Dean Stockwell makes an adorable hardluck kid in a sweet, but not overly sentimental pic that finds director Henry King working right in his comfort zone. Orphaned three years back when Pop died at sea, Stockwell, after running away from a series of foster homes gets a tryout with hard-shelled/soft-centered Anne Revere. If only he could spend all his spare time with Dana Andrews’ independent lobster fisherman (and hearty Portuguese mate Cesar Romero), it just might work out. Andrews’ connection to the kid is Jean Peters, his on-again/off-again fiancé and the boy’s social worker. Unsure of the surrogate-father relationship, she worries about Stockwell’s safety out at sea almost as much as the bad turn he’s taking on land. There are a couple of nice detours built into the story, but the real reason it works so well comes from how King handles his players (all naturals, has Romero ever been this good?, and watch for the great D. W. Griffith actress Mae Marsh as a worried neighbor); his locations (plain, but handsome Maine seascape & towns); his understated staging (with just the right positions to cover some scenes in one confident set-up); and by letting homely attitudes speak for themselves. The film’s largely low key, but not without a wallapalooza storm-at-sea sequence to show off some still powerful effects work. (Presumably from F/X specialist Fred Sersen & second unit helmer Joseph Behm.) And note it’s placing as a second act turning point rather than holding back to milk for an action finale. Just a lovely little pic. A shame the print isn’t in tip-top shape, but don’t let that stop you.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Warm, lovely, talented, Jean Peters had a major career quashed by her loathsome, jealous creep of a husband, Howard Hughes.
ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: Cyril Mockridge contributes a fine, evocative score, very British/Frank Bridge, and gorgeously orchestrated by Maurice de Packh who seems to have freelanced around town when something special was needed. (See IMDb.com to spot the M-G-M/ Arthur Freed musicals he was brought in on.)