Thursday, March 17, 2011

Trouble Along the Way

I briefly mentioned Trouble Along the Way when Donna Reed was Star of the Month last May. It's airing again on TCM, tonight at around 11:15 PM ET. (Note: TCM's schedule lists Rififi as starting at 9:15 PM, or at least after the employee Guest Programmer introduction; Rififi has a running time of 122 minutes. So the times are off somewhere.)

Charles Coburn plays Fr. Burke, the head of a Catholic school that's always done things in the old way, but as a result is struggling financially, to the point where the diocese has decided it's going to shut the college down unless a way can be found to raise revenues. He sees that Notre Dame is successful and has a money-making football program, so he figures that maybe he can start a football program of his own. Bring in coach Steve Williams (John Wayne). Williams has problems of his own. He's been out of college football for years due to his scandalous behavior, and that behavior has also led to his getting divorced by his ex-wife (Marie Windsor), who is trying to get custody of their daughter Carol by having a social worker Alice (Donna Reed) investigate the family situation.

Williams is reluctant to take the job, but dammit, he needs a job -- any job -- to try to keep custody of his daughter. He doesn't particularly care for the living conditions (a garret apartment in the belfry) or the fact that the college's facilities are woeful to put it mildly. And so Williams sets about improving things in the best way he knows how, which just happens to be the rules-bending way that got him kicked out of college football in the first place. That, of course, causes problems with Fr. Burke, who still has principles. Carol, meanwhile, wants Dad to succeed because she'd much rather stay with him than go and live with stuffy Mother (shades of Jackie Cooper in The Champ). Alice might be just the woman to pair Dad up with, too.

Trouble Along the Way is a charming picture that's only tangentially about college football; so, if you don't normally care about football, don't let that stop you from watching this one. John Wayne often comes in for criticism for his political views and for making robust military and western films that fit those views, but he was a better actor than that. Trouble Along the Way is a movie that shows Wayne's better side. He also gets to show that he could act with kids. Coburn is great, but he was good in almost everything he did. Reed is OK, but she doesn't have all that much to do here. In short, Trouble Along the Way is a warm, family-friendly movie that's well worth watching. It's available on DVD, too, so you won't have to stay up past 1:00 AM to see it.

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