When recently-widowed Margaret Carey (Dorothy McGuire) gets into money trouble, her teenage daughter, Nancy (Hayley Mills), devises a plan to cut costs.
She writes to Osh Popham (Burl Ives), the caretaker of an estate in Beulah, Maine – exaggerating their plight – and gets permission for the family to rent the beautiful yellow house there for a song ($60 per year), with one catch – the vacationing owner, Tom Hamilton (Peter Brown), must be none the wiser.
Osh is somewhat disconcerted when the Carey family arrive, bursting with health, but soon becomes attached to them, as do his children, Lallie Joy (Wendy Turner), and Digby (Michael J Pollard).
Friendly Osh (who is also the town’s postmaster, storekeeper and constable) lets the family charge their supplies at his store and even gives 15-year-old Gilly Carey (Eddie Hodges) a job on his delivery truck and helps the littlest Carey, Peter (Jimmy Mathers) get rid of the Buster Brown suit and haircut that makes him look like a sissy.
None of this sits well with Osh’s frugal, stern-faced wife, Maria (Una Merkel).
Though the Carey clan spends a carefree summer fixing up the big yellow house, Nancy fears that Hamilton will arrive and spoil the fun.
Then Julia Carey (Deborah Walley) arrives. A beautiful but snobbish girl, she is the Carey children’s cousin, an orphan who has been raised by a wealthy family.
Nancy and Gilly, who thinks she is a “pill”, try to scare her with stories of wild animals – with hilarious results when Peter’s big pet dog comes bounding into Julia’s bedroom in the middle of the night.
Despite all this, Julia comes to feel that she belongs to a family for the first time in her life, and when the wealthy family offers to take her back, she replies with a tear-stained refusal.
Soon it is Halloween and a party is planned. On this occasion, Osh has rigged a scheme to unveil a painting that is supposed to be a portrait of old Mrs Hamilton but in reality, is just an old painting that has turned up in his store. Unfortunately, Tom Hamilton turns up and Osh has a lot of explaining to do.
At the party, every young lady finds herself happily paired off except Nancy, who meets Tom at the party without knowing his real identity. The two are instantly drawn to each other.
Later, when the portrait of “Mrs Hamilton” is unveiled, Nancy makes a speech in which she reveals her fear of “old” Tom Hamilton coming back to take the house away from the Careys. Only afterwards, when she is dancing in his arms, does Nancy find out who Tom really is.
She is embarrassed but he is amused and it becomes perfectly clear that he isn’t going to snatch the house away, and that he is seriously interested in Nancy.
Summer Magic is a thoroughly nice film. Not good, but nice. In the best Disney tradition – complete with soft, snuggly animals and soft, snuggly people, alternately smiling bravely or weathering brief bouts of adversity – nice people do nice things to each other.
Michael J Pollard
O Z Whitehead
Lallie Joy Popham