Summer Magic is a lightweight, light-hearted vehicle for Disney star Hayley Mills. Based on Mother Carey's Chickens, a novel by Kate Douglas Wiggin, the slight story was fleshed out with musical numbers, although it was not a musical per se.
In her previous movie, In Search of the Castaways, Hayley got her first on-screen kiss from Michael Anderson Jr. In Summer Magic, Hayley has a hint of adult romance when toward the end of the movie, Peter Brown enters as an unexpected Prince Charming.
The story begins in Boston (a convenient cover for Hayley's British accent) where the newly impecunious Widow Carey and her three children are being forced from their comfortable home. Nancy has written to Osh Poppum in Beulah, Maine, where the family once vacationed with her deceased father. They end up in happy residence at the Yellow House which has been vacant since the Hamiltons went abroad many years earlier. According to Digby Poppum, it's too fancy for local folks. The barn, which was converted for dancing, isn't suitable for livestock. Osh gives them "carte blanche" to refurbish the house without consulting the Hamiltons.
Osh's wife looks askance at his benevolence toward the Careys as she tends to look for the dark cloud, which in this case would be the Hamiltons wanting their house back. Osh promises her that he's written to them for permission. In the meantime, Lolly Joy is smitten with Gilley; Digby goes to seek his fortune in the city; Peter (played by Beaver's little brother Jimmy Mathers) acquires a haircut, overalls and a big dog; and the family acquires a new member in the person of la-di-da cousin Julia. Julia had been living with the Fergusons after her father died penniless because of investments made by Mr. Ferguson, the banker who also left the Careys broke.
Nancy, Peter & Gilley Carey
Digby returns to Beulah after finding that city life isn't for him. Julia and Nancy compete for the attention of the new schoolmaster, a competition the sophisticated Julia wins hands down. When the Careys run short of money to pay the rent, Osh tells them Mr. Hamilton is so happy about the repairs they've been making that he doesn't want any rent if they will find a place of honor for the portrait of his honored late mother who was born on Halloween. The Careys decide to hold a big housewarming-open house-dance on Halloween during which they will unveil the portrait of Mrs. Hamilton. Julia and Nancy fight then make up in time to whip up copies of Paris gowns for the open house. On the day of the party, Julia and Nancy make over the shy Lolly Joy so that she can win Gilley's heart. They sing a lovely anachronistic song about utilizing femininity to catch a beau and hiding "the real you."
While taking a box of decorations to the barn, Nancy runs into a handsome stranger who has driven up to the house in a horseless carriage. She tells him that they're having an open house in honor of Mrs. Hamilton to thank Mr. Hamilton for letting them take over the Yellow House. As he starts up his car to leave, she assures him that the open house is open to everyone including perfect strangers. It's quite clear Hayley finds Peter to be a "perfect" stranger.
The handsome stranger drives to Osh Poppum's store where he waits while Osh finishes a letter. Without looking up, Osh brags that the letter is to an important property owner who has left him in complete charge of his affairs. When Osh turns, the young man reaches out for the letter and Osh recognizes the young Tom Hamilton who has come back to claim his house and wants to know why people are living there. Osh hands him a packet of unmailed letters, including several from Nancy Carey. He asks Tom to read Nancy's letters, "written from a grateful young heart," before deciding what to do.
Back at the Carey's Lolly Joy has been sufficiently feminized to wow young Gilley, Charles comes to call for Julia and Digby shows up escorting a nice country girl having had his fill of city women. Nancy looks forlornly out the window, seeing the world in pairs with herself alone. However, with chin up, humming the song about walking and talking feminine, she starts down the stairs alone to join the barn dance. Half way down the stairs she stops short, startled at the sight at the bottom of the stairs. The handsome stranger, resplendent in a tux, stands smiling up at her.
Nancy loses her shoe which tumbles down the stairs to her Prince Charming's feet. He picks it up and insists on replacing it himself. When Osh starts to introduce him, Tom cuts him short, telling Osh that he and Nancy have already met. He turns to Nancy and tells her this is one party he decided he couldn't afford to miss. He escorts Nancy to the barn where the others are impressed with her handsome escort. Nancy leaves her prince with Osh which she goes to attend to the unveiling of the portrait. Osh tries to convince Tom to go outside for a smoke but Tom is adamant that he wants to see "the ceremony."
Tom is rather startled to see the portrait that Osh has passed off as his beloved mother. His mother is in fact quite alive and having a whirl on the Riviera. He is also surprised to hear Nancy joking about having referred to Mr. Hamilton as a yellow peril, a reference to their belief he was in the Orient and their fear he might return and take back the yellow house. With trepidation, Osh asks Tom what he intends to do. Tom tells Osh he'll talk to him later as he walks off. Things look bright for a happy ending when after identifying himself, Tom whirls Nancy onto the dance floor.
NiteOwl Review: This movie was too mainstream to be a Thursday NiteOwl showing. However, as we were having a four-Thursday Peter Brown marathon in the summer, we ran Summer Magic early one evening on the pretext of showing it for the kids. Most of the women in the group remembered this movie with great affection. Hayley Mills was very popular with baby boomers, sort of a 1960s Shirley Temple. Although Summer Magic was not of the same caliber as Disney's Pollyanna and Parent Trap, Hayley Mills brought an undeniable charm to all her movies. The appearance of Peter Brown provided a totally satisfying ending. The part of Tom Hamilton was a relatively small part perfectly cast and perfectly executed. Which leads us to:
Our Favorite Scene: While the scene on the stairs when Hayley catches sight of Peter was also perfectly done, our vote goes to the scene at the end in which Nancy first finds out who Tom is and then dances with him. Nancy remarks that Osh didn't tell her his name to which Tom replies, "Hamilton, Tom Hamilton." Nancy responds "Hamilton" in a quizzical tone of voice to which Tom nods with a look that says, you'll get it in a second. She continues, "That's a familiar sounding name." He laughs genially. "Tom Hamilton," she repeats. He repeats back, "Tom Hamilton." Suddenly she gets it. "Any relation to?" Tom slowly nods. "Close?" she asks. He leans in and answers "very close." "Not our Mr. Hamilton. Not the yellow peril Hamilton?" Tom laughs and moves toward her as he says, "I think you look more like a yellow peril" (referring to her yellow dress). She moves backwards, "Whatcha gonna do to me?" Tom takes Nancy in his arms, "Right now...dance with you." They take a few steps as he puts his head closer and says, "And don't talk." Nancy breathlessly responds, "Wasn't going to" as they whirl away amid the rest of the dancers.
"That's a familiar sounding name"
"Right now...dance with you"
"Whatcha gonna do to me?"
Publicity Note: When Summer Magic was released, Peter and Hayley appeared on the cover of Parade magazine (photo right) with the query "What Makes a Good Date?" An eBay seller, auctioning off an intact copy of this issue, commented that it appeared a good date must be an underage girl with a man eleven years her senior, a reference to the fact that at the time Hayley was 17 and Peter was 28.
Original release date 1963
Directed by James Neilson
Written by Sally Benson
Hayley Mills as Nancy Carey
Burl Ives as Osh Poppum
Dorothy McGuire as Mrs. Carey
Deborah Walley as Julia Carey
Peter Brown as Tom Hamilton
Una Merkel as Mrs. Poppum
Eddie Hodges as Gilley
Michael J. Pollard as Digby
James Stacy as Charles Bryant
Jimmy Mathers as Peter Carey
Wendy Turner as Lolly Joy
Official Peter Brown Fan Site