23 November 2013 | lugonian
Across the Atlantic
ON THE SUNNY SIDE (20th Century-Fox, 1942), directed by Harold Schuster, suggested on Mary McCarthy's "Fraternity," is a simple-minded story about boys, two ordinary boys in fact, of different backgrounds coming together during World War II: one British, the other American. For being programmer of only 70 minutes, this comedy-drama, lacking marque names of major interest then and now, very much belongs to the boys in question, the mild mannered British born Roddy McDowall, and the highly spirited, all-American Freddie Mercer, best known as LeRoy Forrester in the short-lived "Great Gildersleeve" film series (RKO Radio, 1942-44).
The simple plot, reminiscent of similar screenplays that preceded it (Jackie Cooper movies from the early thirties comes to mind), unfolds in typical fashion in a small American town of Englewood, Ohio, the home of a typical American family of 4218 Elm Drive: George Andrews (Don Douglas), his wife, Mary (Katherine Alexander); their 12-year-old son, Donnie (Freddie Mercer), his companion dog, Angus; and their housekeeper, Annie (Jane Darwell). One bright morning while gathered together for breakfast, the family receives a telegram revolving around the father's returning favor for a British family he earlier met in England by agreeing to have their son come live with them for the duration of World War II. Upon coming to the United States by boat, sharing passage with other refugee children escaping the London blitz, Hugh Aylesworth (Roddy McDowall) becomes a delightful addition to the family through his refined English mannerisms. With Donnie and Hugh sharing everything together, including Donnie's friends and having him part of his many activities. he soon becomes jealous over Hugh's popularity in school and at the clubhouse where the members would rather have Hugh appointed president over Donnie. Things become worse as Donnie's girlfriend, Betty (Ann Todd), starts fussing over Hugh, and apparently noticing the same treatment coming from his own parents.
Having made a wonderful impact under John Ford's Academy Award winning direction/ Best Picture winner of HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY (20th, 1941), where Roddy was billed simply as "Master Roddy McDowall," ON THE SUNNY SIDE, his fourth movie, is an agreeable little film seemingly geared mostly for the juvenile crowd. Consisting of enough kids to go around in the similar fashion of Hal Roach's "Our Gang" comedy shorts of the thirties, minus the antics of Alfalfa, Spanky and Darla Hood for amusement purposes, there are other kids to do the same, but not as effective, including Stanley Clements (Tom Sanders, the trouble making bully); Freddie Walburn (Dick); Leon Tyler (Flip); Claude Binyon (Billy); and Tommy Tucker (Boots). As for the adults, the cast consists of Jill Esmond (Mrs Aylesworth); Doris Lloyd (Mrs. Whitaker); and Billy Benedict (The Messenger).
Unseen in the television markets since the 1960s or so, with limited broadcasts in recent years, namely from cable television's Fox Movie Channel, ON THE SUNNY SIDE remains virtually forgotten by today's standards. With limited highlights, worthy mention includes how the boys adjust to each other's customs and way of speaking; Hugh getting accustomed to American slang from Donnie's now outdated phrases of "That's keen," "Jeepers," and "Swell," and Donnie's adjusting to McDowall's tea time and midnight outbursts in his sleep as he mistakes an outside police siren for a London air raid. The scene involving Hugh talking with his parents via short-wave radio is well-handled, showing the reflection of the times. In traditional kid movies, there's some fighting involved, and vengeful practical joke or two, resulting to saying to oneself, "Boys will be boys." Though ON THE SUNNY SIDE leaves the impression for an upcoming sequel that never comes, this minor little film does manage to leave one with good feeling on the sunny side. (**1/2)