20 December 2020 | SimonJack
A nice third story based on a young girl's growing up in a small Midwestern town
"The Easter Promise" is the third of four stories about a young girl growing up in a small Midwestern town in the 1940s with just her father and grandmother. Addie Mills lost her mom to pneumonia when she was just a baby - before her first Christmas. Having been raised by her dad and grandma, Addie had never been able to have a Christmas tree. That was the basis of the original story, "The House Without a Christmas Tree." The story was told by Gail Rock of her real experience growing up in Valley, Nebraska in the 1940s and '50s, and CBS made it into a TV film that turned out to be a huge success. So, naturally, something like sequels would follow.
That 1972 film was followed by "The Thanksgiving Treasure," in 1973, and then this story and film in 1975. The last would appear in 1976, "Addie and the King of Hearts." Of all of the stories and films, this one probably incorporates more fiction than the others into the story. And, it has an underlying mood that some others recognize also, that sets it apart from the other three. There's something about the characters - especially Addie and her dad, Jamie, that is out of their characters from the first two films.
The plot in this one is darker, although it has a moderately satisfactory ending - but nothing on the level of the other films. The same three main characters are here - Lisa Lucas as Addie, Jason Robards as her dad, Jamie, and Mildred Natwick as Grandma Mills. Jean Simmons is a big star addition, playing Constance Payne. Elizabeth Wilson is very good in her short scenes as Mrs. Coyle, and Addie's best friend continues to be Cora Sue from the second film when she replaced Carla Mae Carter.
This story centers around Constance Payne as a supposed big-time Broadway star who comes back home for her mother's funeral and to dispose of her very large house. She has a secret, and it's more than her alcoholism that comes out a number of times. But watching this film, and knowing about Addie's dreams from the first films, one can't help but think Addie would see that the life she dreams of isn't very real, or if it is, it will have many challenges or down sides. But, being a 12-year-old, she doesn't seem to be phased by Constance's story and life as she unravels it.
Finally, this film has lost some of the earthiness and reality of the small-town setting. The first two films were shot in Uxbridge, Ontario, that looked a lot like the town that author Gail Rock grew up in. But, the proximity of Valley, Nebraska to Omaha had turned it into a bustling commercial community that no longer resembled a small town of the early to mid-20th century. So, the Canadian location provided that real setting for the town of Clear River, Nebraska. Unfortunately, for this film to get Jean Simmons, it had to be shot all on Hollywood studio sets, because Simmons was appearing in a play at the time.
This turns out to be a good story, and if not a holiday film, a decent little drama. It's just not on the par of the earlier two films.