Musical Monday: “Summer Magic” (1963)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500.
To celebrate and share this musical love, I’m starting a weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Summer Magic (1964) — Musical Number 44

summer magic poster

Hayley Mills, Burl Ives, Dorothy McGuire, Deborah Walley, Una Merkel, Peter Brown, James Stacey, Eddie Hodges, Jimmy Mathers

James Neilson

Walt Disney Studios

Set at the turn of the century, the Carey family finds themselves penniless after their father dies. The family moves from Boston, Mass. to Beulah, MN to a home Nancy (Mills) remembers the family admiring while they were on vacation. Once they arrive at the home, they find it run-down, but with the help of post master Osh Popham (Ives), the family fixes up the home. Surrounding the bustle of fixing up the home, the Carey’s snobby orphan cousin Julia (Walley) comes to live with them, and Julia and Nancy fall for the same boy (James Stacey).

Nancy (Mills) and Julia (Walley)

Nancy (Mills) and Julia (Walley)

-“Summer Magic” is based off the book “Mother Carey’s Chickens” by Kate Douglas Smith Wiggin
-The film is also a remake of the non-musical 1938 film “Mother Carey’s Chickens” starring Anne Shirley, Ruby Keeler, James Ellison, Walter Brennan, Fay Bainter, Virginia Weidler and Ralph Morgan.
-The movie was originally supposed to star Annette Funicello
-The song “On the Front Porch” is songwriter Robert Sherman’s personal favorite song from his own work, according to Sherman’s 1998 book “Walt’s Time: Before and Beyond”
-Walt Disney didn’t like the song “Ugly Bug Ball” sung by Burl Ives. Sherman persuaded Disney to keep the song and it went on to be a popular song from the film, according to Sherman’s book.
-The youngest brother, Peter Carey, is played by Jimmy Mathers—brother to Jerry Mather’s of “Leave It To Beaver” fame.
-Dorothy McGuire’s singing is dubbed by Marilyn Hooven

Osh (Burl Ives) sings “On the Front Porch”

Notable Songs:
-Most of the songs are silly and forgettable but are still pretty catchy, lighthearted and enjoyable. Some of my favorites include:
– Femininity- Nancy (Mills) and Julia (Walley) sing this song to Lallie Joy Popham (Wendy Turner) so that Nancy’s brother Gilly (Hodges) will notice her.
The song tells Lallie Joy to “hide the real you,” “men adore good listeners” and “don’t laugh too loud”
-Pink of Perfection- Gillie (Hodges) and Nancy (Mills) sing a song making fun of Julia saying she is a “dainty baboon,” has the “the charm of a moose” and has knock knees. The song is sung in their distain when they hear Julia is coming to stay with them.
-Ugly Bug Ball sung by Osh (Ives) and Peter (Mathers). It’s not personally my favorite song in the film and is mainly footage of different bugs crawling, but it’s catchy and cute.
-Flitterin’- sung by Mills, Hodges and McGuire (dubbed). The family sings it when they get a player piano as they are packing to Maine. It’s a brief little tune, but it’s catchy. Really, I enjoy it because I sang this song in the four times I have moved in the last two years.

My Review:
I’ll never forget the summer my mom introduced “Summer Magic” to my sisters and I. My dad was out of town on a business trip and she recorded it special off the Disney Channel for us to watch.

Since then, it has been a special favorite, filled with color, catchy Sherman brothers’ songs, and an outstanding cast. The turn-of-the-century costumes by Bill Thomas are also beautiful. Thomas dressed Deborah Walley in pink and Hayley Mills in yellow and it’s just gorgeous to see.

“Summer Magic” isn’t as well known as other Disney films such as “Old Yeller” or “The Parent Trap,” but it is a lot of fun and is a movie I grew up on.

If you like Hayley Mills films, you can’t go wrong with this one. But aside from Hayley, the supporting cast is gold! Dorothy McGuire as the mom and Burl Ives and Una Merkel are a hilarious treat as a quarreling married couple. Not to mention James Stacey and Peter Brown who round out the cast as handsome male leads (though Peter Brown disappointingly has very little screen time). You also see pre-Bonnie and Clyde Michael J. Pollard.

This is a remake of the 1938 film “Mother Carey’s Chickens,” starring Anne Shirley, Ruby Keeler, James Ellison, Frank Albertson, Fay Bainter and Donnie Dunagan (the voice of Bambi). While that is a fun (non-musical) film, I do prefer this one better. “Mother Carey’s Chickens” shows the audience when the father (Ralph Morgan) passes away. But I don’t feel like we get as deep into the romance aspect as “Summer Magic.” Also, Donnie Dunagan’s character is just annoying.

I would have loved to see what this movie would have been like had it really starred Annette Funicello, but it’s still pretty wonderful with Hayley Mills.

Even through it’s silly, forgettable songs and sometimes crazy plot, “Summer Magic” is one of my favorites. I’m fairly certain you will be “flitterin'” also.

Nancy (Mills) enters the Halloween party with handsome Tom Hamilton (Peter Brown) in “Summer Magic”

Check back next week for Musical Monday.

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Mean King of Jing-a-ling

Edmund Gwenn and Natalie Wood in “Miracle on 34th Street” (1947)

Santa Claus.  Kris Kringle. Father Christmas.  Jolly Ole Saint Nick.

Regardless of the name you use, all of these describe the happy, friendly fat man who leaves gifts under our trees on Christmas Eve. Pop culture has built him into a beloved figure, and movies depict him as wise and loving of children.

In  “Miracle on 34th Street” (1947),  Edmund Gwenn plays the cutest Santa Claus, who sings a Dutch song with a little girl, helps Natalie Wood believe and forgives judges and psychiatrists who try to bring him down.   Gwenn played a perfect Santa Claus, and, as a child, I couldn’t believe anyone could be so mean to Ole St. Nick. This movie made me want to believe in Santa again and finds me saying like Natalie Wood, “I believe, I believe. It’s silly, but I believe.”

On the flip side, there is another classic children’s movie that may give Santa Claus a bad name. Every year my family watches the 1964 “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” television special, and every year my dad says, “Santa is a bigot.”

It’s true. Santa is friendly while congratulating Rudolph’s parents and is excited to have another reindeer on his Christmas sleigh.  That is…until the moment that Santa sees Rudolph’s red nose.

Santa and Rudolph in “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (1964)

Rudolph’s red nose shines, Santa’s eyes screw up in his head, and he high-tails it out of the reindeer family’s cave simply because Rudolph is different. Santa doesn’t like Herbie the elf either for wanting to be a dentist rather than a toymaker- not that I much blame him, Herbie whines a lot.

Other than discriminating against his workers, Santa is an overall grump in the movie.  He won’t eat. He doesn’t like the song the elves sing.  He puts toys that are seemingly fine on an island by themselves, promising that he might pick them up on Christmas but only does after several years.

At the end of the movie, we can argue that Santa Claus has a change of heart. He learns to accept Rudolph and his red nose and allows him to lead the front of his sleigh.

But if you really think about it, Santa is only really using Rudolph. It’s snowing heavily, and he needs someone to light his way. Why not attach headlights to the front of the sleigh? Nope, we will use Rudolph’s red nose to lead us. For all we know, he could be back to his discriminating ways on December 26, and Rudolph will never guide the sleigh again.

The 1964 “Rudolph” is a really good movie and a family favorite. The score and storyline are overall enjoyable. Just watch out that Santa Claus doesn’t lower your Christmas spirit. It’s ironic that the Father of Christmas himself is the least jolly of them all in the film.

Happy holidays!

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