the addition of a newer
entry vestibule and storage shed.

As I mentioned before, the mainspring of Come Next Spring is Monty Pittman's pitch-perfect script. It tells an unusual yet simple and straightforward story without a wasted word or a false note. Even its minor characters -- for example, Harry Shannon as neighbor Tom Totter (that's him a few pictures up giving Matt Ballot the cold shoulder at the railroad siding), Wade Ruby as the preacher Delbert Meaner, and Roscoe Ates as Shorty Wilkins, the local moonshiner -- are sketched in sharp detail with a few deft strokes. Sometimes only a few lines are all it takes to tell us what we need to know about these people -- and Pittman knew the right few lines. Then there are the sensitive performances, and the typically emotional musical score by the great Max Steiner (including a title song written with Lenny Adelson that was a popular hit for Tony Bennett, who sings it under the credits).

Come Next Spring has been going in and out of print for over 30 years, ever since the dawn of the home video age. As near as I've been able to determine, it's currently out. But the good news is that it's not unavailable. It can be had for streaming here at Amazon Instant Video -- it's even free if you subscribe to Amazon Prime. 

So here's a challenge for my Cinedrome readers. As soon as you finish reading this post -- or as soon as you have 93 spare minutes -- click over to Amazon Instant Video (here's the link again, just to double-dog-dare you) and treat yourself to Come Next Spring. Do yourself a favor. 

And one last thing. This is a promise: The very last shot of the picture, just before it fades to "The End", is something you'll remember as long as you live. Mark my words.

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